One of the most challenging tasks a teacher can have can be recognizing when a student is not safe at home. When children are treated as though they have no value by the people who should value them the most, they often internalize that lack of value and are afraid to talk about it with other adults who can help them. If they are being abused at home for their mere existence, blending in becomes a method of survival. When educators get to know their students as individuals, so each student stands out, they have a better chance of recognizing the signs of abuse. Here is an article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development that highlights some of these signs: Supporting Victims of Child Abuse
The Dangerous Art of Blending In is a young adult novel by Angelo Surmelis and this story of coming out and finding love, while also escaping hatred, is based on Surmelis’ own teenage experiences. Reading this book could trigger intense emotions from readers who have experienced abuse and that is important to consider and to share with students ahead of time. It is also an essential story to be told and should be shared with as many people as possible.
Evan Panos is the protagonist in this book and he has been covering up his mother’s physical and emotional abuse since he was a small child. At seventeen, with the help of his best friend and eventual romantic partner Henry, Evan starts to realize that the abuse he is suffering is unacceptable (as all abuse is) and that he deserves to be loved. Readers will empathize with Evan and will love Henry, but conversations around some of the other characters will be more complex. Evan’s father does not exactly condone the actions of his wife. He repeatedly tells her that she needs to stop and he physically restrains her when she becomes out of control. Is that enough? Evan’s pastor seems to be aware of what is happening within Evan’s home, but he suggests family counseling. He also seems to find homosexuality and child abuse equally reprehensible.
Reading this book requires adults and teenagers to consider the responsibility that they have for the emotional and physical safety of the people they care about. How much do we know and not say? When does knowledge become complicity? When does the bystander become one of the bullies?
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Action 17: I take responsibility for standing up to exclusion, prejudice and injustice.
Action 19: I stand up to exclusion, prejudice and discrimination, even when it’s not popular or easy or when no one else does.
RL.1- Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
RL.2- Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
RL.3- Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).
RL.5- Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.