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Knowledge Menu: The Concept of Rules

Personal Significance

The theme of rules has been central to many of my favorite books throughout my life such

as The Giver by Lois Lowry, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. The common theme that ties these books together is the

exploration of rules, why they are made, who makes them, and why we adhere to them. As

an aspiring teacher with a pedagogical approach that is deeply rooted in social

reconstructionism, I believe that this concept is one that pushes students to explore social,

economic, racial, and gender inequality which are all very important issues that I believe

are not spoken about enough in middle school. As a woman and a person of color, it is

important for me to teach literature diverse in content that will bring about complex

themes for young readers. As Tiffany says in Fires in the Middle School Bathroom, “It

makes me feel uncomfortable when books don’t reflect the person that I am, when we’re

always reading things by white males, not by any African American or Asian or Hispanic

people” (Cushman 116-117). In exploring the rules of national and international societies,

students are challenged to think about the justices and injustices behind the rules in their

own community, therefore helping them formulate their own opinions and ideas which will

hopefully lead to impactful activism.

Middle School Significance

Middle schoolers are obsessed with fairness and equality among their peers, which is an

idea that directly relates to rules and their enforcement: “The worst thing for a teacher is to

be considered unfair, because students then try to take advantage of it” (Cushman 34).
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Middle school is the time in which most students begin to challenge the rules enforced by

adults because of their physical and emotional transitions into young adulthood. While this

time is one that is dreaded by adults and dealt with simply by implementing harsher

enforcement and having stricter instructors, it should be a time in which their curiosity and

rebellious spirit should be embraced and directed in a productive and thoughtful direction.

Since this topic is so relatable to students, I truly believe that if teachers were to challenge

their students to think about why certain rules are made, who gets to make the rules

exactly, and why they must follow them, middle schoolers would engage their higher level

thinking skills.

Importance to Language Arts

Literature

There are so many books that are about social injustices that have to do with the rules of

society especially at the middle school level. A unit teaching To Kill A Mockingbird would

focus on each of the younger main characters and how they are forced to reconcile with

difficult social situations due to the racism of the south. A unit teaching Esperanza Rising

would directly relate to a history unit on the Great Depression but also focus on the

struggles of socio-economics and how that particularly affects the lives of children. A unit

focusing on Call of the Wild would focus on the rules of survival and the kind of ethical

dilemmas that a survivalist culture creates. Though these topics are commonly written off

as too difficult or complex, they are very real issues that many students, especially lower

socio-economic students, tend to face. During their middle school years, children’s slow

transition into adulthood makes them more acutely aware of the social and economic

power dynamic at play in their own lives. In addition to the academic books that are
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formally taught in middle school, the idea of rules is very present in many popular young

adult fiction novels, especially ones within the dystopian fiction genre. Books such as The

Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, and The Uglies explores the injustice within the

social and economic spheres set within each main character’s respective society. The main

characters demonstrate that adolescents have the ability to think for themselves in a world

that is full of unfairness, promoting the idea that revolution and activism is something in

which everyone can take part.

Reading

I’ve always believed that reading a novel is a lot like putting together a puzzle, and much

like any kind of game, there are rules to it. As an English teacher, it is our responsibility to

help them identify each piece of the puzzle (i.e. literary elements) to help them put it

together and create the big picture (i.e. the main ideas). Helping students understand

foreshadowing, symbolism, allusion, character development, and other literary elements

helps guide them and fully understand how each piece fits in with one another. Both the

order in which each literary element is understood and the way each component is

analyzed has rules to it. It’s the teacher’s job to teach kids how to properly analyze a text so

that they may one day draw their own personal interpretation and conclusions.

Writing

In any kind of literature, there are different writing rules based on the kind of product the

author, journalist, or poet is aiming to produce. A good English teacher should aim to

expose their class to all types of writing (e.g. persuasive, comedic, analytical, poetic,

creative, etc.) to demonstrate how successful writers are able to use the rules of writing to

their advantage through their own mastery of the craft. I personally believe that the best
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way to teach these rules of writing is not through analysis but creativity. Allowing each

student to write their own persuasive essay by applying it to real life situations, such as

creating a commercial or partaking in a mock court case, allows students to fully

understand, apply, and utilize each rule for themselves outside of the classroom.

Grammar

In my opinion, grammar is the element within the field of language arts that is the most

concerned with rules and their strict implementation. More often than not, students have a

strong animosity toward the rules of language since it so often changes, is not commonly

applied to spoken language, and is, indeed, dictated by those who have acquired power

over convention and cannon. This is why the rules of grammar should be taught alongside a

more creative lesson such as poetry or creative writing. In doing so, students can have a

fuller understanding of how impactful and thought provoking the violation of these rules

can be when they are meant to convey a message.

Relation to Other Subjects

Social Studies

Literature so often goes hand in hand with history, as written documentation is such a big

part of what helps us understand the mistakes we’ve made as humans and how we are to

learn from them. Books such as The Watsons Go to Birmingham -1963 will help kids grasp a

further understanding of what life was like during the civil rights movement and helps

middle schoolers think about the differences and similarities between the struggles people

of color face now and then. Number the Stars is another historically fictitious account of a

girl and her struggles under a totalitarian regime and the holocaust. This kind of literature
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pushes kids to think about the role government plays within societies and challenges them

to question the morality of the rules they implement.

Science

Though science fiction novels present otherworldly settings to kids, the focus of their

themes and conflicts are on ones that present day people are very well acquainted with. In

fact, most science fiction novels provide a social commentary on our current events by

setting the book in an imagined future that has already suffered the consequence of our

present actions. Books such as The Adoration of Jenna Fox explores the possibility of

extreme advancements in medical science and questions what it means to be human.

Asking kids to read books like Life As We Knew It will get kids thinking about the

environment and how our actions (or inactions) impact the world we live in.

Math

From my experience, literature about mathematics isn’t typically very popular or well

known by general audiences. Using books such as Letters to a Young Mathematician and

Fooling Houdini can be used to show how meaningful and practical math can be. This can be

extremely useful to kids who find it difficult to succeed in math and therefore refuse to

consider its relevancy to the language arts. These books explore how the rules of math are

indeed fascinating when they are applied to the world outside of the classroom.