“Can I Sit With You?” The Stormy Social Seas of the Schoolyard

swing-empty.jpgIs it a book? Is it a blog? A social media community?

This poignant (book and blog) called, “Can I Sit With You?” The Stormy Social Seas of the Schoolyard, is an innovative example of using new media on a mission to further important work by taking a traditional linear book publishing format and turning it into an ongoing Web 2.0 ‘shared experience.’

The title alone is enough to bring an understanding nod, as media visions of ‘odd girl out,’ relational aggression, and ‘kids can be cruel’ flashbacks flood the senses with childhood memories.

No doubt most every adult has vivid recall of a viper-tongued moment or chilling snub from recess or lunch table days, much less those struggling to fit in with special needs or any ‘different’ circumstance. By inviting readers to share their own tales themselves, this “living conversation” is a “social media” feature in itself, where contributors follow submission guidelines to offer their schoolyard social stings in an ongoing compilation to benefit SEPTAR (special education PTA)

It’s not without controversy, (they were just ‘uninvited’ to a middle school literary panel today due to some of the edgy/mature themes) and I’ve only read a smattering of stories over time on the blog, but being an anti-censorship type my first inclination is to note that “first person pain” is bound to be raw and uncomfy; it’s a choice to put it to productive use and help others. Plus, with surround sound media, it’s bound to pale by comparison to any internet fodder kids are surfin’ online. So caveat emptor, folks, this isn’t for the ‘wrap ’em in a bubble’ brigade.

Media folks might call it a “user generated content” platform play, but if you ditch the jargon, what it really means is they’ve made the pages of this book come alive, by tapping into a universal touch point then setting the project free to morph into a rich, relevant conversation.

It will no doubt help others through shared stories of highs and lows gleaned from schoolyard social scenarios, and help the special needs coffers of SEPTAR via purchases of the book at Lulu.com. Talk about a productive use of adversity…

can-i-sit-with-you.jpg“These tales will touch anyone who has ever struggled to fit in with the other kids at school, wondered about feeling different, or felt like no one could possibly understand what they’re going through,” said the blurb on Lulu.com where this 150 page book is being sold.

Overall I think the idea of taking a negative and flipping it into a positive, leveraging the power of media to take the dialogue wherever it wants to go is a very good thing…But whether it’s ‘appropriate’ for a “school-sponsored event” is a whole different set of parameters and liabilities that only admin can sort out, so I can see why they wouldn’t want to open that parental Pandora’s box.

The dynamic/interactive format allows readers to become published writers in a cathartic “life skills training meets buddy/bully tips” keepsake bound paperback edition for everyone to learn from.

The project only lasts as long as the stories do…social media engagement at its most timely and collaborative, with a raw ‘reality show’ twist that will no doubt play well with kids.

Most interesting thing to me is they managed to keep it from being a “power whine” or “woe is me” slam book, and there’s narry a cliché of preach-n-teach pontifications from the ones I’ve read…They’ve done a solid job of “letting go” of the conversation to frame contextual learning as an art form…

As this reviewer aptly described,

“Some stories end where they end, some stories have endings that show what happened 20 years later, some stories have sad endings, others have happy endings.

They are what they are, offered to the reader to make what they will of them.

Perhaps the most important lesson in all of them is that the writers all survived and grew up to have something to say, and a place to say it.”

They’ve also shared readings at live events as performance art on video, and stirred up emotions from name calling and back of the school bus days to all of the outcast anxieties, new kid anticipation and self esteem slingshots of peer acceptance.

Pioneering author/editors Shannon Des Roches Rosa and Jennifer Byde Myers reveal the nuances of growing up, touching on the awkward reverb and misdirected angst from those struggling to cope with kids who ‘don’t know what to do’ in a given situation…

From a bald peer stricken with cancer/chemo treatments, to a Down’s Syndrome child reaching out for friendship, and reader submissions that run the gamut from sexuality to abuse, there’s no question a book like this is going to bring up compelling “issues” far beyond bullying.

Playwright George Bernard Shaw once said,

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

To me, that’s what collaborative creation is all about…more apples, more solutions.

Here’s an interview with co-author Jennifer on the Blooking Central site, about the making of the “blook” (blog/book, get it?) from the 1000 word submissions to the editing process and quality control.

I particularly like their ‘pay it forward’ factor, where tales of schoolyard tragedy and triumph end up helping others, as this blurb reinforces,

“For any adult who wants to be allied with a child, this kind of book may be just the thing to open up discussion of what’s happening to that child. It may comfort just because of its honesty and its assurance that other children have felt and survived these things, or it could be used to foster problem-solving to help a child cope with the pitfalls and hazards of even the most normal school experience…

It could also help kids who don’t have problems (or who are the problems) to see the situation from the point of view of those who are struggling, and open up the way for conversations about compassion and the different experiences of other people.”

Got ideas for other ‘blook’ collections?

Shaping Youth has our own version called “Body Blitz: Media, Shaping Youth” to accompany the documentary data we’ve been tracking on K-5 playgrounds for a couple years now, from bullying to behavioral cues.

I’m also interested in doing a book on ‘civility’ (or lack thereof) using the positive media ‘blink’ we do in our kids’ workshops where we take tough situations, stereotypes, and deplorable (real life) scenarios then flip them with a simple phrase, “Now, just consider for a moment…What if the person…” (insert any ol’ point of view to spin in a new direction)

Doesn’t always apply to ‘bullying’ situations, but many times it does…

Meanwhile, here are some other examples that have taken shape in this new media art form teenage angst in poetry and camp stories and I’ll of course add our own global effort called The Age of Conversation where we raised $11,000 in a few months sold through Lulu.com, housing the collective 400 word blurbs from 103 worldwide bloggers each writing chapters/tips on marketing conversations to benefit Variety, the Children’s Charity which I wrote about here, and here, and here…

We have a “volume 2” forthcoming in 2008, (podcast about AOC here) and the Can I Sit With You sequel is coming soon too…so you can see the value of talking about topics that are ‘useful experiences’ made all the more compelling based on first-person narrative!

“Can I Sit With You” seems like a primer mirroring adolescent angst in its many derivative forms, from ‘standard drama/trauma’ to special needs snapshots and ‘you are not alone’ reassurance, providing a helpful way to use the power of media for positive change. (How many tweens/teens do you know that read “life’s most embarrassing moments” columns in most every media form?)

This quote summed the social media project nicely, discussing how a child might feel reading the chapters,

“I never needed an ‘I know how you feel’ or a ‘Here’s how to make them like you!’ so much as I needed an ‘It’s not just you, it’s not your fault, it just is…”

What a fascinating social media idea…“It just is.”



  1. Thanks for the nod and citation, apologies for the lack of communication. We appreciate your support!

  2. New study here that’s very relevant on cliques/tribes/teens!!!


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