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1 Alex Sanchezs novel The God box is the bildungsroman of Paul (Pablo), a MexicanAmerican teen growing up in a small religious

conservative town in Texas. Paul is struggling with his sexual and cultural identities. He tries to eliminate cultural differences between himself and his peers by changing his name from Pablo to Paul. This initiates Pauls identity crisis because he is denying an essential part of his person. Paul starts to suspect that he may be gay due to the nature of his dreams. Once again, we see Paul suppressing an integral part of himself so he can fit in with his peers. Since he is deeply religious, he feels torn between his religion and sexual identity. In the hopes of relieving some of the stress associated with his sexuality, Paul writes notes to God and Jesus asking for guidance in regards to his sexual feelings. He places these secret prayers in the God box. This box is significant because this appears to be the only place Paul feels safe enough to express himself without judgment. As a teacher of English, The God Box made me realize how important it is to include literature about LGBTQ issues in the classroom. I learned how teachers have the capacity to cause great harm when they keep silent on tough issues, but found hope in Mrs. Ramirez who traveled a different path than her colleagues and made a safe place for her students to discuss LGBTQ issues in the school setting. It is important to read The God Box because Sanchez wrote it in such a way as to reach out and change the mindset of his readers. I ask all educators to take a moment and look outside your classroom and witness the public display of affection of your students. Then I want you to listen to what your students are discussing in the hallway and the classroom. Some of it may seem insignificant but you will hear debates about the very things discussed in The God Box. I ask that you give your students the opportunity to read this great book and learn that they are not alone and that everyone has the right to have a safe school

2 experience. I believe The God Box is relevant for 11-12 grade classrooms because it discusses topics relevant to students lives. Teachers may question if the material is suitable for this age group and the answer is a resounding yes. In Using Young Adult Literature in the English Classroom (UYAL), John Bushman and Kay Haas argue that, Research (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969) indicates that most high school adolescents are able to reason at the formal operational level and that many young people at this age have strong feelings about social concerns and are willing to act on their beliefs (UYAL 6). Students are ready for this type of novel and they are mature enough to handle the content and hold rational discussions. It should also be noted that students at this age often question their identities. Developmental psychology supports this claim. For instance, Erikson (1963) suggests that the major task of adolescence is the formulation, or reformulation, of personal identity (Bushman & Haas 8). This stage in adolescent development is seen in the insecurities and personal growth Paul experiences. Educators should give students the opportunity to develop their full potential by allowing students to read The God Box. Sanchezs novel will help those students who are struggling with their own sexual identities, and it shows students how their behavior or actions can adversely affect others around them. In The God Box, Steven Marten is an openly gay student at Pauls school, his peers bully him every day, and no one takes a stand against the bullying. Throughout the novel readers see Paul hurt those around him because he does not stand up for those classmates, such as Steven, who are being bullied. He is so consumed with his own fear of being discovered as a homosexual, that he does nothing to prevent Steven from being bullied for his sexuality. Pauls fear is not limited to discovery but also being a victim of bulling himself. He sees the torment the bullies inflict on those students, who are perceived as weaker or different from the norm. In

3 Havighursts seventh developmental task [adolescents are] acquiring a personal ideology or value system to guide the individual in ethical decisions (Bushman & Haas 13). It takes Paul a long time to fully develop this developmental task due in part to his fear of discovery. Once he accepts himself as a homosexual teen, he recognizes how he failed Steven and he apologizes for his lack of preventative action. When Paul loses his fear of discovery, he also loses his fear of being bullied. How is this important to high school students? At the high school age, students are worried about fitting in with their peers. No one wants to be the outcast because students fear being bullied. This is the age when students are trying to figure out who they are, who they want to date, what their future holds, while fear of being a social outcast looms in their subconscious. The God Box is relatable to all students because the novel shows them what happens when they allow fear to control their actions. For example, Paul knew he was wrong to do nothing in Stevens defense and there are students who watch their classmates being bullied on a daily basis but do nothing to help. The God Box can have a positive effect on those students by giving them the courage to stand up for what they believe in even if that belief goes against the views of the majority. Bushman and Haas state that, Adolescents discover that their personal desires, beliefs, and behaviors affect, or potentially affect, groups beyond their own families (UYAL 13). It is imperative that we give students novels like The God Box that discuss topics that students can relate and connect to. If teachers do not give students novels or other literary work they can connect to, then teachers are giving their students a disservice. In Theories of Learning and Teaching What Do They Mean for Educators? (TLAT), Suzanne Wilson and Penelope Peterson argue that, The assumption has been that if teachers speak clearly and students are motivated, learning will occur. If students do not learn, the logic goes, it is because they are not paying attention or

4 they do not care (TLAT 2). Blame for not learning cannot sit fully with the student. Teachers must acknowledge that the lack of student learning is due in part to the literature being used in the classroom. The God Box is a novel that students can relate to because it is a story about growing up and dealing with lifes challenges. Another positive point is that the novel is diverse enough to engage a variety of students who might have opposing point-of-views on the novels content. Students variety of points-of-view would lead to lively discussions, which incorporate Tennessee teaching standards for English IV, specifically to Standard 2- Communication. We want students to discuss the hard issues otherwise, they will not grow as individuals and develop their own personal ideologies. Wilson & Peterson state, Although two students might encounter exactly the same information, as active participants in their own knowledge building, students develop understandings that can be qualitatively different (TLAT 3). There will be many students who are influenced by outside sources (religion, parents, or media) when they discuss The God Box; however, having a variety of points-of-view will allow students to develop their own viewpoint and distance themselves from those outside influences. If educators want students to develop as individuals then they need to allow students to read novels such as The God Box because it provides opportunities for learning, the social occasions of conversation, discussion, joint work, and debate (Wilson & Peterson 4). When educators allow YA novels into the classroom, they are giving students the opportunity to view the world from a different social standpoint. Wilson & Peterson go on to say that, A second principle of sociocultural theory is that learning is fundamentally a social phenomenon that takes place within the communities we belong to (including classroom communities) (TLAT 5). Sanchezs The God Box encourages tolerance and it depicts how students influence each other in

5 the social setting. Behaviors that were once encouraged and/or accepted are no longer tolerated after Manuel is assaulted. The formation of the Straight-Gay Alliance (SGA) is another contributing factor that helped facilitate social change. This novel has the potential to change longstanding negative attitudes towards the LGBTQ community by showing the emotional trauma one goes through in discovering their sexual identity. No one chooses to be gay and this novel shows how Paul has to fight this misconception at school and at church. How often do students bring their hate and misconceptions into the classroom? They do it all the time, which has adverse effects on fellow classmates and teachers that are members of the LGBTQ community. The God Box teaches students that this type of negative behavior is not socially acceptable, despite what they learn at home or church. We must make it clear to students that everyone is equal regardless of sexual orientation in the hopes of promoting a bully free school zone. If the goal is to teach students acceptance of others, we must first start with teachers. In the novel, bullies were allowed to engage in destructive behavior without teachers putting a stop to the violence. When we as educators do nothing to stop or change this type of behavior then we are sending a message to our students that we condone the negative behavior. The National Education Associations (NEA) Strengthening The Learning Environment states that, 39 percent of GLBT students report being physically abused, 64 percent of GLBT students feel unsafe at school, 84 percent report being verbally assaulted, and GLBT youth experience higher rates of suicide (NEA 8). These are scary statistics and they should encourage teachers to provide a safe place for LGBTQ students or any other students that are being discriminated against.

6 If educators want students to change and develop into socially healthy adults they need to provide students with literary texts that deal with real issues that influence their daily lives. Teens live in a society where television, movies, video games, and music videos stream negativity and stereotypes to them on a daily basis. According to the National Council of Teachers of Englishs (NCTE), The Students Right to Read, Many contemporary novels for adolescents focus on the real world of young peopledrugs, premarital sex, alcoholism, divorce, high school gangs, school dropouts, racism, violence, and sensuality (NCTE). There are no differences between what the students are exposed to through media and social networking sites and novels like The God Box, yet these books are considered controversial and are open to censorship. Teachers generally do not want to teach these books; however, English teachers willing to defend the classics and modern literature must be prepared to give equally spirited defense to serious and worthwhile adolescent novels (NCTE). This is especially true for The God Box. There are some controversial themes in The God Box that some might consider grounds for censorship. What one must consider is that students are exposed to many forms of controversial issues every day through the media, music, and video games. The controversial elements in The God Box deal with life issues. The one element that is more likely to cause problems is the violence due to the bullying. Parents who are concerned about The God Box should remember that their children are exposed to violence when watching Prime Time television. There is nothing wrong with parents trying to protect their child from issues they deem harmful, but I would ask parents to take into account that YA literature uses language and discusses topics that their children use and discuss every day. Parents should also have the opportunity to read this rational to gain further knowledge on The God Box before making a

7 decision on not allowing their children to read the novel. I would also ask and recommend parents read The God Box before challenging its use in the classroom. If parents or school administrators are set against using The God Box in the classroom, I would suggest using Bullied by Jeff Erno instead. This novel is also about bullying but it has an unique perspective. The Jeff Erno website describes Bullied as a series of short stories exploring the world of teens from several different viewpoints: the victim, the bully, the gay bystander, the straight friend, the concerned parent (Jeff Erno). The importance of Bullied is that it discusses the problems students face when bullied and it gives students the opportunity to view how bullying effects people from each of the different perspectives listed above. Although there are other novels out there, like Jeff Ernos Bullied, that discuss LGBTQ issues in relation to bullying, The God Box is still my first choice to use in the classroom. The God Box is worth fighting for and using in the classroom because it gives a voice to LGBTQ students who are underrepresented in YA literature and it covers tough topics and real life situations. Too often fear of making someone angry inhibits educators reading list choices. When we as educators avoid using books like The God Box, we are creating an atmosphere hostile to free inquiry (NCTE). We must trust our students to discuss controversial novels in a mature manner, while also creating a safe environment, which encourages students to voice their opinions. When we censor what our students read, we leave them with an inadequate and distorted picture of the ideals, values, and problems of their culture (NCTE). The God Box is essential to the classroom because it allows students a glimpse into what it means to be a LGBTQ student in American schools. Using this novel should create a better understanding of the LGBTQ community, clarify common misconceptions in regards to LGBTQ persons, and bridge the communication gap

8 between LGBTQ students and their peers. After reading The God Box students will come away with an awareness of the different forms of bullying and the psychological and physical damage it does to their peers. The God Box will transform students into socially aware advocates for equal treatment for all people. Students will be advocates for a bully free school zone that will promote a positive school experience. In closing, it is my personal hope that The God Box not only helps develop social awareness in my students but that it inspires them to be life-long readers.

9 Work Cited Bushman, John H., and Kay Parks Haas. "Young Adults and the Literature That Meets Their Needs and Interests." Using Young Adult Literature in the English Classroom. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall, 2006. 2-29. Print. Sanchez, Alex. The God Box. New York: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2007. Print. Wilson, Suzanne, and Penelope L. Peterson. "Theories of Learning and Teaching." National Education Association. N.p., July 2006. 1-15.Web. 01 July 2013 "Strengthening The Learning Environment: A School Employee's Guide to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, & Transgender Issues." National Education Association. N.p., 2006. 1-34. Web. 01 July 2013. "Tennessee English Language Arts Standards: English IV." English/Language Arts Curriculum Standards. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2013. "The Students' Right to Read." NCTE Comprehensive News. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2013.