Everyone Can Join

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.



Filed under Teaching

8 responses to “Everyone Can Join

  1. Lee

    Where does clique end and community begin?


  2. I see cliques as subsets of community. Last week, a group of boys behind me at one of our student assemblies loudly cheered on one of their friends as he performed with his class. They are a group of well-liked boys, most of whom were in my class last year, probably considered by their peers to be part of the “popular clique.” Yet these boys were also very much part of my classroom community and the larger 4th grade community. And so their clique and the community seem all mixed together.

    The hard thing, which is where I suspect you are going with your question, is for kids to recognize that the larger community takes priority over their clique. When they don’t, things can get very difficult. And, in my experience, pretty near impossible for adults to address. That is, the clique then is so tight and so involved with each other that adults are too removed to signify.


  3. Nancy Werlin

    Monica, I don’t know the answer to this, but it’s an important issue and nobody ever talks about it. Kudos to you for raising it.

    Should we go around in our adult lives saying, “Everyone is invited!” all the time? Are there particular situations — like conferences — where this is always appropriate? (I can’t speak for publishers parties… though I’ve sure crashed my share of them, to be honest.) How about that good feeling of being INcluded, and the fact that somehow, perniciously, it makes us humans want to feel even better by noticing that others have been EXcluded? This is all the stuff of contemporary YA literature, too.

    I feel like I want to try doing Venn diagrams here, and try to figure out the overlaps of friendships and cliques and community.


  4. Jim Jubak

    After having been through the clique thing with your fourth grade class 2 years ago, Monica, I’ve come to this tenative conclusion: A clique is underhealthy for the community in which it’s embedded and the kids in it when the dominant purpose of its existence is to hurt by exclusion or to define by exclusion. A group of guys playing basketball may not be everyone welcome, but that doen’st bother me. (Hey, I hate going out to dinner with more than six people in the group. Maybe I’m naturally exclusionary.) If the occasion of the game becomes a way to hurt someone or to force someone to chose between membership in the group and membership in the winder community, then I’ve got a problem.


  5. I think we’ve all been involved in exclusionary situations over the years. I have always prided myself, even in a high school that was known for its “cliquiness,” for being nice to everyone. I did feel REALLY guilty recently, after wanting to have a housewarming party,and truly wanting to share my excitement with almost all of my co-workers, not having the party, because there were three people out of many I didn’t want in my home. The thought of having three “Debbie Downers” in my new happy space was enough to cancel my plans.

    I suppose I just wanted to protect my “fun space”, but was ashamed at my not wanting to include a few people that could have probably used a party.

    It has been my experience, as a mother and as a former teacher, that as adults we want children to live in a perfect world where everyone gets along all of the time. I wonder how well we are preparing them for adulthood, when we finally get to start making social decisions for ourselves.

    Good question. I’ve always enjoyed your perspectives.

    A. McKay (childlit listserve)
    Please feel free to check out my URL, I’ve just started working on it, and could use some advice.

    BTW, I am always envious when I hear about the childlit gatherings, I’m not aware of any in the Seattle area, are you? Next time I’m in New York, I hope I’ll get to meet some of you.


  6. Jim Jubak

    Monica, have you read/heard about Ian Beck’s The Secret History of Tom Trueheart? Beck’s an illustrator whose work I’ve liked and this is his first kid’s novel as author. I liked the premise: Tom has six older brothers, all named Jack, who are the heros of fairy tales (such as Jack and the …). One day they’re all sent out on a mission by the Story Bureau and don’t come back. It’s up to Tom to ride out on his own adventure. I just ordered a copy for Finn. We’re running out of books to get us through the dark days of winter–especially with no snow for sledding.


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