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Book review: “The Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls”

Originally written for NACADA Journal, July 5, 2017:

As observed by Rachel Simmons in Odd Girl Out, a wonderful day in the life of an adolescent girl can be exhilarating, happy and carefree.  However, if that same unsuspecting girl unwittingly (or intentionally, for that matter) makes one false move—be it a smile, a gesture, or a perceived shift in allegiance to a friend—she may just have set herself up to be a victim of “alternative aggressions,” a seemingly clandestine but all-too-real system or code that gets activated when “girls lack the tools to deal with everyday feelings of anger, hurt, betrayal, and jealousy,” and “their feelings stew and fester before boiling to the surface and unleashing torrents of rage” (p. 88).  The effects can, and often do, remain with said victims well into adulthood and perhaps even the rest of their lives.

Following a lead from a University of Minnesota psychological study, Simmons identifies the social, emotional and psychological terrain that she explores in the book.  “Relational” aggression occurs when “the aggressor uses her relationship with the target as a weapon,” while “indirect” aggression “allows the aggressor to avoid confronting her target.”  An act of “social” or “indirect” aggression occurs when an aggressor works to “damage self-esteem or social status within a group” (p. 21).  The author collectively refers to all of these as “alternative aggressions.” This perpetual “code” of indirection and displacement generates a highly stressful and psychologically taxing peer culture of suspicion, fear, and mistrust.  In effect, as Simmons notes, “when there are no other tools to use in a conflict, relationship itself may become a weapon” (p. 31).

Odd Girl Out is equal parts ethnography, exposé, field guide, and training manual.  The first eight chapters comprise an ethnographic exploration of adolescent girls and the challenges they face at a crucial point in their lives.  Adolescence itself is enough of a challenge, but the girls in this study must also be constantly questioning themselves and others for fear of making any number of perceived or real missteps within their social circle.  Simmons identifies the leitmotif of the book itself and the cultures it describes:  “If I had to name one trait many girl bullies and targets share, I’d say that both draw a potent mix of power and security from the close relationships in their lives.  And they are terrified of being alone” (p. 177).

Readers who are not parents of adolescent girls and/or are not middle-school teachers will be incredulous and caught off guard as they read the author’s revelation of a culture that can be simultaneously secretive, cruel and frustratingly unpredictable.  As a result, in two of the later chapters the author provides parents with specific strategies to employ when and if they find their daughters caught in such a teen- or pre-teen tempest.  The last chapter provides specific strategies and ideas to help educators and administrators identify aggressions and respond appropriately.

Odd Girl Out is a must-read for anyone with adolescent girls in their lives or families.  It belongs on the bookshelves of all middle- and high-school teachers, administrators and should also be required reading for all pre-service teacher education and school counseling students, as well as the academic advisors who will have previously advised these student cohorts.  Simmons makes explicit the connection to higher education (and academic advising): “…[E]ducators do not know how to respond to peer aggression.  Graduate schools of education rarely train teachers in this area, so administrators should never assume that a teacher simply ‘knows’ how to reprimand and discipline a student” (p. 343).  This book is a valuable tool for helping all educational professionals recognize, address, and (hopefully) diminish and eliminate “the code.”

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Whens-day Wednesday: Education edition

  • When you want to celebrate your child’s critical thinking skills but pride gets in the way;
  • When you become the object of data-driven decision making;
  • When you can correlate your child’s math skills with not getting what she wants (chart on top) and getting what she wants (chart on bottom);
  • When, speaking of correlation, you can tell which chart was created with more care and detail;
  • When you wonder what your child’s teachers must think of you;
  • When you can’t wait for language arts homework;
  • When you realize that poetry and essay assignments could have unlimited potential for qualitative data ;
  • When you love it all.

Common Core math

Common Core “makeup” math

Teaching Is the Greatest…

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One of my parents passed away earlier this month.  Pictured above is a homemade sympathy card from one of my students (I teach a college course on Doctor Who:  “Doctor Who:  TARDIS Travels in General Education).

Teaching & advising have their own priceless benefits & rewards…

The Stygian Stream of (Educational) Techno-obscurity?

Is DVD the new VHS?

My response to a piece I read yesterday:  Top 10 Education Technologies that Will Be Dead in Gone in the Next Decade

The perpetual problem with educational technology is that, collectively speaking, educators do not take time to really think about the affordances and (dis)advantages of the particular technology. In other words, will the technology really be a boon for student learning, or will it just be another fad to be momentarily (and expensively) embraced in the beginning, only to be quickly relegated to the storage closet. Here’s a quote from a piece I read a couple of years ago:

“Every technology is used before it is completely understood. There is always a lag between an innovation and the apprehension of its consequences.”–From “Among the Disrupted,” New York Times Book Review, 1-18-15

As for dead technology # 7 (from the article/link above), last semester I assigned each of my students a DVD with content that was to be the central source for an upcoming research project. The material is only available on DVD. One student was truly puzzled and asked what she could do about her dilemma: she did not own or have access to a basic DVD player (Blu-Ray wasn’t even mentioned). As I write this post, I look to my left and remember that laptops are now manufactured without DVD drives. “Stream” is a verb…for now…and a river runs through it

Monday Meme: The First Doctor

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I made this meme for my Doctor Who college class I teach.

Goodbye, yellow-black read…

An appropriately literary farewell: the once mighty and ubiquitous sidekick and Checker Cab to non-readers everywhere is now parked on the clearance shelf…

 

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Just when I thought I wasn’t a half-bad educator…

…an ersatz scholar takes the front row.  Thankfully, I hadn’t started class yet 🙂

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