Friday, October 19, 2012

Epiphany of the Week: Hot Girls Can Be Smart

Not my epiphany ... that of a 9th grade boy. A very girl-crazy 9th grade boy. ("Aren't they all?" you say. No, not really. Not like this.)

The student in question was in my room, discussing with another student how astounded he was to discover this older girl (cheerleader, no less) is super-smart and able to help him with his math homework. I said (uh, pretty sarcastically), "Incredible, isn't it? A hot girl and she's smart?"

He could've really dug himself into a hole then, but he managed a save. "I know! But then I thought about it, and there's [names several girls in his grade who fit in the cute-and-popular category and have high academic achievement]."

It struck me that teens can be a little one-dimensional in their thinking, but they can also add dimensions to their view pretty easily when they let themselves.

It parallels the experience I often have when students find out I write fiction. "But you teach math!" Like they're these mutually exclusive things. Like I have to fit neatly into a stereotype.

Then there was the time a student reported that one of the English teachers had said English is harder to teach than math. (I hope she was joking around. I wasn't there, so I don't know.) I teased back that he should tell her we can switch places for a day and we'll see what happens, because I know a thing or two about English.

Really, though ... why must we try to fit people into these boxes? The analytical side of me can see the appeal of simple categorization. It keeps things organized. Much easier to split things into hot blondes (in the blonde-joke sense) and ugly nerds, math people and English people, jocks and band-geeks.

Real people tend to have overlap somewhere, though. More often than not, a lot of overlaps. That's trickier to wrangle with, but makes life a lot more interesting.

On a quick writing note ... I'm always glad to see characters that reflect the kind of multifaceted-ness I see in real-life teens. Sometimes, though, I find that one or more of those blended aspects lacks authenticity. The cute, popular girl who reports she loves math/science and is good at it ... but doesn't show any of the thinking processes that go with skills in those areas. Not that she can't still make stupid decisions—all humans do sometimes. But saying she's "that kind of smart" isn't the same as behaving like a person who really is, with all the complexity that includes.

I guess that makes another case for "Show, Don't Tell."

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