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Why We Still Teach The Outsiders

May 18, 2017

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Jeff Hersh

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The Outsiders, a novel by S. E. Hinton, was first published in 1967. In the last 50 years it has become a classic piece of literature that teachers use with middle and high school students.

 

Teachers still teach this novel for many reasons, essentially because its importance has lasted for a half of century.

 

Identifying Class Differences and Conflicts

 

The central conflict of the novel comes from the inherent differences in class between the main characters, the Greasers, and the rival teens, the Socs (Socials). The groups are determined by what side of the city they are from. The greasers are from the poorer side of the city, and often feel like they have more struggles than those on the richer side of the city. Feelings of fiscal inferiority in many ways is what creates their strong bonds between each other. It helps them create a family amongst friends. The unity brought about by shared hardships is a common thread in many examples of literature. It is a natural gateway to encourage students to look at current events, or their personal backgrounds, to make relevant connections. There are many ways for teachers to connect this theme and engage their students beyond the text.

 

Honor/Friendship

 

Ponyboy and his experiences throughout the novel are tethered to his gang of friends. They defend each other, care for each other, and ultimately are a family to each other. Their bonds are tested through threats from Socs, women, the law, and tragedy. Again, teachers can use this theme to encourage students to reflect on their experiences with friends and family, or how loyalty to the wrong people can cause conflict. While the characters often see the world in black and white terms, particularly when it comes to honor and what’s right and wrong, teachers and students can look deeper to find those gray areas.  

 

Growing Up

 

Ponyboy and his brothers lived through tragedy when their parents were killed in a car accident. Their experiences ultimately force them to mature into adults sooner than expected. Teachers can use these examples to encourage self-reflection within the students. When Johnny succumbs to his injuries from the fire and dies, he tells Ponyboy to “stay gold.” This is a direct reference to the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” which is about the fragility of innocence and goodness. Even among violence and pain, Johnny wants Ponyboy to retain his innocence. This theme is commonly found in art and literature, and directly connects to what students are going through in their own lives.

 

The Outsiders and its core themes stands the test of time for students. Regardless of the time period or setting, the universality of the teen characters allows teachers to approach many of the ideas and issues that resonate with teens today.

 

Why do you still teach The Outsiders?

 

School Practice Assignments

 

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