My recent revelation was that I have been reading books with themes centered on appearances. Beginning with the non-fiction story An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, followed by Belle Prater’s Boy by Ruth White, and most recently Wonder by RJ Palacio. These stories have a main character (or real-life person) that is wrongly judged by how he/she looks.
This is not only a topic that is resoundingly relevant for young adults, but one that even adults need to be reminded of. Especially in today’s society, where women, and often men are portrayed as over ‘Photoshopped’, idealized sexual objects – reading about the good that is inside of someone, no matter how he/she looks is fundamental to our humanity. (Check out this recent music video from Hungarian singer-songwriter, Boggie).
I have unfortunately witnessed students making a ‘game’ out of getting near a classmate who has physical limitations. I have to remind myself that it is probably from deep-seeded fear of the unknown, fear of someone who looks ‘different’, that these students find solace in making fun of someone instead of just getting to know that person. Let’s be honest, there are just mean people out there, but more often than not, kids just haven’t been taught how to be kind in all respects. They don’t see that what they are doing can be incredibly hurtful to the person who is at the center of their cruelty. They are holding onto fear and letting that get in the way of being humane, thoughtful, and tolerant of others. This is one reason why I love being able to teach with books. Stories are the best way to teach a lesson without sounding preachy. As said by Jessica Wise in her TED-Ed lesson: How Fiction Can Change Reality,
Researchers in psychology, neuroscience, child development, and biology
are finally starting to gain quantifiable scientific evidence
showing what writers and readers have always known:
That stories have a unique ability to change a person’s point of view.
That is something that can’t just be taught by lecture or small group discussions. People need an emotional connection to gain a deeper understanding. It is that ‘below the surface’ lesson that can hold the biggest impact on a person.
Each of the novels I read has a multitude of themes beyond appearances, but it is this theme – along with the snow we’ve been getting lately – that was the spark for another tiny story. I took an opposite approach than Auggie’s issues in Wonder (having a facial deformity, but being a magnificently beautiful boy on the inside). Mine focuses on one who owns a disfigured soul that is masked by outer beauty.
Like the snowiest of days, you are beautiful to look at but treacherous to navigate.
I can only hope that throughout my years as a teacher, I help bring out the inner beauty in my students and ward off any inclinations towards treacherous attitudes.