Eminem (and Borat) as Socratic gadflys?

I was reading a recent Time article about Eminen’s new album at my parent’s house this past weekend when I came across this description of the cultural instigator:

But one development wreaked more havoc on Eminem’s hateability than all the rest: amazingly, someone coarsened the culture without him. As Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen advanced the art of provocation, broadening it from Eminem’s preferred taboos of sex and class to the mocking of all Americans (by a foreigner, no less) for being naive enough to believe their own mythology. Baron Cohen was darker, funnier and way more misanthropic than Eminem — which is how it goes with cultural instigators. They poke, we react; they poke again, we react a little less, until eventually someone with a sharper stick and a bushier mustache comes along. America’s Most Outrageous is just not a title you keep for long or get to hold twice.

Consider the various elements of a cultural instigator (as outlined by article author Josh Tyrangiel). People hate them and they demonstrate a hatred for people. They provoke by messing with cultural taboos. They mock and challenge treasured values through their cultivation and practice of the art of provocation. They are funny, but their humor is dark. They must constantly come up with newer and better and more shocking ways to antagonize and anger. They are outrageous but never for long. Some other instigator always comes along with a better (sharper, more pointed, more provocative) way to be outrageous and to capture the country’s (world’s?) ire.

According to Tyrangiel’s description, one implicit goal of a cultural instigator is to be the most outrageous. To be the center of attention. To have people talking about you. To have a certain buzz surrounding your name and your exploits. And, above all else, to sell the most products (whether they be cds, concert tickets, dvds, books, magazines). All of these goals are focused on the instigator and their role as entertainer/celebrity. But, is this the only (and even main) goal of the instigator? Are they really only interested in being hated and stirring up controversy to sell their products? Are there other ways to interpret what the cultural instigator is doing and why they might be doing it?

Can we read this image as something other than an a**hole delinquent trying to piss us off and take our money?

eminem_the_funeral1

What if we thought about Eminem (and Borat and others like them who push our buttons and raise questions that get us talking about topics that we are usually too afraid to talk about or we assume to be beyond question) as Socratic gadflies? Is that too much of a stretch? How about this: what if we thought about cultural instigators as engaging in practices that are similar to the Socratic gadlfy? How would that enable us to think about those instigators and the creative and critical work that they do as something more than a clever (and mean-spirited) game that they play (and that is meant to play us)?

Consider Socrates’ defense at his trial. In a plea for his life, he attempts to make a case for his necessary and important role within the community by claiming the role of the gadfly:

I am the gadfly of the Athenian people, given to them by God, and they will never have another, if they kill me. For if you kill me you will not easily find a successor to me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is a great and noble stead who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. You will not easily find another like me, and therefore I would advise you to spare me.

Is this what Eminem or Borat are doing? Does Socrates live up to his own lofty goals? These questions should be addressed and the troublemaking-as-gadfly actions of these cultural instigators should be evaluated. Maybe I can take that up in another blog. Right now, I am interested in leaving the question open so as to think about cultural instigators as troublemakers in ways that are counter to the popular stereotypes of them as a**holes with sticks who poke us for profit and pleasure.

Men Behaving Badly: Virtue, Vice and the Battle for our Souls?

The Book of Virtues / The Book of ViceI just started reading Peter Sagal’s The Book of Vice (subtitled very naughty things and how to do them). Sagal offers up this book as a (quasi-satirical?) response to William Bennett and his The Book of Virtues (subtitled a great treasury of moral stories). Bennett wrote his book in 1993 as a response to what he saw as the lack or decline of moral education in the United States. Since I plan to devote several future blog entries to this book (I will end the suspense here: I have many, many problems with Bennett’s book), I will just offer this brief summary: The Book of Virtues is a collection of stories that are meant to educate both children and adults on classic virtues like self-discipline, compassion, courage, responsibility, and honesty. In writing the book in 1993, Bennett hoped to continue the tradition (a tradition that he thinks is being lost) of passing on important values to the next generation.

I have only read a few pages of Sagal’s book, but I can already tell that it is at least partially a reaction to Bennett and his lofty goal. From the flipped (book of vice not virtue) title, to the strikingly similar book jackets, to Sagal’s gleeful reference to Bennett’s own inability to live up the standards his book promotes, it is clear that Sagal wants to make fun of virtues and virtue talk. He also wants to demonstrate that, even if people think that virtues are a good idea, they really want to talk about and imagine how to practice vice. Here is his (disturbing, I think) assessment of virtues vs. vice:

In the long war between Vice and Virtue, Virtue has been met on the battlefield, routed, defeated in detail, occupied, and reeducated in prison camps. When last seen, Virtue was working on the Strip in Las Vegas, handing out color flyers advertising in-room exotic dancers. She says she’s happy, but she doesn’t meet your eyes (2).

WARNING! WARNING! I see some real problems here. When I first heard about this book, I was intrigued and thought it might offer an interesting counter to the rigid link between virtue and conservative (frequently fundamentalist) thought that is so prevalent these days in popular and scholars-who-don’t-study-religion-or-ethics talk. On some level, I am still hopeful, but I absolutely cannot let this paragraph pass without reacting to Sagal’s satirical take on William Bennett and his virtue crusade. (Wow, this is page 2. How long will it take me to read all 252 pages?)

In Sagal’s scenario, Virtue is a man at battle who is courageously defending the honor of virtues and morals. He is weak and eventually overtaken by Vice. Okay, overtaken is too tame of a word. He is routed, defeated, occupied (violated? penetrated?), and re-educated by Vice (possible translation: Virtue becomes Vice’s bitch?). Having been completely emasculated, he becomes a whore on the street who is so demoralized that she (yes, he is now a she which demonstrates how far he has fallen!) can’t even look you (by the way, who is the you in this sentence?) in the eyes.

Of course, Sagal is joking here and he using his humor to demonstrate (among other things) the hypocrisy of moral crusaders like Bennett and the disconnect between what Bennett (and other “family value” folk) vigorously promote and what they secretly (or not so secretly) practice. I have no problem with exposing such hypocrisy, but I am bothered by how he does it. Let me explain. The image that Sagal gives us here (and as far as I can tell, throughout the book) is exclusively of a white, heterosexual male who must undertake the epic struggle between being virtuous and having vices. Women (of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, ages) may tempt and successfully seduce him but they are only serve as evidence that the struggle exists. They are not subjects or actors engaging in the struggle themselves.

Now, I understand that Sagal is writing from his own perspective and that he is a white, heterosexual (and happily married) male. And his writing style is one that draws heavily upon his own humorous engagements with and observations of the various vices. For these reasons, I understand why the book would skew toward the white male heterosexual (aka the-top-of-the-heap) demographic. But, in his blurb about virtue and vice in a battle (for our souls) he doesn’t just ignore women, that is, not consider them in his description of the battle. No, he uses them as the foundation for his joke; he uses them to serve up his humor about men who claim to defend virtue but end up (always and inevitably?) being seduced by the dark side and behaving very badly. Ha Ha. Look. Virtue has become a whore. Isn’t that funny? While Bill Bennett and his cronies may be the butt of Sagal’s joke, it is women (and their roles as strippers giving lap dances in the introduction and chapter 3 or as prostitutes handing out flyers) and the reader’s shameful pleasure of them that dominates so much of what I have read so far (since I started this blog entry, I have made it to page 81).

The pitting of women as strippers/whores/objects of our lust against white, heterosexual men as failed paragons of virtue/typical guys-who-want-to-behave-badly is established in the author’s note even before the introduction. Sagal writes about how this book is partly inspired by and dedicated to Marv Albert (and those like him) who engage in vices (Marv is an adulterer who has a secret biting fetish) and get caught. No fair, Sagel cries as he ponders: Why are a select few allowed to get away with it while the rest of us (men, that is) are burdened by our pesky virtues and moral (and legal) accountability to our families and society? Poor Marv, Sagal laments. Basketball players like Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant can engage in bad, perverse behavior, but a schmo like Marv won’t ever be able to get away with it. He won’t ever be able to engage in polymorphous perversity (or force sex on a woman) and bite a woman (without consent and repeatedly) on her back. Of course, Sagal is not endorsing Bryant’s, Chamberlain’s or Albert’s behavior. But, by not considering the perspective of the women who are the objects of this vice (in this case, sexual perversity and more), Sagal is leaving out an important part of the story about how battles over virtue and vice are engaged (and represented in the popular imagination).

At whose expense is this battle between vice and virtue waged? Whose souls are being struggled over (and who doesn’t have a soul or at least one worth fighting for)? And, why, no matter who wins (Virtue or Vice), does the woman always end up the loser?

Michael Steele keeps getting into trouble…

0 So, STA tipped me off to this article about Michael Steele and the recent troubles that he is having. I am including it here as an example of how getting in trouble and staying out of trouble get used and understood within the mainstream media. [Note: Thank you Jon Stewart for pointing out how much Steele looks like the guy with the fly in his soup!]

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, working the room at a luncheon gathering of party officials yesterday, had the same parting words for each man he met: “Stay out of trouble.” Or, if speaking to a couple, he would tell the woman: “Keep him out of trouble.”

After this opening, Dana Milbank from The Washington Post describes the kind of trouble that Steele has gotten into in the last couple months: his run-ins with Rush Limbaugh, his failed attempts at appealing to the “hip hop generation,” his inability to generate enthusiasm for the Republican Party, and the misguided hope he places in the “tea bag” as the future of the party. Milbank concludes by admonishing Steele to “stay out of trouble.”

For the author of this article, trouble is being used as something that is bad, something that leads to crisis and has the potential to cause serious damage. Milbank understands Steele to be in some serious trouble: his job and the success of the party are in serious danger because of his bad/misguided/ineffective actions.

But, how is Steele using the term? Does he mean it as a joke? A playful and fatherly greeting to his party members? A warning and admonishment? And, when he tells the men (this, perhaps is too obvious, but what about the women? Does he imagine that they are incapable of making serious trouble or does he want them to make trouble?) to stay out of trouble, what exactly is he suggesting that they do? Stop raising controversy? Stop challenging the Democratic party or start challenging them more? Stop trying to change the course of the Republican party?

What if instead of telling them to stay out of trouble he had said, make trouble? Go out and shake up the party in ways that help to invigorate it and make it relevant. Ask the tough questions about where they went wrong and how to get them back on track. And don’t stand for anything less than an agenda that speaks to (and for) a wide range of people and their concerns. Would this be an example of virtuous troublemaking?

The time out as a liminal space of possibility?

So, I am using this blog as a way to work out different ideas I have about troublemaking–how it functions and how it is represented and understood within a variety of discourses and media. At a certain point–family members, friends, colleagues, students, acquaintences, random people on the street–grow tired of hearing me go on and on and on…and on about my theories/ruminations/rants of particular examples of making trouble and valuing troublemakers. That is where you, my dear blog, come in. You are my opportunity to squeeze every troublemaking drop out of an example (I haven’t even begun to tap into the possibilities of the Brady Bunch and “A fistful of reasons”). In that spirit, I want to continue my “critical exploration” of The Book of Timeouts.

Earlier today, I had a brainstorm while I was in the bathroom (Martin Luther, eat your heart out!).  I started thinking more about the link between troublemaking and punishment and kid’s troublemaking and time outs. One thought I had (and that I mentioned in my last entry), was: Do they need to be linked? Can we imagine the consequences of troublemaking to be good (transformative, leading to change) instead of all bad? That is a continuing theme of mine and one I will come back to again and again. But, after I finished my last entry, I started thinking more about the connection between making trouble (in all forms) and being punished. Then, I started thinking about the prison industrial complex and all of the important critical activist work that is being done on this crisis. So, I picked up a book by Angela Davis that I have been meaning to read all spring, Are Prisons Obsolete? In her introduction she ponders what it might mean to do away with the prison system and rethink how we address and deal with crime. Instead of reforming prisons or finding ways to create more of them, she wants to raise the question of “how to prevent the further expansion of prison populations and how to bring as many imprisoned women and men as possible back into what prisoners call ‘the free world'” (20). For many, that is a radical and inconceivable idea. How, exactly, could we go about doing this? Davis’ shift in emphasis would require a complete transformation of how we think about “criminals”, criminal activity and how to respond to it.

With that in mind, I started thinking about the time out and how it functions in terms of resolving (or at least dealing with) kid’s troublemaking behavior.  Consider how Lucke envisions it when she writes in her introduction:

You got more and more out of control. Finally someone like your mom noticed and said, ‘You need a time out!’ And suddenly, surprise!–you were on a little vacation from everyone else. In a corner, by yourself, where you could pout away until you could play nicely with others.

Lucke understands the time out implicitly and explicitly as a place of punishment and, in many of her examples, presents it as the equivalent of a prison cell. As a prison cell, the time out place (most often the dreaded time out chair) becomes a space of confinement that you are banished to when you do something wrong. You go to the time out chair not so much to settle down but because you did something that you need to be punished for. The time out chair takes you out of the action and out of the fun. It is meant to separate you from everyone else–from your friends, family, the world–as a reminder that you shouldn’t act out, you shouldn’t be too full of yourself, you shouldn’t step out of line.

The time out chair (and the idea of the time out in general) can be understood simultaneously as a threat (see kids, don’t behave like these bad troublemakers who got extra long time outs) to ensure that none of us actually do things we aren’t supposed to and as a means for wearing us down and draining us of our ability to resist and step outside of the system (so, you want to make trouble, huh? We will just lock you up until you come to your senses).  Whether it functions as a threat or a means of punishment, the time out (chair) is a necessary part of a kid’s moral education.

As I mentioned in my last entry, Lucke uses her different examples of troublemaking as moral lessons for her reader. The front flap makes the connection between troublemaker and moral lesson explicit: “Lucke showcases some of the world’s most famous troublemakers and proves that lessons can be learned from all of them”.  For each of these troublemakers, getting a time out (and often in the form of the time out chair) is a necessary part of growing up and learning what not to do. Don’t be too full of yourself (Hannibal). Share with others (Napoleon). Always apologize (Grace O’Malley). And, reading about what these other troublemakers allows kids to shape their good and improper behavior against the threat of punishment for bad behavior.

But, what if we thought about the time out space differently? What if we didn’t imagine and reinforce it as a fixed location for punishment, as a kiddy prison cell where you went when you misbehaved? What if we reimagined the time out space as a space of reflection and rumination, where a kid could ponder and process their thoughts and feelings and where she might be able to channel them in different ways? And, what if we imagined the act of a time out as not being experienced in a time out chair? What if we kept part of the goal of the time out (that is, to allow a kid to cool off and to stop the trajectory of their out-of-control actions), but didn’t connect that goal with punishment and got rid of the chair?

Would disconnecting the time out (as the process of stopping or tempering out-of-control behavior) from punishment enable us to think differently about how to deal with “bad” behavior? Would it allow parents to think differently about how to guide (instead of just disciplining) their kids? Would it give kids a different model for thinking about how and why they should develop strategies for dealing with their desires to disrupt and challenge authority? Would it require that we rethink moral education outside of the discipline and punish mentality?

Now, I need a lot more time to ruminate on this idea. I want to do a lot more (re) reading on punishment (Foucault, Davis, to name a few). I want to do a lot more researching on how the time out chair functions within the literature on child development. I want to think more about what this might mean for how I do my own parenting. And what this could mean for how we respond to the prison industrial complex.

I want to be very clear here: I am not suggesting that there is a simple (and direct) connection between children who are sent to the time out chair and prisoners who are sentenced to a prison cell. It is much more complicated than that. What I am suggesting is that the implicit and explicit connections we make between improper/out-of-control behavior, punitive consequences, and moral lessons begin in the time out chair and help to produce a society that becomes too dependent on prisons as the answer for “solving” crime and too dependent on punishment (or the threat of punishment) for developing morals and/or ethical codes of conduct. Troubling the time out chair and how it should/does function, could open up some new ways of thinking about how to deal with and understand disruptive, improper behavior. And it could open news way of thinking about how to develop and practice moral education for children.

Now, in ending my writing here, I haven’t even begun to answer the question I posed as the title of this entry: The time out as a liminal space of possibility? I guess that will have to wait as I continue to think through how to connect these thoughts that are swirling around in my head. Maybe I should spend some more time in the bathroom.

It worked for Martin Luther and Doc Brown (is that too obscure of a reference for you?), didn’t it?

The Book of Time outs, part II

In my last entry on Teaching kids to value troublemaking, I wrote about how this children’s book about time outs fails to distinguish between good and bad forms of troublemaking. Now, I want to take up a claim that I made at the end of that entry:

And I don’t want a kid’s book that turns all of this “mostly true” history of troublemakers into a cautionary tale of why we should stay in line, follow the rules, and never challenge authority: they always lead to punishment in the form of kid time-outs (in the corner) or, later, adult time-outs (in prison).

Contrary to my initial hope, this book is not aimed at encouraging troublemaking or on educating kids on the history of troublemakers who “made a difference.” No, the goal of this book is to educate kids on the value of time outs as a way of keeping us in check and allowing us to cool down so we don’t ever get too out of control. The ultimate moral lesson of this book becomes: See what happens when you step out of line? You get punished with a time out. Occasionally (but very rarely) you might not deserve it, but you need to always remember that your actions have consequences. So, next time you think about challenging the rules or questioning ideas that don’t make sense or just seem wrong to you, think again. The end result of your actions will (and should) always be punishment. And we don’t want that, do we?

Lucke sets up the book with a list of 14 different troublemakers. With each troublemaker she describes how they stepped out of line or exhibited bad behavior and then how they were punished for it. To better understand Lucke’s argument, I will paraphrase her descriptions:

1.  Hannibal the Animal: General Hannibal of the Carthaginians had great success in using elephants to defeat the Roman Army. But he got too full of himself and started focusing more on how he was “the greatest general that ever lived” than on fighting the Romans. When the Romans attacked Hannibal and his army at Carthage, the sound of their trumpets scared the elephants away. Carthage was crushed and Hannibal was given a time out in a “far-off corner of the ancient world.”

Troublemaking behavior: Full of himself
Time out punishment: Banishment
Moral: Always try to be humble. Pride and arrogance can blind us to the limits of our own actions.

2. The Phighting Pharaoh: Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy kept fighting over who could rule Egypt. One day, the guards found Cleopatra sitting on the throne and Ptolemy crying on the floor. They gave Cleopatra a long time out in the desert and Ptolemy became the ruler. Later Cleopatra got help from Julius Caesar and kicked Ptolemy out. Then she sat back down on the throne.

Troublemaking behavior: Unable to share
Time out punishment: Kicked out, Forced to stop playing
Moral: Always try to share and take turns.

3. Marcus Tullius “Put-a-Sock-in-it” Cicero: Cicero was a great orator, but he refused to shut up. People got really annoyed–they couldn’t get a word in edgewise. So, they kicked him out of Rome and sent him far away. He got back at them by writing long letters that ended up the library and that we still read today.

Troublemaking behavior: Talked too much
Time out Punishment: Banished, not listened to
Moral: Find a better way to use your voice.

4. Lionhearted, But knuckleheaded: On his way home from the crusades, Richard the Lionheart cut through Leopold V of Austria’s backyard. Leopold got mad and put Richard and his friends in the dungeon. Richard’s mommy had to give a lot of money to Leopold to get him out.

Troublemaking behavior: Trespassing
Time out Punishment: Put in prison and embarrassed by his mommy in front of his friends
Moral: Be respectful of other people’s property and don’t take shortcuts

5. The Not-So-Clean Queen: Isabella never bathed and smelled very bad. Perhaps that is why her older half brother the king kicked her out of Madrid and tried to marry her off to a foreign prince. She snuck off, took a bath, and married someone else. Her brother was mad that she disobeyed him but not too mad; he was happy she didn’t smell anymore!

Troublemaking behavior: Refusing to take a bath, disobeying older  brother’s orders
Time out punishment: Kicked out of the house,
Moral: Take a bath. Smelling sweet (especially as a girl) excuses any bad behavior.

6. The Explorer That Went Too Far: Columbus lied to people (including the queen) in Spain about finding gold and gems in America. When a lot of people sailed with him to get rich and found out he was lying, they got mad. So mad that they chained him up and sent him back to Spain where he had to explain himself to the queen.

Troublemaking behavior: lying
Time out punishment: Kicked out, sent to the principal’s (I mean queen’s) office.
Moral: Don’t lie to people. They will get mad at you.

7. Grandma, the Pirate: Grace O’Malley liked to rob English ships traveling to Ireland. She was caught and punished twice but she kept doing it…for 60 years. Finally, when she was tired she said she was sorry and asked the queen to forgive her. The queen said okay as long as she didn’t do it again.

Troublemaking behavior: Acting out, stealing from others
Time out punishment: Imprisoned twice
Moral: If you apologize for your bad behavior, people will forgive you and not give you any more time outs.

8. Ach! That Bach!: Fed up with how badly the bassoonist was playing, Bach yelled at him and called him a bad name. The two of them got into a fight that the police had to break up. The fight was put on his record and became the first of many bad marks for Bach.

Troublemaking behavior: Not working well with others
Time out punishment: Yelled at and given a bad report
Moral: Learn how to live in harmony with others.

9. The Armée Brat: Napoleon thought everything belonged to him so he kept taking land from other countries. Finally, the other countries were fed up and gave him a time out on a small island that nobody cared about. When he broke out and tried to start more trouble, he was given an even longer time-out.

Troublemaking behavior: Being selfish, taking other peoples’ things
Time out punishment: Forced to sit in the corner
Moral: Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you.

10. Not the Smartest Artist: Honoré Daumier was an artist who painted pictures that always made people look bad. One day he painted a picture of the King of France that made the king look especially bad…and funny. Everyone laughed…expect the King. He locked Daumier up in prison.

Troublemaking behavior: Making fun of other people
Time out punishment: Prison
Moral: Be nice to other people and don’t do things that are at their expense or If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

11. The Insufferable Suffragette: When Susan B. Anthony was told not to go to the voting booth, she refused to listen and went in anyway. She was sent to jail and got a fine. Later she told people that she had disobeyed because she thought the rule was stupid. A lot of people said she was right. Finally so did the U.S. government and the rules were changed.

Troublemaking behavior: Refusing to follow the rules
Time out punishment: Arrested and fined
Moral: Sometimes challenging rules can lead to changing them.

12. Bad, Bad, Babe: Even though Babe Ruth was really good at baseball, he was really bad at following the coach’s rules. He did a lot of things he shouldn’t have—eating too much, staying out too late, being impolite to other players. Finally the coach was fed up. He fined Babe and wouldn’t let him play again until he apologized.

Troublemaking behavior: Disruptive and disrespectful behavior
Time out punishment: Fined and suspended from playing
Moral: Listen to your coach, follow his rules and respect him and the other players.

13. The Horn Player that Nearly Blew It: Louis Armstrong started out as a troublemaker and was sent to a wayward home for boys. While at the home, he learned how to play the trumpet and became very successful around the world.

Troublemaking behavior: looking for trouble?
Time out punishment: Sent to a home for boys.
Moral: Turned his life around and learned how to play trumpet.

14. A Very Upstanding Sitter: While sitting on a crowded bus, Rosa Parks disobeyed the law and refused to give up her seat to a white man. She was arrested. She believed the law was wrong and fought for it to be changed. Eventually it was. She won a Congressional Medal of Honor for her efforts.

Troublemaking behavior: Disobeying
Time out punishment: put in jail
Moral: Sometimes laws are wrong and we should refuse to obey them. While we will get punished for it, we might be able to get the law changed.

Okay, some of this book was clever. As I read through Lucke’s descriptions, I found myself laughing a couple of times. I must admit that many of the moral lessons (according to my interpretations. Lucke never describes these accounts as producing moral lessons) are worthwhile. And, in her description of Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks, she does suggest that their troublemaking was important and transformative. But what do we make of how she haphazardly lumps all of these individuals and their rebellious actions together under the sign of troublemaker/troublemaking? And how she reduces each troublemaker’s rebellious actions to a childish act of being too full of themselves, or of lying to others, or of not sharing, or of refusing to take a bath? Is that really what these different figures are doing? Should we teach children to identify their own bad behavior as the precursor to even badder behavior? And, is the best way to understand troublemaking (what is it, why we do it, what its consequences are) by forever linking it to punishment?

Of course there are certain behaviors that need to be punished and I am definitely not averse to telling my kids that they need a time out…at least once (or twice or more) a day. I think adults need time outs too (preferably ones that involve a spa tub and some Calgon). But, are time outs the best way to resolve troublemaking behavior and is resolving troublemaking behavior what we should always be trying to do? How many Susan B. Anthonys or Rosa Parks have lost their ability to resist and their desire to challenge unjust laws because they were given time outs? What would the world look like if we were encouraged (and we encouraged others) to stand up to rules that weren’t right, to laws that were unjust, to ideas that bred hate and to institutions that perpetuated oppression in its many forms?

Okay, you are probably thinking: Lighten up. This is just a kid’s book and a cute one at that. Kid’s books aren’t supposed to have deeper messages. Kid’s books are harmless. You might even say: Hey, this kid’s book is pretty great. It introduces kids to Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks and the idea that certain laws are meant to challenged. And, I would agree with you up to a point. But, I would also say: This kid’s book, which takes up the idea of troublemaking as transformative (at least in the cases of Anthony and Parks), could have enabled kids to think about how standing up for themselves, questioning authority, and/or claiming their own voice is something to be valued and should be something that doesn’t always lead to punishment but results in a better, more just world.

When I think about a kid’s book on troublemaking, I imagine it as not always connecting troublemaking with bad behavior that needs to be punished. My kid’s book would not follow Lucke’s formula of bad behavior = well-deserved punishment = moral lesson. My kid’s book would invite children (and the adults who read to them) to think about how to distinguish between bad (harmful, selfish) and good (transformative, visionary) forms of troublemaking. Or maybe it would focus only on those examples of good troublemaking to demonstrate how many people throughout history have found ways to resist and transform the system. How they have learned to think for themselves and challenge rules that don’t work or are harmful. And, maybe it would argue that the most important result of their actions has not been a time out punishment, but the transformation of the world in ways that open up more possibilities to more people.