The other day I idly looked over the shoulder of one of my most fabulous 4th graders and saw that she was creating a sign-up sheet. Titled, “BS Club,” it was for a popular after-lunch card game and she’d already filled in the first few names. “Everyone can join,” she assured me before I could say anything and I’m sure that was true. Still, I said, “Sorry, but no clubs,” and she, familiar with the potential problems, immediately crumpled up the paper and tossed it.
Why was I so tough? Shouldn’t I be applauding this child’s initiative rather than squelching it? As the after-lunch game became more popular, as more wanted to join, things were becoming unwieldy. (I’d heard some raised voices on more than one occasion.) Thus, her thought that a club might help. One for everyone who wanted to join.
Just as everyone could join the recess football game. So I was told after one player stomped off in a fury with the ball (his) causing the game to come to an immediate halt and me to become involved. At which point I discovered that, yes everyone could play, but not everyone got the ball passed to him and not everyone got to participate equally.
It is this pernicious issue — not just who is part of things and who is not, but who is more important and who gets to do more — that made me stop the BS Club and work long and hard with the football players to help them make their game more participatory for all. An issue, I should like to point out, doesn’t go away when we grow up. It is something we deal with all our lives.
Yet I wonder how many of us adults are able to acknowledge our own participation in exclusionary groups. There is something disquieting in our earnest efforts to get children to avoid cliques while continuing to be involved with them ourselves. I certainly understand why. So many of us involved with children, be it on a daily basis in the classroom or library or by writing for them, have memories of being excluded and marginalized when young which make it easy for us to empathize with children coping with similar problems. But, to be blunt, we grown-ups are hypocrites if we do not recognize how we may be complicit in the very same behaviors today.
My school is full of cliques and a number of them consist of folks well over the age of eighteen. There is the group of teachers (all guys, I believe) that plays basketball on Wednesdays after school, some 7th and 8th grade teachers that like to work in the office together, and mine — a bunch of mostly current and former 4th grade teachers. Oh, if any teachers from my school are reading this: you don’t have to have taught 4th grade to be part of our group. Everyone can join.
Late last Saturday night I passed the Opryland Hotel’s Delta Lounge on the way to my room. The music wasn’t terrible and so I briefly considered going in before deciding I was too tired and went off to bed. The next day I heard there was a YA author dance fest going on there and for a brief moment I felt left out. Why didn’t someone tell me about it? I knew some of them, didn’t they like me? Or maybe they didn’t really, were all just pretending to like me so I’d write and say nice things about them. And for that second I felt as I had in 7th grade, a total outsider to the clearly way fun world of YA authors.
Earlier that evening the shoe had been on the other foot. At a child_lit drink gathering someone mentioned a publisher’s party to which some of us, but not all it turned out, had been invited. Well remembering my last NCTE at the Opryland Hotel when I was pretty much on my own with no idea such parties even existed, I felt terrible for those who had been left out.
With experience we adults presumably are able to better weather the slights of inclusion, exclusion, cliques, and clubs. But behaving better than when we were young? Not always. Something I recommend we remember the next time we attempt to inform (in person or in writing) a young person how to be.
Feeling like a loser? Not to worry, everyone can join.