Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Misfits

       The Misfits is a children's novel written by James Howe.  It is geared toward students between grades 5 and 7.  I would rate this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.
       Bobby, Joe, Skeezie, and Addie are the four 6th grade students who are all outsiders in their school.  Bobby is seen as an overweight slob, Joe is seen as a girly gay boy, Skeezie is a gross, greasy, loser, and Addie is a towering smart alic.  Together, these friends decide to stand up against all the wrong they see happening in their school by forming a new political party to run for student government: The No-Name Party.  This party doesn’t choose sides or subject students to being humiliated.  Before being allowed to run, they must pick someone to run for president- this is where Colin enters the picture.  Since Colin in a minority student in a sea of likeness, he is a great fit for a party that goes against the mainstream.  The No-Name Party hangs posters with their slogan, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit.”  They stand up against bullying and labels that are thrown at students and cling to their identity in the school.  Later in the story, Joe shares with Bobby and Skeezie that he is gay and has developed feelings for Colin, which is a controversial subject for students at this age. 
       Unfortunately, the No-Name party loses the election.  The principal, Mr. Kiley, is so amazed by the effort and emotion put into their campaign that he announces that there will be a No-Name day in which students will not bully their peers.  Joe asks Colin to dance and they are free from the normal judgments passed by their classmates and can enjoy a budding romance. 
Bullying is here and it is serious.  It is a major problem in the school systems and it is only reaching younger and younger children every year.  It is very difficult for teachers to often identify bullying in time to intervene, but if a teacher sees bullying, they should act immediately and consistently.  The main characters in this book are all bullied and although they are all categorized as “different” the Misfits are all different from one another as well.  Although they do not fit the “norm” of the school, Addie is not teased in the same way as Joe who is not teased in the same way as Skeezie.  Although all these students are categorized as different by their peers, they do not see each other as different- or different enough to hinder forming friendships.  They see each other as individuals and they think each person brings something to the group. 
       In school, students should not cast judgments on one another because it is amazing how quickly the tables can be turned.  One week Brian can be the coolest kid in class and the next week everyone finds out he still sleeps with a baby blanket and he is thrown into the group of “losers” that he once berated.  If students bully others, they create an atmosphere where this is acceptable and where this could happen to them.  Although more often than not, it is usually the same groups of kids being bullied year to year, it doesn’t make it better or okay.  Students should not be afraid to come to school, they should not be so critical about what they wear or look like, they should not fake sick to avoid being made fun of.  This is not a learning atmosphere and this is not the place where children can grow emotionally and socially. 
       It is not a mystery that bullying exists and that it has a huge negative effect on its victims.  Teachers should incorporate activities to boost self-esteem as well as heighten class cohesiveness so a community can be formed.  If students learn that they are all, in fact, vulnerable, they might be less likely to see a peer as someone who is easily hurt.  They might actually feel guilty for hurting someone who they know is a human. 
       Another controversial aspect of the book is the fact that Joe is homosexual.  This issue is rarely ever addressed at such a literal level in children’s literature and it can often be a difficult area for teachers to tackle.  It may make some students feel uncomfortable and it may make some students go on the offensive and begin acting out in homophobia.  Although homosexuality in elementary schools is likely to be less common than bullying, it is still an issue and teachers still need to address it- in and out of the curriculum.  Students like Joe should not feel persecuted just because of an aspect of their identity or a group they identify with.  The Misfits teaches a lot of lessons that apply to elementary students currently and they should be exposed to.

Here is a lesson plan that discusses "us vs. them" or outsiders using a few different books, one of them being The Misfits

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