Another story of learning…

Although I have already written my This I Believe a few years ago and you can even hear it if you wish, but I have been asked to consider the prompt again in a new light, telling a story of learning that exemplfies your beliefs about learning.

My story of learning goes like this:

Boys struggle in middle school. I know this because I struggled. Not academically, but with knowing who I was and where I fit. Now, I don’t agree with the absolute that all boys have an inner turmoil that drives them to be disruptive, but I do agree that all boys struggle to be who they are between the ages of 12-14. I believe this.

Because of this, I have a soft spot for this struggle now. Just like when I was in it, though, I don’t have any concrete answers about how to make boys believe in themselves. Instead, I use books. They are not answers or advice, they are stories of someone’s struggle that you can either relate to or ignore. Those boys who can relate, create for themselves a space to be themselves, even if it is only within the confines of the story.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the one book that I would recommend over any other. The boy in the story feels things more deeply than nearly any boy at that age allows himself to feel. He is awkward out loud. And, he survives. I gave this book to one red-headed boy who would not put it down. He read it during my class and throughout the day.

Now, this is a boy that doesn’t read. His red hair flips in front of his face every other second and gets in the way of him seeing almost everything. This time it did not get in the way. He saw the boy in the book, Charlie, distinctly. In fact, he saw himself in the story.

After he finished the book, we talked about the experience. He spoke to me about having to fill the role of “kid brother” with his friends. He spoke about how mature he wanted to be and how much he saw that he just couldn’t express. He spoke about his frustration with his overprotective parents. This was a different voice than I had ever heard from him. He did not have the characteristic sarcastic tone in his voice. He did not pretend to be someone else. He a boy, sans the red hair.

I believe in the transformative power of stories. I believe that boys only survive middle school through this transformation. They only make it through because of the words that they relate to, that end up defining them. If they have no stories to help them with this definition, they will remain unhappy, unknowable, and uninspired.

0 Comments

  1. Leslie Maniotes

    Ben!
    I too believe in the transformative POWER of learning that can occur through carefully chosen literature and conversation. That’s what my dissertation was all about! Isn’t it amazing how kids can come out of themselves and get real when they have a character with complex events to jump off of? In my dissertation the kids talked about alcoholism and racism and fear. Responsibility and rage and empathy. POWERFUL. Things that were in their lives but in an average classroom wouldn’t have been ALLOWED or acknowledged in school.

    Thanks for sharing this book, this boy, this learning tool and experience.

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