3 Student Intention and Relations

James caught my attention quickly. I knew him by name after the first day of the workshop.

James is going to be trouble for me–I didn’t handle things well today. During writing time, after I explained that the children could choose what they wanted to write about, James first told me he didn’t have anything to write about, then that he was going to write about vomit (other children snickered when he said this), and finally that he needed a new sheet of paper because he had messed the other one up. He approached me later and said that he didn’t like writing. My response: “Well you are going to do some writing in here.” Nice guy­, understanding, patient, eager to learn about and help children. I need to get more sleep. (Fieldnotes, 8-30-89)

You might say James awoke me rather abruptly from my dreams of children writing themselves onto the page and into a community of authors. James also served notice that he was a force to be reckoned with in the classroom, both in his relationship with me as the teacher, and in his relationships with other children in the room. Among the boys, James was at the top of the pecking order, and commanded high status and influence among them. Of course, I did not know this then.

James (or rather, James and I) found something to write about the next day before class. Grace had asked me to come with her to get the children from gym class. As Grace and the gym teacher worked to quiet the children down and get them into a line, I realized that I was surprised and disappointed that children still had to get in lines and be absolutely quiet (though it seldom happened). I had not taught in schools for several years, and I guess I had assumed they had changed while I was gone.

Kurt and James interrupted my musings. They were arguing about Kurt’s placement at the beginning of the line. Kurt claimed that he was supposed to be the line leader; James, that Kurt had led the line the day before from art, so someone else should be the line leader. I entered their conversation, partly to disrupt such a serious discussion of what I considered an arbitrary school procedure. I questioned Kurt as to whether he really, really was the line leader or not. James seemed to have caught on that I was playing, and soon was calling Kurt an imposter, and then a fake line leader. At the end of the year, James still remembered the origins of his first story:

He [Kurt] said “I’m the line leader” and I go “No he’s not, he’s a fake line leader.” And then I, then I looked at his colors [reference to Uni­versity of Alabama sweatshirt Kurt was wearing] and I go “The fake line leader from Alabama.” And Mr. Lensmire goes “Yeah, maybe you could write a story about that,” and I did, and I put Kurt as the main character. (Interview, 5-24-90)

James soon enlisted a third boy from the class, Ken, as a collabora­tor on the piece, and they could be seen working together most days in the workshop. James often kneeled in his seat, leaning over across Ken’s desktop as they worked. They seldom asked for help from Grace or me. I stopped in one day to see how things were going.

I bent down by them, and Ken asked James if they should let me see a certain part of their story. James said, “He can read it.” I didn’t read the whole story, only to the middle of the page where the female and male lead characters meet on a train in the dining car. The next line said something like: “Then they went to bed.” The “they” was Kurt and another character named after someone in the class–Lisa. I asked them if that was the part. They said yes. I asked if their story was like a James Bond movie (I was thinking of their spies and romantic liaisons, but didn’t say this), and they said no, and seemed confused by the question. I got up and walked away.

Later, I saw them in the front of the room with Grace. She had their paper in her hands and I saw her write something on their paper. (Fieldnotes, 9-15-89)

James and Ken later decided to publish the story, and they shared their typed and illustrated book with the class toward the end of Novem­ber. Just before they were supposed to share, they came to me in a panic–they could not find their book. Soon, Ken had the contents of his desk on the floor as he looked for the book. James told me that I must have lost it; he was holding me responsible. I was surprised at how des­perate and engaged they seemed. Usually, James was “cool”–a word used by other children to describe James and his friends in interviews–distant, somewhat aloof, above showing too much visible emotion or interest in school activities. They finally found their book at the back table where Ken had worked the day before to finish the illustrations. They walked to the front of the room.

James sat in the author’s chair, and Ken stood behind him and to his left with his hand resting on the back of the chair. They were cool again: James seemed at ease in the author’s chair, arms resting on the sides, look­ing over the class. Ken had put on sunglasses with mirror frames. James read to a classroom audience that was unusually attentive and settled (at least as he began to read). James would read the text of one or two pages, and then pause to hold up the book so that his classmates could see the illustrations. When he held up the book for others to see, he often com­mented about the text or illustrations (Ken joined him on two occasions). He soon had large numbers of the class laughing and calling out responses to his reading and commentary. The text of their story–along with selected illustrations from their book–follows:


The Fake Line Leader from Alabama

a child's line drawing

Kurt called his boss. His boss said, “You are going to Michigan to be a line leader. Mustn’t tell anyone your name.”

On the train to Michigan he saw a woman.

He sat down for dinner and the woman came up to him and said, “Is this seat taken?”

He said, “No,” so she sat down. She said, “Hello, my name is Lisa,” and he said, “My name is Kurt.”

a child's drawing of two seated stick figures.
Kurt meets Lisa

So they had dinner together-sushi with hot fudge sauce. The next morning they were in Michigan.

When he got off the train he called his boss. His boss’ name is Robert.

Kurt said, “Hello, Robert.”

“Are you in Michigan?” Robert asked. Kurt said yes and Robert said, “Now you have to go to Clifford School.”

“Wait a minute. You never said any­thing about going anywhere but Michi­gan. But you’re the boss, so bye.” So he went to get a taxi, but there was not any left.

So he walked and saw hippies. They said, ”Would you like to get a hair cut?”

a child's drawing of a boy standing on a sidewalk
Kurt’s Mohawk

Kurt said, “OK,” and he got a Mohawk and he had to stay on the street for the night until the Mohawk was gone. When the haircut was gone he was at the school. When he went into the school he called his boss. His boss said,”Go to Mrs. P’s class.” So when he found Mrs. P’s class he saw Lisa. They were getting ready for lunch. Kurt went to Lisa and said, “Remember me?”

Lisa said, “Yes, come to lunch with me.” So they went.to lunch and had sushi with hot fudge sauce.


a child's drawing of a person at a phone booth
Kurt phones his boss

After lunch, Kurt called his boss. His boss said, “Did you see Lisa?”

“How did you know?”

“She is my other agent.”

So on the train to Alabama they sat down for dinner and had sushi with hot fudge sauce. After dinner Kurt said, “I really don’t like sushi with hot fudge sauce.”

“I don’ either,” said Lisa.

When they got off at Alabama Lisa said, “Come to my house. I will cook you something good.”

The End


James commented twice, during his performance, on problems with the typing I had done for their book. Once to say that what I had origi­nally typed throughout the book as “Rubert” was supposed to be “Robert,” and a second time to say that I had omitted a word. His com­ments were: “Mr. Lensmire typed it wrong. It says Robert,” and later, “‘Would you like to get a hair cut…a free hair cut.’ Mr. Lensmire typed that one too” (Audiotape, 11-28-89; quotations in this section come from 11-28-89 tape).

James performed and interpreted The Fake Line Leader from Alabama, while most other children who shared in front of class simply read their texts. He spoke with energy and expression, and children responded overtly to his intonation and pitch, especially in his voice characterizations of Kurt. For example, after the hippies gave Kurt a Mohawk, James read Kurt’s line in the illustration–“Oh no my hair!”­–with a high pitch and breathy quality, and stretched out the word “hair” so that it reminded me of how cartoon characters stretch out “I’m falling” as they drop from a plane or a cliff to the earth. Loud laughter followed. And when James narrated the reunion of Kurt with Lisa at Clifford school, he read, “Remember me?” with an exaggerated rise in pitch on “me” to the seeming delight of his classmates.

James also found humor in the execution of one of Ken’s illustra­tions. After reading about Kurt’s third phone call to his boss, James com­mented on the size of Kurt in the illustration. In an earlier illustration (not included above), Kurt appears to be about the same size as the phone booth, but in the later one he is much smaller. James said, “He’s on the phone. Ken kinda got, kinda shrunk him.” Ken did not appear upset by this comment, and smiled as the class laughed. (However, the comment seems to have spurred a revision of the illustration which I accidentally discovered when looking at two different photocopies I had made of their book–one on the day they shared it in November, and another I had made at the end of the year. The later version has Kurt slightly taller than the phone booth in both illustrations.)

But some of the loudest responses from the class, including laughter and student comments to each other and the authors, occurred when James and Ken discussed illustrations that implicated girls in the class. The first such response came when James showed the class the title page of The Fake Line Leader. The title page featured two people–a female and a male. The male figure is about half as tall as the female figure. When James displayed the title page for his classmates, he said, “Lisa is the big one.” Later, when commenting on an illustration of Mrs. P’s class, James and Ken gave names to figures in the illustration who were not named anywhere in the text of their story. More specifically, they said that the drawings were of girls from the class. Their comments provoked a loud response.

]AMES: (pointing at illustration) There’s, there’s, um, there’s people in the class.
KEN: This one’s Sharon (some laughter) and, um, what’s the other one?
JAMES: Yeah, this one’s Sharon and this one, this one is Suzanne. (Fol­lowed by laughter, general hubbub, student comments such as “Let me see, let me see” and “A nice green face”–one character’s face was green in illustration.)

James seemed unsure, at first, about what to say about the illustration. Ken helped him out by suggesting one person in the illustration, and James followed up on Ken’s lead. The two collaborated, again, in their response to student questions that followed the presentation of their book.

Paul asked James and Ken, “How did you think of the story? That would have been hard for me.” James responded that they first thought of the people, and that once they had the people, they just thought of the story. Suzanne, one of the girls identified as in the illustration of Mrs. P’s class, followed this question up with one about consistency in the story.

SUZANNE: But I don’t get it. The boss said do not tell anyone his name and then, then Kurt told Lisa that.
LENSMIRE: That’s one of the jokes, right?
JAMES: That was one of the jokes because he, because he likes her so much that he forgot (student laughter, talking; one child said “Ooooo” with rising pitch, as if surprised or pretending to be sur­prised at revelation of Kurt’s desire).
KEN: Yeah, they get married at the end. (Volume of laughter and talk increases.)

Ken’s comment and the class’ response ended sharing time, both because we were running out of time, and because sharing time had bro­ken down into a number of conversations and some shouting. I quickly walked to the front of the room, and gave instructions over the excited talk and movement of children in the room, to put away writing folders and get ready for lunch. A number of children continued to talk about The Fake Line Leader from Alabama as they left for the cafeteria a few minutes later.

My story about the writing and sharing of James and Ken’s book foreshadows several points–about who James was and what he was about in the classroom–that I develop later in the chapter. One is that James saw himself as the funny person in the workshop, and that the objects of his humor were often found in his immediate surroundings­–other children, teachers, classroom situations. Another is that James and his friends often included classmates’ names as the names of characters in their fiction, and that these inclusions were informed by existing social relations among children. Below, I comment on a few of the ways that James and Ken’s writing and sharing responded to the particular social context within which they worked, by discussing the social origins of their story, the influence of teacher interventions, and the function of het­erosexual meanings in their text.

James and Ken’s text had very “social” origins (beyond social origins in shared language, conceptions of story and particular genres, etc.). Kurt and James had argued about who should be first in line. Their argument assumed a social (school) practice–lining up to walk back to class–in which they were, at the moment, participating. I joined their conversa­tion at least partly to disrupt their seriousness but also to poke fun at that school practice. When James called Kurt a fake line leader, I responded that James might want to write a story about that. His comment had sug­gested something like a spy/secret agent story or maybe a story about an impostor–in my fieldnotes that night I wrote that I might want to help James find news stories about impostors.

My response to James’ comment–you could write a story about that–makes sense in the context of our relationship as writing teacher and student. An important role I played in the workshop was helping children identify meaningful topics. In this case, I had already identified James as someone who might need some help. In fact, I was anxious to help since I anticipated problems with James in the classroom if he went long without something to write about. In other words, I embraced two important teacher roles in my conversation with James. One was helping him find something to write about. The other was keeping order in the classroom, an order I thought might be upset if James did not find some­ thing to engage him.

I do not know what sort of weight James ascribed to my suggestion that he write a story about a fake line leader. When he talked about it at the end of the year, he said that I told him “maybe” he could write about that. James did not, by the end of the year, believe he was required to follow such suggestions from his writing teacher–he took me more or less at my word that he had a large amount of control over what and how he wrote (discussed later in chapter). But at the beginning of the year, when student control over text was perhaps not an assumption James made, my “maybe” could have meant “should” to James. Even if James heard maybe, my power as a teacher to assign work to children was part of the origins of this story. I had told James the day before that he would be doing some writing in my classroom. Whatever the personal mean­ingfulness or interest he found in such a story, James had the problem, by virtue of being a student in this writing workshop, of needing some­thing to write about. In his interview, James noted that:

In the beginning of the year when the writing workshop came we were like, yeah, it’s going to be great, it’s going to be great, we’re going to have lots of time to write and stuff. But then when we really got there most, most of us we were like stumped on what to write about, and we couldn’t figure out what to do.

James continued, asserting that children had a great deal of control over their work, but a basic requirement was that they write.

Like, some of the people would go out in the hall and some people would go in the classroom. But Mr. Lensmire, he doesn’t care where they are, what, and who they’re working with, and if they’re work­ing with anybody, he just wants them to write. (Interview, 5-24-90)

My suggestion, therefore, provided a possible response by James to the problem of identifying and writing about something he chose, a prob­lem he had not solved the day before. Thus, James found an idea for a story in a conversation with Kurt and me. The idea for his story depended on a school practice (lining up children) and emerged in anticipation of a school class–writing workshop. The conversation James participated in, as well as the story he eventually wrote with Ken, were shaped by me, a teacher who wanted to help James find something to write about, and who used his authority to keep order and require children to write in his classroom.

Besides my early influence on the story, the text of The Fake Line Leader from Alabama was also influenced by Grace, the regular class­room teacher. As I noted above, I had seen Grace talking with James and Ken (as well as writing on their paper) on the same day that these young authors allowed me to read their “going to bed” line. As you may have noticed, this line does not appear in their story. Grace replaced the line that would have read, “So they went to bed,” with “So they had dinner together, sushi with hot fudge sauce.” This line was written by Grace on the rough draft, and James confirmed, in his interview, that “sushi with hot fudge sauce” was Mrs. Parker’s idea.

From an examination of the rough draft, it is clear that James and Ken had not written as far as the second reference to sushi before Grace’s intervention. Thus, Grace’s intervention influenced the future development of their text. Minimally, it removed the event of Kurt and Lisa going to bed, replaced it with a dinner entre, and provided a phrase–sushi with hot fudge sauce–that is repeated three more times in the story. It is possible that her intervention also influenced the plot of the story: that Ken and James included “eating events”–lunch at school and lunch and dinner on the train–in order to use Grace’s unusual sug­gestion. I am particularly interested in how Grace’s intervention seemed to have shaped the ending of the story, which I interpret as a subtle resis­tance to the content and function of Grace’s intervention.

I assume that Grace intervened where and how she did because of the sexual connotations of a line such as, “they went to bed.” She inter­vened at no other point in their text. Ken and James themselves had identified this very line as a risky one when they wondered aloud whether or not to let me read it. The ending of their story is interesting, then, exactly because it reintroduces the sort of sexual connotations Grace had sought to remove.

When Lisa and Kurt finish their third meal of sushi and hot fudge sauce, they admit that they do not really like it. This makes sense, I sup­pose, and we might leave it at that. But after Kurt and Lisa get to Alabama, Lisa did two things: She rejected (again) sushi with hot fudge sauce with her, “I will cook you something good,” and she invited Kurt to her house. The authors seem to be resisting or undoing Grace’s inter­vention here–or at least, reasserting their own intention that a romantic relationship exists between Kurt and Lisa. The first time around, in the rough draft, dinner led to bed for the characters James and Ken created on the page. This is exactly the place Grace intervened. She frustrated Kurt and Lisa’s desire–and James and Ken’s desire to represent it on the page–but not for long. And remember that in the oral reading and inter­pretation of this story by James and Ken, they cemented the intimate relationship between Kurt and Lisa by saying that Kurt liked Lisa, and that the two eventually married.

James and Ken’s appropriation of “sushi with hot fudge sauce” is a perfect example of how Bakhtin (1981) conceived of language learn­ing and use. Originally, as I discussed in chapter 1, all words are some­one else’s words. Gradually, we take them over for our own purposes, but these words are “dialogic,” they retain the intonations and evalua­tions of others even as they are used by us in new situations and trans­formed. In this case, “sushi with hot fudge sauce” were Grace’s words, and used for the purpose of erasing a sexual relationship between Kurt and Lisa. Grace’s words were heard in The Fake Line Leader, and they influenced James and Ken’s story. But by the end of the story, James and Ken seem to have largely appropriated Grace’s words to their own ends. With Lisa and Kurt’s rejection of sushi with hot fudge sauce at the end of the story, James and Ken created a space for the sort of romantic dinner and evening that Grace had sought to prohibit with her words.

Whether or not James and Ken were resisting Grace’s intervention is less important for interpreting their text than the presence of romantic meanings in the story. Parts of James and Ken’s text, and the sharing of their text, drew on common forms of teasing to elicit response from the class–a form of teasing that depends on typical gender arrangements among children in schools, in which “girls and boys are together, but mostly apart” (Thorne, 1986).

Heterosexual meanings could have found their way into James and Ken’s text for a number of reasons. One reason might be that James and Ken wanted to test teacher boundaries of permissible content in their sto­ries. Their bed line went over the line for Grace, as they assumed it might with me. Heterosexual meanings, then, might function like James’ first choice of a writing topic (vomit) did–to challenge teacher and school norms of appropriate topics for talk and writing.

A second reason for the presence of heterosexual meanings might be the perceived demands of genre. Ken and James, in their readings and viewings of spy and secret agent stories, TV shows, and movies, might have acquired a sense that the male lead needs a love interest. So, Kurt, on the way to Michigan, meets Lisa. (In something of a reversal of stereo­typed moves by men and women, Lisa initiated contact and later took the lead in getting Kurt to her house. Of course, the way to Kurt’s heart was through his stomach.)

But another genre–often an oral one particular to children–might be more important. Thorne (1986) notes that, although Western culture tends to define children as relatively asexual, heterosexual language is sometimes used by adults and children to describe cross-sexual relation­ships. Furthermore:

In everyday life in schools, heterosexual and romantic meanings infuse some ritualized forms of interactions between groups of boys and girls (e.g., “chase and kiss”) and help maintain sex segregation. “Jimmy likes Beth” or “Beth likes Jimmy” is a major form of teasing, which a child risks in choosing to sit by or walk with someone of the other sex. (p. 177)

Girls and boys did not work together in the writing workshop when given the choice. In interviews, girls said they worked with other girls, boys with boys. I have only one example of a girl and boy working together, by choice, in my fieldnotes and the interviews. Suzanne and Rajesh collaborated for a short time in writing a story. Otherwise, all peer conferences and collaborations, as far as I can remember or tell from my data, had children working with other children of the same sex.

Thorne (1986) collected her data on playgrounds, in cafeterias, and in classrooms, and was especially interested in gender arrangements and their maintenance. She found that certain interactions between girls and boys seemed to lessen sex segregation, but that “gender-defined groups also come together in ways which emphasize their boundaries” (p. 172). The form of teasing mentioned above–“Beth likes Jimmy”–was one of the types of interaction that emphasized and maintained gender boundaries.

Children reported in their interviews that students in the workshop sometimes engaged in similar types of teasing in their writing. For exam­ple, Ken reported that someone (he did not say who) had written a story in which a child in the class, Bruce, “had a Barbie doll and he sleeps with it” (Interview, 5-31-90). The story achieved its provocativeness for young boys both from the sexual connotations of sleeping with a female, and from the suggestion that a boy would have a doll. And not just any doll, not a GI Joe, for example, but a Barbie doll. The story made fun of Bruce by suggesting a romantic relationship between him and a “girl” (Barbie doll), and by suggesting that he possessed a doll and played with it. In other words, Bruce “associated” with girls in the story–something these third grade boys avoided in the classroom–by having a relationship with one, and by doing something that has been traditionally labeled as a girl’s activity (playing with dolls).

Carol and Sharon (named with Suzanne as one of the children illus­trated in The Fake Line Leader) provided another example. They said that one way to tease a classmate was to name him or her in a story, and then to link the person to someone of the other sex.

SHARON: He used my name.
CAROL: And my name.
INTR: Really? Who did?
SHARON: Well, it was Bruce, Troy, and Ken, they used our name.
INTR: For what?
SHARON: They used girls’ names that, that liked other boys.
INTR: Oh, and if–
CAROL: I think they used me with David, I’m not sure.
SHARON: They used me with um, Ken.
INTR: How do you feel about that?
SHARON: I didn’t like it.
INTR: Why?
SHARON: Because you don’t like somebody to use your name.
INTR: What, what can we do about that to change that?
SHARON: I told them not to write it and I told them, and they, they kept on writing and then I told Mrs. Parker and they erased my name out of it. Then they would write the story, they kept on saying that, um, that somebody in the story liked another person. (Interview, 5-30-90)

Stories that included characters named for children in the classroom, and that suggested or stated romantic relationships among particular boys and girls, were a problem for the children involved. Sharon and Carol considered this a form of teasing. Sharon took action to make sure she was not implicated in such teasing, but it seemed, if I interpret her last comment correctly, with little success. Apparently, even if the written record was changed, such teasing could then be sustained orally, with utterances such as, “this character really stands for Sharon, even if the name is different.”

There are several aspects of the text and sharing of The Fake Line Leader that suggest James and Ken’s text participated in and responded to the gender arrangements of children in this classroom, and oral and written forms of teasing arising within these arrangements. First, charac­ters in the story had the same names as children in the class. In fact, the school and classroom Kurt visited is explicitly linked to Grace’s class­room. And as I noted above, a romantic relationship was strongly sug­gested in the story–Lisa used a common opening line: “Is this seat taken?”–and then she and Kurt had dinner together. They later ate lunch and dinner again, and Lisa invited Kurt to her house.

Second, there was James’ response to Suzanne’s question as to why Kurt revealed his name to Lisa. I was actually the first to respond to Suzanne’s question: “That’s one of the jokes, right?” I said this because James and I had talked about this aspect of the text before. While typing the story for him and Ken, I noticed the inconsistency Suzanne later noticed. When I asked James about this, he seemed alarmed–it was clear that this was not an intentional aspect of the story. I suggested he just leave it, because the inconsistency contributed to the humor of Kurt, who seemed generally incompetent, and to stumble about and have things happen to him. I was surprised, then, when I transcribed the audiotape of this sharing session, to see how James explained Kurt’s lapse to Suzanne (I missed this shift as a participant in the classroom.) James repeated my comment, and then said that Kurt forgot because of his infatuation with Lisa. Ken affirmed the romantic relationship between Kurt and Lisa by extending the story even further into the future than I had above–in the end, Ken said, they got married.

I am not saying that the only intention or purpose Ken and James had for writing their story was to tease Kurt and Lisa, or that it even was nec­essarily one of their intentions. Kurt’s inclusion in the story, especially, could have been largely accidental–the product of being at the head of the line with James and me. Still, Kurt was not a member of James’ close group of friends, and, as will become evident later in the chapter, James and his friends were not always on the best of terms with girls in the class. There may have been some conflict between Lisa and the authors I do not know about that encouraged James and Ken to single Lisa out and include her in the story. Or, she may have been included because she, with Suzanne, was one of the most popular girls in the class. (And remember, Suzanne was also included in the story, when James and Ken said that she and Sharon were in one of their illustrations.)

Also, I am not saying that gender divisions and romantic meanings exhaust what James and Ken were doing in their story and their shar­ing of it. I have already discussed Grace and my interventions into their work, and the authors’ responses to those influences. In addition, James and Ken evaluate, negatively it seems, “hippies” and their hairstyles. And during sharing time, James poked fun at one of Ken’s drawings, and James and Ken got a laugh by connecting two girls in the class with more or less well-executed (supposed) drawings of them in the book. (Of course, this may very well have been teasing across the gender divide–two boys scoring off two girls by making them “look silly.”)

I am arguing that James and Ken, in their attempt to create a funny, entertaining text, drew on heterosexual meanings to provoke response, both from teachers and students. Even if Kurt and Lisa were not specific targets of teasing, the story drew on the suggestion of a romantic rela­tionship among real, third grade children for effect. James and Ken were writing in a social context in which teachers suppressed references to sex, and boys and girls separated themselves from each other in their work in peer conferences and collaborations. Children avoided situations (and worked to change texts) that might suggest they liked someone of the other sex. In such a context, this story–with its real children and romantic liaisons–could stir things up, bringing laughter, more teasing, denials, and speculation. And Ken and James seemed to know what they were doing, to know what would provoke response, especially as they shared their text.

At the time, I did not know what they were doing, did not understand much about the sorts of cultural resources they were drawing on, and the possible consequences for other children of their story. If I had, instead of recording descriptions of this sharing time such as “children were laughing,” and noting that “things went well” (Fieldnotes, 11-28-89), I might have noticed that certain children were laughing, and others were not.

I have shown some of the ways that James and Ken’s work on The Fake Line Leader was affected by the social context within which they were writing and sharing. I have looked to the social origins of the story, teacher interventions, and a gendered, divided student culture to make sense of aspects of their written and oral texts. But we must be careful not to let considerations of social context overdetermine our conceptions of who James and Ken were in the workshop, and what they were about.

In what follows, I explore some of the ways in which James and his friends asserted themselves in the writing workshop, examine some of the intentions they pursued, and some of the consequences of their actions. I look to their relations with each other, with other children in the room, and with teachers. In these discussions, I focus on James, for at least three reasons. First, his responses in his interview were often quite revealing. Second, and more importantly, James was a prominent figure in the stu­dent culture, and especially within the small group of boys–including Ken, Bruce, Troy, and Paul–he worked and played with in the work­shop, and in and out of school. He represented the values of this group of boys well, and, through him, a sense of the workings of student inten­tion and peer relations, and their influences on children’s writing, can begin to be developed (chapters 4 and 5 extend this discussion).

Finally, the story of The Fake Line Leader is not over yet, neither for James nor for me. James made it into something like his life work in the workshop. With Ken, he wrote a long sequel to their first text–Part 2–and then with Paul, Troy, and possibly Ken and/or Bruce, he wrote Part 3 (on the rough draft of the third installment, Bruce was listed as one of the authors, and his name was written over Ken’s name, which had been erased). James wrote other pieces, but nothing with the sustained atten­tion and detail that characterized the Line Leader trilogy. I attempt to make sense of James sticking with these stories, and argue that the series of stories became one of the ways that James and his friends asserted their positions at the top of the peer hierarchy in the classroom. Eventu­ally, they took the story of The Fake Line Leader from Alabama away from Kurt and Lisa, and put themselves at the focus of the fictional worlds they created.

INTR: Tell me James, who are the popular kids in class?
JAMES: Um. Popular kids in the class. I wouldn’t know. I would probably be one of the more popular kids in the class, but-
lNTR: Why are you popular?
JAMES: I don’t know why I’m popular. Because of…And Suzanne is one of the popular girls. Robert is pretty popular, but not as me. I’m probably the most popular boy in the class, probably.
lNTR: Why do you think you’re more popular than Robert?
JAMES: Robert? Well, because Robert tries to be funny when he isn’t funny.
INTR: And you?
JAMES: Well, I basically am funny. Most of the time I am funny
lNTR: Funny about what things?
JAMES: Well, it depends what kind of things are happening. I can make like most serious things funny.
INTR: People like that in class?
JAMES: Some people do.
INTR: Why are you funny?
JAMES: I don’t know why I’m funny, I get, sometimes I’m in the mood to be funny, so I get funny, I just say OK, I’m going to be funny now, so.
INTR: What are the times that you feel in the mood to be funny?
JAMES: The times, when the day’s kind of going slow, and it’s really not going, nobody’s really having any fun. (Interview, 5-24-90; unless noted, quotations from James that follow are from this interview)

James characterized himself as funny. In fact, he seemed to link his popularity to being funny: He was more popular than Robert, who was “pretty popular,” because Robert tried to be funny (but failed), whereas James really was funny. His performance in the sharing of The Fake Line Leader showed his ability to make other children in the class laugh. His performances were not limited to sharing time, however, or to the writ­ing workshop. James hinted at the sorts of school situations he liked to be funny in above–he liked to “make serious things funny,” “when the day’s kind of going slow,” when “nobody’s really having any fun.” At least one sense of being “funny” for James, then, was responding specifically to school and its boredom or demands. Or, put another way, being funny was one of the ways James resisted teacher and school attempts to control him.

James was one of three children I took to the principal’s office dur­ing the school year, exactly because he was funny. One such time was when Grace stayed home sick. I had watched the substitute teacher struggling to conduct his lessons because of children’s behavior. Many children were involved, including Troy and Bruce, who tried several times to get “the wave” started from their positions at the corner of the large halfsquare of desks that formed the outer boundary of student desks that day–they became quite angry with Lisa, the next person in line, when she did not follow their lead and throw her hands into the air at the appropriate time. But James was prominent in the substitute teacher’s struggle. When it was time for the writing workshop to begin, the substitute teacher left the room to talk to the principal.

I told the class that I had been watching what they were doing, and that I was ashamed of them and angry. I told them that they had been running the substitute teacher around like (and I stumbled here for words) one of those moving targets at a carnival booth, where, in car­toons, the target is a person or animal who moves one way until it gets hit, and then goes the other way, and on and on. I had their atten­tion. There was silence, then James, with enthusiasm: “Yeah, that would be neat.” I gave him a warning, and continued my sermon, but some of the children were smiling. (Fieldnotes, 1 1-30-89)

James did not get sent to the principal’s office for his comment–that happened a little later when he wore me down with continued com­mentary. James also wore down Grace a few times, and from what I heard around school, the music teacher and the art teacher. At least some of these troubles were linked, I am sure, to times when James said to himself, “OK, I’m going to be funny now,” and was a little too effective.

James also thought of himself as quite popular, and this self-charac­terization matches well with what other children in the room said about him and my own sense of who he was among peers. In the interviews, most children identified him as one of the popular boys, if not the most popular (I should note that some children made a distinction, saying that James was popular, but not with them). In various fieldnotes across the year and for various reasons, I wrote of James as having a “high status among the children,” being part of the “in-group,” that he was “cool,” “powerful.” In his interview, Rajesh identified James as the leader of a secret club whose members made up the group of boys with whom James worked in the workshop.

INTR: Who are the popular kids in the class?
RAJESH: James, Bruce, Paul, and Ken.
INTR: Why do you think people are, why do you think-
RAJESH Well, James, James, I’ll tell you about the boys. I know a lot about
the boys and I know how they got famous too.
INTR: How do they get famous?
RAJESH Because of that stupid club. They belong to a secret club. (Interview, 5-18-90)

Rajesh apparently got his information first hand. According to him, James and his friends asked him to be in their club at the beginning of the year, but later rejected him. James was the leader of that group, and he and Ken formed the core of the club, with Paul, Troy, and Bruce becoming more closely associated with them as the year progressed, at least in the workshop. Bruce was tied to the group primarily (it seemed from his interview) through his close friendship with Troy. He said he also liked to work with Ken, Paul, and sometimes Rajesh, but not with James–Bruce said he could not trust James with secrets about his stories, and that James did not tell him that his stories were good, as Paul and Luke did. Rajesh reported being a part of the group early in the year. My fieldnotes have him writing collaboratively with Troy and Bruce in early December. After the winter holidays, he worked with Kurt, who was not part of the club.

James and his friends conferenced almost exclusively with each other in the writing workshop: Rajesh even claimed in his interview that James demanded such exclusivity from members of the club. The pri­mary reason James and the others gave for working with each other was friendship. Often, these friendships were described in terms of relation­ships that were developed and maintained outside of the writing work­shop, and that involved trust. Bruce, for example, said, “Troy I trust the most because he’s been my friend for a long time, since preschool. Actu­ally longer than that” (Interview, 5-21-90). James, Ken, and Troy played on the same local youth soccer team, and James noted that as one rea­son he liked to work with them in the workshop. James also said that “Troy likes most of the same things that I like,” and that he liked to work with Paul, “because he does a lot of sports and we can talk about stuff like sports.”

James valued the chance to talk with his friends in peer conferences and collaborations, and valued the advice and opinions his peers shared there. In fact, from what he said in his interview, it appeared that what peers said to him about his texts was just as important as, if not more important than, what I said to him in teacher-student writing confer­ences. James discussed his use of teacher suggestions:

INTR: If he [Mr. Lensmire] gave you advice or a suggestion on how to make things better, did you always follow the advice?
JAMES: Not always, because sometimes I would, he said, you don’t have to do this but, all the time he says, you don’t have to do this but I think it would be better. And I felt the other way would be better so I didn’t do what he told me.
INTR: But aren’t you supposed to listen to a teacher?
JAMES: Yes, yes, I am, but, um, most of the time, if the teacher says some­thing, yet I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, so I don’t do it.
INTR: Right. Why isn’t it the right thing to do?
JAMES: Because sometimes, like one time he said I think you should change this in the story, but really when I kept that people really liked that part of it.

As a teacher in writing conferences, I was worried about dominating student ideas and intentions because of my institutional authority. James related one of the ways that I displayed this worry in conferences–I told him he did not have to do what I said, but that this or that might be help­ful. James tested my suggestions against his own sense of what would work best. In his last comment above, however, he referred to his peers, and justified not using my suggestion, in part, by saying that his peers really liked what he did not change.

With teacher suggestions, James talked about deciding for himself whether or not to use them. He talked quite differently about how he dealt with peer comments.

JAMES: The conferences with classmates. Um. I would ask them questions say, should I keep this, do you like this, what don’t you like so I could take it out. But I didn’t really take it out until like two people said it wasn’t good.
INTR: Why two people?
JAMES: Because you know one person might be like, you know, not like it, but another person might really like it.
INTR: So then what would you do, if one did and one didn’t. How would you make this decision?
JAMES: I would ask another person.

I do not know if James actually followed such a procedure in his writing process. That is not as important for my purposes as the weight James appeared to give his peers’ suggestions. James seemed much more comfortable ignoring my suggestions than he did his peers’ suggestions. Even if he did not go from boy to boy within his group of friends, check­ing off who did and did not like something, it is clear he attached great significance to their opinions.

One of the things this group of boys valued were entertaining stories. In response to a question about what kinds of writing he liked to do, James replied, “I like to write the comedy stuff like, like one of my books was the Fake Line Leader from Alabama … It was a funny book because he said they were eating sushi with hot fudge sauce, and he was a line leader, but he was a spy really and a fake.” Ken reported he liked to write funny stories as well. Paul said he wrote fantasy; Bruce, action stories.

The titles of some of their stories suggest this demand for entertaining, exciting, sometimes humorous texts: The Magic Triceratops, by Troy; Me and My Dinosaur and Back to the Future, Part IV, by Ken; The Crabs Meet Friends by Bruce, Troy, and Ken. Some of these and other texts written by James and his friends included, in fictional narratives, the names of children from the class (and sometimes adults from the school). We saw this in James and Ken’s The Fake Line Leader. Ken wrote one story called, All About Ken, Troy, and James; and collaborated with Bruce and Troy on Crabs, which featured the three authors as crabs in the ocean. Early in the year, Rajesh wrote a story in which Clifford’s gym teacher was actually an alien from outer space. Rajesh’s final line was: “And so I, Rajesh, stabbed him in the heart.” (This was the final line of the revised version. Rajesh’s original version had no ending. I talked with Rajesh about his story in several writing conferences, and he said that his story-without-an-ending was exactly the way he wanted it. Then he took it home for his mother to type. Parents, sometimes, are powerful contex­tual influences on the narratives of children.)

I have been characterizing James and his friends’ work in the classroom in terms of what/who they included and valued. They were a small group of friends who worked together in conferences and col­laborations on stories. They wrote and enjoyed funny, entertaining fic­tional texts that sometimes included children from the classroom as characters.

But as Sollors (1990), writing on ethnicity, notes, groups are defined not so much as things-in-themselves, but in relation to other groups, by way of contrast. In other words, a significant aspect of a group’s identity rests in its exclusions, by its members doing or being not this. In what follows, I sketch some of the exclusions this group of boys made in their work with peers. I focus on James, again, as an articulate member of this group and its leader. Then, I conclude the chapter with an examination of the sequels to The Fake Line Leader from Alabama, especially Part 2, and show how these texts draw on social relations among children in this workshop for their meaning.

I have already suggested, in my discussion of the group’s composition and boundaries, some of the most obvious exclusions James and his friends made in their day-to-day work in the writing workshop. James did not work with most of the boys in the class, or with any of the girls.

INTR: Is there anyone you really don’t ever want to conference with?
JAMES: Yeah, most of the girls.
INTR: Most of the girls? Why?
JAMES: I don’t know. I just … Because I think they, they’ll have. I don’t know.

James would not elaborate here, but later suggested a reason he did not want to conference with girls when he talked about sharing his texts in front of the class.

Most of the girls I don’t want to read in front of because they have probably different opinions and they don’t, some of the, most of them probably don’t like me. I mean I don’t care what they say, I like my piece.

James seemed to expect conflict with girls–they would have differ­ent opinions and they would not like him or his work. In their inter­views, a number of girls, though not all, did single out James as some­ one they particularly disliked. Often, they reported that James teased girls, in and out of the workshop.

Besides gender, social class seemed something of a boundary for James and his friends. Among male classmates, James named four boys with whom he especially did not want to work. Of these four, three were from the trailer court–Robert, Bartleby, and Leon. The fourth, John, was often unable to deal with his frustration and anger with teachers and classmates. He cried often, and, on occasion, bit classmates who seemed to enjoy pro­voking him. John also happened to be one of the most talented writers in the room.

INTR: Why wouldn’t you like to work with them?
JAMES: Um. They just, sometimes, you know how John, you’ve seen John and um, and Leon is just, he tries to do stuff that he really can’t do, and he tries to do more than he is.
INTR: Why does that bother you?
JAMES: Because I mean, I like people because they be themselves, and I don’t care how they, if they try. If they try and act what they aren’t then I don’t like them because they are just not the person that they really are.

From his privileged position in the social hierarchy of boys in the room, James identified four children much lower in that hierarchy who were undesirable to work with as peer collaborators and audiences. James had opposed himself to Robert earlier in the interview, because Robert tried to be funny, but was not, according to James. James had linked his own popularity to being funny, and Robert seemed to repre­sent some sort of competition for him. Here, James suggests that Leon was acting in ways inappropriate for his location in the peer hierarchy. James specified the problem with Leon a little later in the interview.

He [Leon] tries to be real, someone he isn’t, and really that is he tries to be, tries to be really cool and stuff, you know, and he’s not.

Obviously, social class was not the only thing at work in excluding boys from James’ group–many of the boys excluded were also from middle class backgrounds. But it was important. James’ comments sug­gest various distances among groups of boys, or different permeabilities of boundaries. Someone like David, for example, who played soccer with James and Ken, and lived in their neighborhood, crossed the group’s boundaries on occasion to work with Bruce and Paul in confer­ences. This did not happen with children from the trailer park, with Robert and Leon–that boundary seemed harder to cross.

Before I move to James and his friends’ texts, I want to make one final point about the exclusions James and his friends made in their day­ to-day work in the writing workshop: Other children felt them. James and his friends acted out these exclusions, acted out their evaluations of other children in the room–they did not just express them in interviews. Thus, Robert complained about James and Troy bragging that their clothes were better than his: “They think their clothes is one of the best things in the world” (Interview, 5-24-90); Sharon talked about James and his friends giving her “bad feelings … They laugh at your stories, because they just think they’re more powerful and they have better sto­ries and stuff like that” (Interview, 5-30-90); and Rajesh came to me at the round table one day, careful to keep his back to the rest of the class:

Rajesh told me he had something “very important” to talk about with me. He said the words with feeling, and his voice broke several times. It didn’t seem easy for him to talk to me about what he wanted to tell me.

I like Rajesh a lot. He was one of the first kids I really started liking in the class. He was the first one to play with my long hair and tell me I should put it in a pony tail. He used to come over by me and sit on my leg while I talked to someone else at the table, so seeing Rajesh hurting hurt me too. But there was also a strategic, serious aspect to his words and tone. It seemed he felt he needed to persuade me of what he was saying.

What he was saying was that James was trying to get Paul to “turn away” from Rajesh, to not be Rajesh’s friend anymore. He said that he didn’t have many friends, and now James was trying to turn Paul away from him. Paul had been collaborating with him, but now Paul was working with James. And he didn’t think that Paul would ever confer­ence with him now, even if he asked him. This seemed to be the thing that upset Rajesh the most, that Paul wouldn’t conference with him if he asked him to (another risky moment in the safe writing workshop). (Fieldnotes, 2-23-90)

In this case, I was able to help Rajesh a little, by talking to Paul with Rajesh at my side. Paul said he would conference with Rajesh if Rajesh wanted him to. But of course, children lead lives outside of the class­room, and if more direct action than whispered words behind the teacher’s back is needed, there is always the playground.

SHARON: Outside today James was, James and Bruce were pushing Rajesh.
INTR: Why?
SHARON: Because he’s an Indian.
INTR: What’s it? I don’t understand.
SHARON: Neither do–
CAROL: He’s just an Indian.
SHARON: They want to have a reason.
CAROL: They tease Rajesh because Rajesh believes in different gods.
INTR: Really?
CAROL: I think that’s part of the reasons, stuff like that.
INTR: Uh huh. And um, any other reasons?
CAROL: They think he’s a wimp so they-
SHARON: Push him.
CAROL: Yeah.
lNTR: And what does Rajesh do?
SHARON: Just stands there, let them push him.
INTR: Does he have any friends?
CAROL: Yeah I think he has a couple. (Interview, 5-30-90)

The interview segment is, of course, somewhat unfair to James, Bruce, and Rajesh, and depends on the careful lifting of this and not that from the transcript. Other children were teased (our informants mentioned Jil, Jessie, and John), and other people besides James and Bruce picked on Rajesh.

These bits of editing cast James and Bruce as third grade bigots and Rajesh as a passive victim. Quick, simple accusations of racial and eth­nic/religious intolerance, however, should not be made against James and Bruce. One of James and Bruce’s best friends–Ken–was black. And Rajesh had once been a part of their group. In the end, it was Sharon and Carol who attributed racial or ethnic motivations to James and Bruce’s actions. This does not mean that they were not correct, or at least partly correct in their assessment of the situation. But whatever the reasons Rajesh got pushed around, he got pushed around. And his struggles to make and keep friends, his struggles to find classmates with whom to conference and collaborate–these struggles were caught up with James’ status and influ­ence among peers, and affected Rajesh’s experiences in the workshop.

James and his friends also “acted out” their relations to and evaluations of other children in the room in their texts. Above, I argued that gender arrangements of girls and boys in this classroom were important for understanding the meanings of James and Ken’s first Line Leader story. In their future work, they continued to draw on this aspect of the student culture, but it became less prominent. In Parts 2 and 3 of James’ Line Leader trilogy, status differences among children in the room take on much greater importance for interpreting what is happening in their fic­tion. These stories were a place for James and his friends to comment on social relations in the classroom. Given their position at the top of the informal pecking order, it was fitting that they soon wrote themselves into their stories as the main characters, and placed themselves at the center of attention of the fictional worlds they created.

One of Ken’s stories, All About Ken, Troy, and James, will serve as an excellent introduction to the later Line Leader stories, because it was much less subtle than those texts often were. Ken’s story set up a hierar­chy of characters based on size and strength. The title and the action of the story affirmed the solidarity of Ken, Troy, and James, who were dinosaurs in the story. They confronted, in the first scene, three other (smaller) dinosaurs who had the names of three other boys in the class:

Me and Troy and James were running after three Pterodactyl. Their names are Robert and William and Bruce, and Robert and William and Bruce flew down. And then James ran up to get William and Troy ran up to get Robert. And Ken went up to get Bruce. And James said, “Look who I caught, a little squirt.”


Robert and William were from the trailer park, and Robert was sin­gled out by James, remember, as someone with whom he did not want to work. Bruce was a somewhat ambivalent member of James’ group, especially at the beginning of the year–very good friends with Troy, but not so good with James. It may be that nothing insulting was intended by Ken with his text. In fact, there may be some status attached to being included in one of Ken’s stories. I had asked Ken once during the year to work with William on a story William was revising, and he had agreed to do it with no visible resistance. Still, the story pits three friends–Ken, Troy, and James, with superior size and strength as dinosaurs-against three other classmates–Robert, William, and Bruce–with lower status in the room. William is called a “little squirt” (he was one of the smallest boys in the class). Whatever Ken’s intent or the positive significance of being included in one of Ken’s texts, his story reproduced, in text, social relations among boys in the classroom.

James and Ken’s sequel to their first Line Leader story also partici­pated in and commented on social relations in the room, but was less straightforward. All the characters in the story were named for children in the class. There was no mention of Robert as Kurt’s boss this time: The character was referred to only as “his boss.” There was a residual con­nection between Kurt and Lisa, but romantic aspects of their relationship were not emphasized. In fact, the first page and a half (of four handwrit­ten pages in their rough draft) seemed less a story and more a vehicle for mentioning popular children’s names. Kurt got a phone call from his boss, and was told to report to Clifford again (there was no specific rea­son or task given for going there). You are not missing the plot in the two excerpts below-the only action in nearly the first half of the story was the introduction of different people to each other:

Soon he [Kurt] was at school. He found Mrs. P’s class and found Lisa.
Lisa said, “Meet some of my friends, like Sharon, one of my best friends.”
“Hi Sharon, nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you Kurt. Oh Lisa, there is Suzanne.”
“Oh yes, how could I forget Suzanne, one of my best friends.”


And a little later:

Kurt was walking alone and saw Troy. “Hello, my name is Kurt. What is your name?”
“My name is Troy. Nice to meet you.” “Nice to meet you too.”
“I am sort of a bully.” “Oh you shouldn’t be.”
“O.K. I won’t be. I like you, you’re sort of funny.”


I do not know enough about the details of friendships in the room at the time this was written to understand what a text like this might mean to Lisa, Sharon, and Suzanne. All three of the girls were quite pop­ular, but I have no record of them working together with each other in the workshop. It is possible that Ken and James knew they were not friends, and hoped to provoke response by making them best friends in the story. (It is also possible that these girls would simply object to being in the story in the first place, perhaps because they viewed it as a type of association with boys that they were trying to avoid. Eventually, a rule emerged in the workshop that required authors, before sharing or pub­lishing their stories, to get the permission of children whose names appeared in their stories. I discuss this rule and the issues surrounding the use of classmates’ names in stories in chapter 6.)

It is also interesting to speculate about Troy’s inclusion above. When James and Ken started writing this text (early October), Troy had not yet begun collaborating with them in the workshop. He had written alone and with Bruce and Rajesh. This text could represent something of a bid for him to be their friend: Don’t be a bully, be our friend.

In a slightly revised version of this story that I photocopied in February (the above was typed from a rough draft from November), Troy’s name had been erased throughout the text of Part 2, and David’s name put in its place. By this time, Troy was actively collaborating with James and Paul on the third part of the trilogy. I do not know who changed the name from Troy to David in the first sequel, or why it was changed, but a few scenes involving David/Troy a little later in the story might provide a clue.

At the end of the school day spent introducing (popular) children to each other, Kurt, Lisa, and David/Troy boarded a plane for Hawaii (that they thought was going to Tennessee). On the plane, David/Troy met Carol, and started talking to her. Eventually, they and Kurt and Lisa went to Carol’s house.

[David/Troy] ‘What makes you go so far from home?”
[Carol] “Oh, I’m going back to Hawaii.”
“You mean this is the plane to Hawaii and not Tennessee?”
“Oh! Can we come to your house?”
“What do you mean, ‘we’?”
“Oh, I mean Kurt and Lisa.”
“Oh, I like Kurt and Lisa.”
“Well don’t you like me?”
“Yes, I love you!”
They landed in Hawaii and got off. They went to Carol’s house. When they got to Carol’s house she opened ‘the door. The house was pretty.
Kurt said, “Who was your decorator? Are you rich Carol?”
Carol said, “No, er, yes. Would you like to come in my bedroom?”
“No way!”
“Just kidding, just kidding.”


My guess is that when Troy started working with James and Paul on Part 3, he had access to Part 2, and that he objected to the sort of roman­tic relationship suggested between him and Carol by “I love you,” and the bedroom talk that followed. The bedroom talk was interesting, and its meaning(s) not at all clear. Carol seemed thrown off-guard, or at least made uncomfortable, by Kurt’s question as to whether or not she was rich. She eventually admitted she was, and then asked someone or all of them if he/she/they would like to come into her bedroom. Her question could be interpreted as a continuation of showing the house to the guests: this is the living room, and would you like to see my bedroom? Kurt, or David/Troy, or Lisa answer quite vehemently, “No way!” responding to the possible sexual connotations of the question. James and Ken seem to have been playing with double meanings and the embarrassment or humor that could result. In any event, this and the earlier scene suggested a romantic connection between David/Troy and Carol. (They also associ­ated Carol with a fine house and money.) David may have seemed an appropriate replacement for Troy in the story–he was not unpopular, but he was also not immediately involved with James, Paul, Ken, and Troy when they were writing and rewriting their Line Leader stories.

A strange thing happened next in James and Ken’s story. Our main characters went to a Taco Bell in Hawaii, where they found their teachers and almost all of their classmates from Clifford happily chomping on nachos. The authors listed all the children and teachers (Grace, Ruth, and me) who were there, and missed only two of the twenty-seven children in the room in their list–William and Bartleby. They wrote: “The whole class was there. Rajesh, Leon, Maya,” and on and on. It is difficult to understand why James and Ken would list all these names in their story. If I were feel­ing generous, I might interpret their inclusion of all these children and teachers as a recognition, on their part, of other people’s feelings–that they recognized that their classmates and teachers might feel left out if some and not others were included in stories told in the workshop. In chapter 5, I discuss a sharing session in which Lisa told her classmates that they should not worry if they did not appear in the story she was reading to them that day, because she had not finished yet, and she would even­tually write everyone into it. I must note, however, that even if the authors were concerned that children and teachers not feel left out, there were two children left out of the story–and both children lived in the trailer park.

But I lean toward a different interpretation. I think that James and Ken needed all the children and the teachers at the Taco Bell so that their classmates and teachers were present to acknowledge the rightful place of James and his friends at the top of the classroom heap. Let me explain. When the main characters of the story thus far–Kurt, Lisa, Carol, and David–arrived at the Taco Bell, James and Ken listed themselves, as well as Troy and Paul, with the other children already there. This was the first time that James wrote himself as a character into one of his stories (Ken had already done this in All About Ken, Troy, and James, discussed above). Soon after Kurt and the others arrived, the characters of James, Ken, Troy, and Paul, left for the beach to do some surfing. They also took control of the story, became its main characters:

Hours passed. Paul came running up to the Taco Bell. He was yelling.”Ken, Troy, and James got caught by a humongous wave. They did a backwards flip in the air. And that’s the best anyone has ever done before!”

The whole class said, “Hey, how do you know?”

Paul said, “I know. I own a surf shop.”

“Mr. Lensmire said I could write a story about this.”

“No way, I’m getting out of here.” So James, Ken, Troy, Paul went…




And the story was continued, in Part 3. There, James and his friends were the main characters from the start. They were the ones flying in air­ planes (to Florida this time) and going to fast food restaurants (McDon­ald’s). Kurt and Lisa were heard from briefly (it seemed it would not be a Line Leader story without them), but the story focused throughout on James, Ken, Troy, and Paul, with appearances from Bruce, at the beach, and Rajesh and David, at McDonald’s.

But the important shift had occurred in Part 2. There, the boys left their classmates and teachers at the Taco Bell, and went to the beach. Paul came back with a story about them, and made the assertion, in front of everyone, that his friends had surfed better than anyone else ever had. This assertion was questioned by the whole class, but Paul answered, “I know.” James and his friends, in their fiction, asserted their place in the classroom. They were the best. Children in the room might question this, but James and his friends knew. They were the best.

Actually, James and Ken had not waited until the second Line Leader to proclaim this in print. After their first story had been typed and bound, they added an “About the Authors” section, printed in black magic marker, on a blank page at the end of the book. This is what James and Ken wrote:

About the Authers
their relly Hip
nobody can be better
than them dude
their tubylr to the max!
So their the best!!!


At the end of Part 2, James and Ken even got a little dig in at me and the writing workshop. An unidentified speaker reported that I had said, again, what I had said to James at the beginning of the year, and at the beginning of The Fake Line Leader from Alabama: You could write a story about this. Another unidentified speaker–I assume, with no evi­dence, that it was James–answered back, “No way. I’m getting out of here.” James would rather be at the beach than in school, rather have experiences than write about them. (Of course, like other American Romantics who worshipped experience in the real world and con­demned the bookish world of schools, James wrote this in a book. Then again, Thoreau and Twain were not third graders who had little choice as to whether or not they would write.)

The structure and norms of the workshop were explicitly developed to allow children to choose and pursue meaningful projects across the school year. James and his friends did this, and they brought meanings and values from the playground, the cafeteria, and their own histories, into the workshop. But it would be wrong to see James’ project as “something which, having in some way taken shape and definition in the psyche of an individual, [was] outwardly objectified for others with the help of external signs of some kind” (Volosinov, 1973, p. 84). A Roman­tic conception of James and his friends’ writing and its meanings is wholly inadequate. Their projects were determined both from within and without, and emerged within relations with classmates and teachers, in the clash and sharing of values and meanings, expressed in oral and writ­ten texts, in interactions.

James and his friends were powerful figures in the peer culture. Their actions were strongly defined by their efforts to exert control in their relations with other children and their teachers. A major theme of the writing they produced, especially James, was social relations–com­menting on them, working them out, excluding and including certain children, resisting teacher authority to demand work and control their texts and lives in school. James and his friends enacted their projects from the top of a peer hierarchy of boys, and largely in opposition to the girls. Their projects were disturbing for their influences on other children and the boys themselves, for their inclusions and exclusions, for their nascent politics.


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