Working through the options, we almost always concluded that for the ones who left paradise, justice is a higher value than personal happiness. Finally, I would ask the students how many of them would walk away from Omelas and always a few, maybe six out of 50, would raise their hands.
I would reply that comparatively, we actually do live in Omelas and there are multiple children in our shared cellars and yet we do not walk away, and this includes me.
And this question is the point of my classroom use of this story.
I asked the students, what could possibly explain some people walking away from paradise.
If you teach social justice using Le Guin’s work, or any other speculative fiction, please share your story with us. Lani Roberts, Professor Emerita, Oregon State University: Teaching from “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” For a number of years, I taught from Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” I also was honored to co-facilitate a discussion with Le Guin on moral self-deception for an Oregon Humanities Program a few years back, based on this same story.
Even though I’ve been retired now for more than three years, I still hear from students, on Face Book and in emails, how much they value this particular lesson. Le Guin insists that it is up to the reader to make of this story, and all of her writing, whatever they will.
“I admit,” I tell students, “I have no conclusive answers but I do hope you’ll keep working on the questions Omelas raises.” I do think the story helps students understand the imbalance of pleasure and justice.
I also think the story helps students, if invited, to feel a liberatory impulse to want something emancipatory that can end the suffering of the child.
The Anarres Project for Alternative Futures takes its inspiration, in part, from the imaginative work of Ursula K. For decades, her speculative fiction has woven together fantastic worlds with reflections on the nature of human life and the meaning of a socially just world.
We recently asked two university professors, including our own Anarres Voices contributor Christian Matheis, to reflect on using Ursula Le Guin’s work for teaching about social justice themes.