Left in the Shadows: popularity divide in the classroom

Cover of "You Can't Say You Can't Play"

Cover of You Can’t Say You Can’t Play

“…structure begins to be revealed and will soon be carved in stone…a ruling class will notify others of their acceptance, and the outsiders learn to anticipate the sting of rejection.” –V.G.Paley

I recently started reading Vivian Gussin Paley’s You Can’t Say You Can’t Play, the colorful cover and magical title singed to me. What does she mean with this almighty classroom rule? The quote above caught my attention immediately. Feeling a painful thirst for her meaning behind this phrase, I drank in the opening passage, honing in on the words sting and rejection. They play so well together I thought; I also noted the knot in my stomach while reading them. This guttural reaction surprised me, and then it didn’t. Paley speaks of the very present and worrisome part of life: rejection. Paley sheds light on the first experience of rejection within beginning stages of a ruling class in her kindergarten students.

““Popular” was good, “unpopular” was bad, and the unlikable ones were blamed for their faults” –V.G. Paley

We all can recall the first time we tasted rejection or served it (all too easily) to others, and chalked that up to to be an unfortunate staple in our school experience. Paley brings forth raw insight to the immediate division of students: the popular vs. the unpopular. All educators have experienced being “popular” and “unpopular, and yet it seems, most do nothing to discourage this division in their classrooms. Our classroom is a community, and a community divided is one in peril. If we where to adhere to classroom rules like Paley’s You Can’t Say You Can’t Play, then I think, the results would be those of a caring community among students. Students all want to belong, be heard and feel safe among their peers. But, the popularity divide keeps that from happening. By eliminating the division that is popularity, students will all play together, and take this outside their classroom community. Learning that exclusion and rejection are unacceptable in a community is something students can carry with them outside the classroom.Breaking the social divide, and carrying this sense of belongingness throughout their lives is a lesson students can pass on to others. As educators, we should strive to bridge this popularity gap, not only for our classroom community, but for the better of our communities outside the classroom.