Ever read a book that changed the way you viewed lif? The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton was that book when I was a college student in 1967. I was ready to start student teaching in a school set in a culturally deprived neighborhood. The prospect of assuming responsibility for 42 fourth grade students squeezed into a classroom unsettled and excited me at the same moment. For a young woman who knew a Guernsey from a Holstein but couldn’t read the writing of taggers on the brick walls near the school, The Outsiders proved to be the book that ignited my enthusiasm.
The Outsiders is not “West Side Story”. No one sings or dances. The characters are real, transparent and gritty. They smoke and engage in violence. Written by a teenager, the story is set in Tulsa, OK, where two groups of teens, the Socials and the Greasers, collide. Th Characters ask the tough questions that every teen thinks but doesn’t verbalize about the relationship between the poor and the rich. As Ponyboy stated, “You know what a Soc is. White trash with Mustangs and Madras.: The book ends a bit like “Grease” as it portrays the fact that all people are alike under the trappings of materialism. Our emotions are the same. What we want out of life is basically alike. Throw in the dynamics of friendship to help realize a dream, and a powerful message is made.
On the 46th anniversary of the publication of The Outsiders, i realize how much the theme of that book impacted on my eighteen weeks of student teaching in an enviornment of poverty. I took the empathy I felt for the Greasers and looked for the spark in each student. That class stole my heart and made me the fighter for the underdog that characterized my teaching career.
As Cherry said, “Let me tell you something, Ponyboy, it might comeas a surprise but things are rough all over.” Well stated.
Cleo Lampos is the author of Teaching Diamonds in the Tough: Mining the Potential in Every Child, available at Amazon.com. She taught emotionally disturbed and behaviorally disordered students as well as regular education. The first book in the series Teachers of Diamond Projects School, Second Chances, will be released by Oak Tara in the summer of 2013.