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What does it mean to belong?

In Lesson 8, students explored issues of membership and belonging through a fictional
and historical example. “The ‘In’ Group,” a short reading included in this lesson, brings
ideas about inclusion and exclusion to a more familiar context—a middle school play-
ground. The narrator of the story, Eve Shalen, recounts her experience as an outcast
among her peers. She highlights a moment in eighth grade when she was invited to join
the “in” group. At times a victim of ostracism, Eve is confronted with a difficult choice
about how to behave. Should she join the “in” group in taunting another classmate?
Should she stand by as they read a classmate’s diary? Should she try to stop them from
violating her classmate’s privacy? As students predict what they think Eve will do, they
can identify the different roles people play in a community. Words such as victim, perpe-
trator, bystander, and upstander help students describe the behavior of individuals and
groups they will study in world history. This vocabulary also helps students think about
their roles and relationships within their own communities.

Eve’s story also highlights the universal desire to belong to a community—a desire that
can be seen in the behavior of ancient Egyptians as well as Mayans. In those societies, like
many others, ostracism and exile were considered to be the harshest penalties. To achieve
a sense of belonging, individuals often choose to conform to the norms and behaviors of
the group. Indeed, Eve Shalen joins the “in” group in mocking a fellow student even
though she knows that this behavior is wrong and hurtful. Throughout their study of
world history, students will recognize examples of conformity to established customs, reli-
gious beliefs, and patterns of behavior. At times, conformity may serve a civilization well
by maintaining stability and a sense of cohesion, whereas at other times conformity may
lead to a society’s decline, especially in times of environmental, economic, or political

Learning goals
• Students will identify a range of responses individuals have at their disposal when
reacting to exclusion, discrimination, and injustice. Students will be able to define the
words bystander, perpetrator, victim, and upstander.
• Students will understand the terms belonging and conformity.

• “The ‘In’ Group” reading
• Signs for barometer activity (optional)
• Lesson 9: Warm-up questions (optional)


Before students read Eve Shalen’s story, have them spend a few minutes writing about
times when they have felt included and excluded. To guide students’ reflections, a set of
warm-up questions have been included in this lesson plan.

Main activity
We have divided the reading “The ‘In’ Group” into two parts. This way, students can pre-
dict what Eve Shalen will do and discuss what they think she should do before they actu-
ally read about her decision.

Begin the activity by distributing a copy of Part 1 so students can read along while you or
a student volunteer reads aloud. This story can also be read as a round robin read aloud.
This strategy keeps students accountable for following along with the text because all stu-
dents participate in reading. Typically, one student volunteers to read the first sentence,
then his or her neighbor reads the next sentence, and so on.

After the class finishes reading Part 1, ask students to consider the question, “What are
Eve’s options?” As students list various choices Eve could make in this situation, record
their responses on the board. Students may mention that she could participate in reading
the diary, she could walk away, she could ask the “in” group for the diary so she can give
it back to its owner, or she could tell the teacher. When you have a range of responses
listed on the board, students can answer the following questions:

· What do you think Eve will do?
· What do you think Eve should do?
· What do you think you would have done in this situation?

Next, have students share their answers to the first two questions. One way to structure
this sharing is by using the barometer strategy. This teaching method asks students to
respond to a question by standing on a specific point along a continuum. For this lesson,
create an imaginary line in your classroom. The line should be long enough to allow all
students in the class to stand on it. Tell the students that one end of the line represents,
“Eve takes a stand against the ‘in’ group” and the other end represents, “Eve makes fun of
the girl whose diary was taken.” You can post signs in the room labeling the two ends of
the continuum. Then ask students to stand at the point on the line that best represents
what they think Eve will do. If students think that Eve will join the “in” group but not
make fun of the girl, they can stand near the middle.

Facilitate a discussion in which students at various points along the line explain what they
think Eve will do and what leads them to this conclusion. As they listen to their peers’
comments, students can change their position on the line. If you have time, repeat this
activity, but change the prompt so that students stand on the point along the continuum
that represents what they think Eve should do. Again, ask students to explain their posi-
tion on the line. After the barometer activity, students can return to their seats and read
Part 2 of “The ‘In’ Group.” Then have them respond to the following questions in writ-
ing and in a class discussion:

· What did Eve do?
· Why do you think Eve made this decision?

· What does Eve mean when she writes, “Often being accepted by others is more
satisfying than being accepted by oneself”?
· Do you agree or disagree with this idea? Why or why not?

“The ‘In’ Group” provides an opportunity to discuss themes such as conformity, peer
pressure, and belonging—themes that resonate with students’ own experiences and that
have shaped the behavior of individuals throughout history.

The following activity helps students develop a vocabulary they can use to analyze their
own actions, the behavior of those around them, and the actions of individuals and
groups in the past. Often when students think about acts of injustice, they divide those
involved into two groups: the victims and the perpetrators. Yet others contribute to the
prevention or the perpetuation of injustice. For example, a bystander is someone who wit-
nesses or knows about an act of injustice but chooses not to do anything about it. On the
other hand, when confronted with information about an unjust act, an upstander takes
steps to prevent or stop this act from continuing. Introducing students to the terms
bystander and upstander can help them recognize the consequences of their own actions
(and inaction) and the choices of individuals and groups throughout history.

As a final activity, review the terms victim, perpetrator, bystander, and upstander with stu-
dents, and ask them to apply these terms to “The ‘In’ Group.” Following are some
prompts to help guide this discussion:

· In this story, who was the victim?
· Who are the perpetrators?
· Who are the bystanders?
· Who are the upstanders?

In this story, Eve Shalen might represent a bystander. She did not steal the diary herself
or do anything excessive to torment its owner. Yet, although she knew that reading the
diary was wrong, she watched while the “in” group read it without doing anything to
stop them. An interesting question to ask students is, “What would an upstander have
done in this situation?”

To end this lesson, have students discuss the question, “Why do you think people do
nothing even when they know something happening around them is wrong?” This is an
ideal time to introduce students to the terms belonging and conformity. Often, because
people want to belong to a community, they will adopt the values and behavior they
think are most likely to be accepted by this group. Indeed, Eve Shalen wanted to belong
to the “in” group so badly that she participated in reading the diary even though she
knew it was wrong.

Curriculum connections: You can use the terms introduced here (victim, perpetrators,
bystanders, and upstanders) to help students understand and interpret events in world history
such as the trial of Socrates or the Spanish invasion of the Mayan Empire.

Several important issues and new terms are introduced in this lesson. Allow students to
choose from one of the following questions to respond to in their journals:

1. Pick a moment of injustice from your own life, from history, or from current events.
Briefly describe this event. Then identify the victim, the perpetrators, the bystanders,
and the upstanders. Finally, answer the question, “Why do you think people do
nothing even when they know something happening around them is wrong?”
2. Identify a moment when you did something to fit in with a group. What did you do?
Would you do the same thing again? Why or why not? When can it be useful to con-
form in order to belong to a group? When can conformity be harmful?
3. Write a short story in which the main character(s) deal with issues of conformity and

Lesson 9: Warm-up questions

Briefly describe a time when you . . .

1. Were included in a community or group:

How did this make you feel?

2. Were excluded from a community or group:

How did this make you feel?

3. Excluded someone else from a community or group:

How did this make you feel?

4. Did something that you thought might be wrong or stupid only because everyone
else was doing it:

How did this make you feel?

The “In” Group: Part 1

My eighth grade consisted of 28 students, most of whom knew each other from the
age of 5 or 6. The class was close-knit and we knew each other so well that most of us
could distinguish each other’s handwriting at a glance. Although we grew up together,
we still had class outcasts. From second grade on, a small elite group spent a large por-
tion of their time harassing two or three of the others. I was one of those two or three,
though I don’t know why. In most cases when children get picked on, they aren’t good
at sports or they read too much or they wear the wrong clothes or they are of a differ-
ent race. But in my class, we all read too much and didn’t know how to play sports.
We had also been brought up to carefully respect each other’s races. This is what was
so strange about my situation. Usually, people are made outcasts because they are in
some way different from the larger group. But in my class, large differences did not
exist. It was as if the outcasts were invented by the group out of a need for them.
Differences between us did not cause hatred; hatred caused differences between us.

The harassment was subtle. It came in the form of muffled giggles when I talked, and
rolled eyes when I turned around. If I was out in the playground and approached a
group of people, they often fell silent. Sometimes someone would not see me coming
and I would catch the tail end of a joke at my expense.

I also have a memory of a different kind. There was another girl in our class who was
perhaps even more rejected than I. She also tried harder than I did for acceptance,
providing the group with ample material for jokes. One day during lunch I was sitting
outside watching a basketball game. One of the popular girls in the class came up to
me to show me something she said I wouldn’t want to miss. We walked to a corner of
the playground where a group of three or four sat. One of them read aloud from a
small book, which I was told was the girl’s diary.

What do you think Eve will do?

What do you think Eve should do?

What do you think you would have done in this situation?

The “In” Group: Part 2
I sat down and, laughing till my sides hurt, heard my voice finally blend with the oth-
ers. Looking back, I wonder how I could have participated in mocking this girl when
I knew perfectly well what it felt like to be mocked myself. I would like to say that if
I were in that situation today I would react differently, but I can’t honestly be sure.
Often being accepted by others is more satisfying than being accepted by oneself,
even though the satisfaction does not last. Too often our actions are determined by
the moment.

What did Eve do?

Why do you think Eve made this decision?

What does Eve mean when she writes, “Often being accepted by others is more
satisfying than being accepted by oneself. . . .”?

Do you agree or disagree with this idea? Explain your answer.