Power Dynamics

In the future, when I think about my time at Pratt as a Library Science student, I may very well consider July 27, 2009 - the eighth meeting of Summer II's Young Adult Lit class - the worst day ever. Why, you ask? Because I wasn't there. And Barry Lyga, author of Boy Toy, was. Missing truly awesome stuff could be a major theme of my life. It's something I'm trying to work on. Promise.

I want to write about Boy Toy. There is so much I want to say, but I'll keep this brief. Of all of the things that struck me about this book (as reader, a teacher of seventh graders, an adult who loves adolescents . . . ), what stuck with me, haunting me and forcing me to examine my own practices, was the way Lyga paints such a clear picture of adult-child relationships. In Boy Toy, Josh is sexually abused by his seventh grade Social Studies teacher. They end up having an extended "affair," which culminates in her going to prison, her husband beating Josh senseless, and Josh sexually molesting a friend. There is a lot to explore here, as we listen to now-eighteen-year-old Josh tell his story and figure himself and his relationships out.

But I want to focus on the relationship between Eve, the teacher, and Josh, the twelve-year-old. Specifically, in how Lyga, with compassion and amazing skill crafts Eve's sly manipulation of Josh. He makes so explicit the complex power dynamics at play between adults and children, and especially between authority figures such as teachers, and their charges. Every time Eve asks Josh if this is "what [he] wants," she works to ensure that he sees himself as the guilty party. She preys on this guilt, carefully setting up sexual situations that appear to Josh to be in his control and his fault. Six years later, this situation is still being used by certain adults in Josh's life, to their advantage. When Josh's coach wants to goad him - he brings up Eve. It's so well written, and quite disturbing.

And, because I have a near-pathological need to relate everything back to my life and work . . . as a teacher I think about power dynamics of the classroom and the school bureaucracy in general all of the time. The way we are manipulated by our administrators, and they by their supervisors . . . how we, in turn, manipulate our students and they each other . . . in one long chain of power plays. The need to balance honesty, respect, humor, patience, and authority in order to craft a safe learning environment for all kids. Something as simple as collecting a homework assignment, or handing back a quiz is an opportunity to humiliate or praise, to create a class hierarchy, to validate or invalidate . . . everything we do is fraught with this emotional potential. How we use it is everything.

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