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RevolTeens: Rethinking Adolescence and Education, by School Librarian Christine Lively

I have been thinking about teens and books. That is no surprise because it’s what I think about almost all the time anyway.

I love young adult literature, and reading broadly from YA books has been my main source of entertainment and inspiration for years. I’ve been thinking about why we have taken books about teens and segregated them from books with characters of different ages. There aren’t middle aged books. There aren’t elderly books. There aren’t thirty-something books. Why?

Part of the answer, I think, is that there are one million ways to BE at all of those ages. A forty year old could be a parent or not, employed or not, in love, or not, in school or not and on and on. The same is true for all the other ages of adults. But teens are all going through the same trials, institutional structures, and milestones regardless of who they are. If you’re 17 in America, you’re working through your senior year of high school by spending 7 hours each day in classes, trying to graduate, applying to colleges or for jobs, and a host of other common challenges. It’s the same thing for every teen. 

WHY?

In the spirit of RevolTeens, I want to ask why we haven’t dismantled this sameness – this factory style churning of kids into adults through the exact same education system we’ve had in place for generations. While that may seem like a very different idea than the way we categorize and market books, I believe that the rigidness of adolescence affects both and they in turn reinforce each other.

I have raised three kids to adulthood – the youngest is now a high school senior – and I can tell you that school in its current form has not served them equally well. It’s been detrimental to their development and learning at times. It’s been the main source of stress in their lives, and all throughout the years of middle and high school, none of us has had any meaningful choice. Why can’t teens decide to work and take high school as a part time endeavor to help with stress and ADD (attention deficit disorder)or parenting or anything else? Why isn’t there any credit given for learning that cannot be scored on a standardized test? I know that standards are important and that we want to raise kids to have broad knowledge of the world, but how many kids are really getting that?

Another reason for segregating YA books I think is because so many adults are still scarred and upset about their teen years. It’s a time for “coming of age” that is often anything but beautiful and romantic. Many of us adults would rather not ever think about those years and just plow ahead with our lives. Some of us do like to think and ponder the strife and struggle of our teen years by reading about others who have struggled with the same things we did. We take comfort in knowing that we are not alone.

Teens need that comfort as well. They find it in stories about people like them and people who are different. They learn empathy and get to have an idea of what people who are different than they are experience and struggle with every day.

One of the problems is that they rarely experience, discuss, and read these YA books in their classes at school. They are relegated to the space of indulgent choice reading that teens have to do alone or with a few friends if they’re lucky. Teen experiences are not valued as literary in most cases once again reinforcing the idea that the laborious reading, annotating, and essay writing of English classes is what reading is. It’s enough to turn all teens away from reading by removing all the joy and freedom from it.

Every month I write about incredible teens who are actually changing the world, and every one of them does that outside of and often in spite of school.

We all need to think about that. There should be as many ways of being 17 as there are of being 32 or 49 or 73. One of the greatest services we could do for this world would be to unleash teens to find their own way to learn, grow, and question this world. We can help them find the freedom to be teens in whatever way serves them, rather than the same way that has served adults for generations.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Christine! I always enjoy your RevolTeens column, it’s been very helpful to me as a youth librarian.

  2. Kristy, thank you so much for your comment. It’s wonderful to know that these columns help you as a youth librarian. I love writing them and sharing how incredible teens are. They are often underestimated, but they’re truly change agents. Thanks again.

    Christine

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