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February 24, 2010


I just finished reading Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and at some point, I will probably write a book review about it. At the moment, though, it has sparked some interesting and powerful questions about what I might do to help my future students feel like my class is a safe place. And how to empower themselves. And how not to disempower others.

I’ve decided that I want to keep a copy of the book around and available, but I realize that there are problems with this. If I act as a library, teens and preteens might feel too intimidated to ask for it, even if they’re comfortable with me. They might be uncomfortable with the thought of admitting to even themselves that they might find use for such a book. But if I just leave it out there, someone could easily steal it, and I can’t really afford to buy it over and over again, no matter how valuable it is. I haven’t yet figured out what to do about that dilemma.

That’s for the people who might become victims. As for those who might become victimizers, perhaps by accident (apparently, one of the most common questions Anderson received from boys was why the main character was so upset about being raped (!)), I’ve decided that I’m going to talk about consent. I think that might be the best way to approach this, because consent is what it’s really all about.

I’ve decided that I’m not going start with sex, but with consent, because you can violate someone’s consent without raping them: it doesn’t have to be sexual consent. For example, people who use wheelchairs are rightly offended when others take their wheelchair and start moving them without consent. I’ll be doing a writing class, so offering suggestions or reading anyone else’s writing without that person’s consent will be a no-no. You don’t have to be a girl with a boy wanting to have sex in order to experience what it feels like to have your consent violated (besides, there are cases of men being raped by women or other men, too — it’s not a gender issue, even if many people think it is). It might not be as deeply damaging as being raped, but it’s not good either. Plus, respecting someone’s consent is the first step toward respecting that person as an individual. I want my classroom to be a place of mutual respect. I will respect them (and their consent, of course), and expect them to respect themselves, me, and each other.

I know this won’t end sexual violence, but I hope it will help people to understand why it is a big issue without spending a lot of time talking about sex right off the bat. And as for sex, I have no idea if there are any rules about that, but I’m guessing there are. Whatever I do about the issue of promoting respect for consent, I’ll have to do it within whatever guidelines the school has available. Writing can be deeply personal and private, so that seems to be a good place to start in regards to consent. I only hope it has the ripple effect to spread out to other situations.

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