I’ve read Ender’s Game a couple times and this summer I read the parallel story Ender’s Shadow. Ender’s Shadow explores Bean’s story. Bean is smarter than Ender by a lot, but doesn’t have the interpersonal skills. But he cares about knowing how the system operates that he exists in. That book does a better job of showing how the children are exploited and shows Ender’s brilliance as a commander.
With some additional information in mind I’m going to explore Ender’s experience. Yes the children sort of had a choice about going to Battle School, Graff is right when he said that kids that didn’t go voluntarily would only be good for “cannon fodder.” So yes they went voluntarily. And really, they could go home if they couldn’t hack it. But they were also put in situations that I don’t really think are fair, put in an institutionalized, managed, stasist system. When they got there their communication with their family was broken off. There were a lot of things that Ender didn’t choose, and choices that were made for him before he ever voluntarily entered Battle School. In another novel it actually comes out that the government probably engineered Ender’s parents’ marriage to get offspring with a combination of analytical brilliance (the mom) and empathy/interpersonal skills (the dad). Ender’s life and development were dictated by a government. Maybe you noticed that Ender’s parents were both religious, but didn’t talk about it in front of their kids. This wasn’t just because religion was frowned upon. Because he and his siblings were Battle School candidates, the government wouldn’t let his parents put ideas into their head that might make them less malleable at battle school. After Peter was rejected for Battle School and it came out that he was a bit of a bully, his parents stretched the rules and tried to teach him some basic values of right and wrong. Does anybody else think this is creepy?
I think most of us agree that the type of institutions we create and then place people in are extremely important. Think about the institutional structure that was the Battle School. It was rigid. Within the certain confines dynamism was encouraged. Ender was a dynamist, manipulated into being so granted. But they’d created and even encouraged such a stasist structure that Ender’s government authorized dynamism nearly got him killed. Dink rebelled against the system. In Ender’s Shadow Bean did too. Ender didn’t. He accepted the system and let it exploit him. But how many of people can see through the institutions that shape their lives and successfully alter them or change them?