photo & text by nacrowe
i used to love teaching this book.
THE OUTSIDERS (VIKING, 1967) by S.E. HINTON was a YA text particularly well-suited for initiating PRODUCTIVE dialogues with middle school students about the topic of ECONOMIC INEQUALITY. by definition my students were WEALTHY as the school they attended was able to hire a foreigner like me to traverse halfway across the globe to teach them. but what was interesting was how they initially self-identified themselves as being a member of the POOR and UNDERPRIVILEGED OUTCAST class of students in the novel, not the RICH ELITE. without fail that dynamic persisted regardless of the geographic context i found myself in, whether i taught THE OUTSIDERS in VENEZUELA or even MYANMAR.
maybe that observation says something about the nature of kids at that age, when they are awkwardly leaving one developmental stage and entering another. it was always fun to debate them and having them come to the conclusion that they were, in fact, the WEALTHY kids, not the OUTCASTS. more than that, being part of said PRIVILEGED status came with responsibility and a sense of empathy for those in more unfortunate economic circumstances.
normally LAZY teachers will utilize this novel as an opportunity to introduce kids to 1950s GREASER CULTURE and have them dress in poodle skirts and white shirt and jeans getups. i found that beyond SUPERFICIAL and essentially a wasted opportunity. sadly that was how i was taught the book in grade six in NIGERIA. dont get me wrong, i adore DOO WOP and ROCKABILLY as much as the next person, but what makes this book such a unique treasure is its INNATE capacity to make us examine our own INHERITED SOCIETAL BLINDSPOTS.
at its core this book is about "otherness" and how one becomes the "other" in an "us versus them" mentality. in VENEZUELA you had the CHAVISTAS and the OPPOSITION politically duking it out, cutting families in half and not speaking to one another in many cases. in MYANMAR you had the ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE BUDDHIST nationalists and the small MUSLIM population they effectively were DELIBERATELY ETHNIC CLEANSING during my stay. having kids decipher and closely examine their own INHERITED prejudices is a DANGEROUS thing, but i'd argue its a discussion worth having.
and that conversation has REAL VALUE. arguably now more than ever. i can only imagine what teaching it now in the UNITED STATES is like. then again, maybe that is why educators stay surface level and stick to the poodle skirts. much safer that way, but nothing learned or gained either.
again, i adored teaching this THE OUTSIDERS for the opportunities it provided in fostering INTENSE but REWARDING discussions that i learned quite a bit from my students about their CULTURE and vice versa.
the 1983 FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA movie adaptation is GARBAGE though. sorry not sorry.