Yesterday I got a 6th grader busted for edgy, maybe a bit above PG-13, writing. But I don't feel bad.
This month I'm teaching character development workshops to 4th, 5th (ah, such lovely people), and 6th graders at a charter school. I met this smart, err, smart-aleck, kid during recess detention. He's thrilled to be getting a D- in math. When he cheered his low grade, his fellow detention-mates laughed and hooted. Being smart isn't cool in the hormonal mess that comprises springtime 6th grade.
I struggled to get this kid invested in the writing exercise. He popped out of his seat, distracted those around him, and wrote banal descriptions of the magazine photo "character" I'd given him. But then he asked me if his character could be in a coma.
"Comas are boring," I said. "People in comas can't do much, can they?"
"What about a fake coma?"
"Fake comas are good."
Later he asked me if his character could have a drug problem that led to a bit of violence. "Sure," I said.
I live with a 6th grader, and they're not as innocent as we wish they were. I also know that writing gives us the chance to safely explore themes, figure out experiences, or experiment--and who am I to decide what another person needs to write about? I also appreciated the fact that the PG-13 elements in his writing had natural consequences. It wasn't gratuitous.
I also knew that his classmates would titter with the glee of the forbidden when he shared his writing. So I made him read last.
I hadn't been informed about the love affair between the fake coma patient and his nurse. Yet the scene kind of reminded me of A Farewell To Arms. And the nurse got pregnant from the "baby-making" on the hospital bed. Again, natural consequences.
The kid got SO busted by his teacher. But this kid gets scolded ALL DAY LONG.
He doesn't often have the chance to experience how the power of his imagination, his intelligence, his WRITING can affect others. Ooh, the class went wild for his salacious and dramatic story.
That's my job as a visiting author--to show kids that their words have real power. He got busted this time. But maybe he'll also be inspired to become the next Stephen King.
I snuck out of the classroom with a big smile on my face. Mission accomplished!