We live in a time when bullying is at the front and center of attention. And it should be. Kids who do not follow social-norm rules are sometimes subject to ridicule, alienation, or even, yes, bullying. How do we protect those brave kids? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we teach all of the kids around them to question those social-norm rules in the first place?
Conversation is key. Questions are imperative. Scrutiny of what we take for granted is vital. But how do we do all of that? Books always have been a great tool for examination of self, other and society as a whole. And books that are explicitly designed to offer half of the conversation, and to ask the reader to engage in the dialogue are even better. Break These Rules edited by Luke Reynolds is a perfect example of such a book.
Teacher, writer and breaker of rules himself...in this guest post Luke explores the realities facing teens, and all of us, today:
The Problem with Rules
By Luke Reynolds
We hear so many of them - endless lists of what to do and what not to do. And they start when we're so terribly young and when we're seeking to know and learn everything we can about the world around us. Rules govern a lot in our lives, and this is sometimes incredibly helpful - I don't want to drive down the interstate and have people cross lanes without blinkers, or drive 100 miles per hour, or be guzzling a beer while they navigate.
So some rules rock.
But there are other rules - many of them silent or suggested; constructed of society, culture, or organizational structures like schools - that are crushing and disempowering, especially for young people. And more than anything young people (and not-so-young-people) want to be free of these unhelpful constraints.
As a teacher, I see so many young people who change before my very eyes from these beautiful beacons of light and joy into fearful, ashamed creatures when peers enter the picture. One-on-one, they can shed the pressures of some rules, but add the rule-oriented peer culture, and bam, they freeze up and remember that - Crap! I am too fat, too pimply, too loud, too quiet, too unbranded, too dark, too light, too short, too lanky, too interested in chess or poetry or robotics! The rules strike at their hearts and my students struggle to resist them.
Or take another set of rules - those coming from us teachers and parents and other well-meaning adults. We're all too influenced by society's mega messages, blasted through media for us, and we pass these messages on to the young people in our care, too: You won't be happy unless you go to college, make a lot of money, be very popular in high school, go to the senior prom, think the same, politically, as me, act the way a man/woman is supposed to act!
In the glorious YA literature out there, images and stories of young people who break these kinds of rules (and others) are everywhere. Books like Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt, which reveals an antithesis to the macho-guy-syndrome, or Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, which explores gender and government in a rule-breaking way, are so important for young people (and, yup, for not-so-young people). Counter-stories, which offer different ways of being and thinking for young people, are crucial right now.