In and Out

Nicole Lipson uses blogs in her “Shakespeare, Tragedy Tomorrow…Comedy Tonight!” 12th grade English class to facilitate class reflection and conversation. In this example she prompts students to respond to her post via commenting. Click here to see the original post and all of the comments.

Ms. Lipson’s post:

Hi all-

In a few days, we will be beginning our reading of Shakespeare’s Othello! To get us started thinking about some of the complex and thought-provoking ideas we’ll be encountering during our reading of this tragedy, I’d like you to consider the following questions:

What does it mean to be an “insider”? What does it mean to be an “outsider”? (When you hear these words, what do they conjure for you?) Most importantly, do you believe a person can be both an “insider” and an “outsider” at once? If so, in what ways? Be sure to back up your assertions by bringing in examples from your own observations and experiences.

And…be sure to read and respond thoughtfully to the insights of your classmates!

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

A sample of student responses:

Comment 1:

I’ll start us off with a box analogy: we talk a lot about “inside the box” and “outside the box”. If this is accurate, I think there are multiple boxes: there’s a box for music, e.g., and a box for books, etc. An insider is someone who is “inside” the box for a specific thing or group of things, someone who fits the cultural norms for listening to music, watching TV, or whatever else. An outsider is someone outside the box: someone who doesn’t watch television, for example, or someone who only listens to classical music. There are boxes like taste in music that are voluntary, and there are boxes like “race” that are based on other things: skin color, or first language, or sexual orientation.

What is inside a given box may vary based on a variety of factors — a group of native Spanish-speakers from Florida will have boxes that contain different things than the boxes of a group of Québécois, for example.

Given this, it’s certainly possible to be both an insider and an outsider — it means you’re an insider in some ways (your taste in music, say) and an outsider in others (your favorite TV show, say). A native Anglophone in Québec — even if s/he has an excellent command of French and his/her taste in music, television, etc. is in line with societal norms there — will still to a certain extent be an outsider because of his/her native language.

Comment 2:

To me, being an “insider” and being an “outsider” are quite different. To be an insider, one must have a direct connection to whatever “thing” they are an insider to, so in Nat’s analogy it would be the box they belong to. This person must know first hand what is going on and have some sort of relationship with it, whether it is positive or negative does not matter. An insider has a say of what goes on in the situation.

An outsider on the other hand, is someone simply observing the inside through their own lenses. They might be able to access resources to find out more about the “inside” but do not have direct access to the situation or the “inside” themselves. An outsider can make assumptions about the inside but have no power in changing any part of it. Additionally, I do not believe that a person can be an insider as well as an outsider in a single situation. They are two separate roles that can’t be combined.

When I hear the words insider and outsider, the initial example that conjures in my mind is a scene of a fight, a physical fight. Like one you could see taking place in front of a high-school in those teen movies. An insider would be one of the teenagers involved in the fight while an outsider would be one of the innocent bystanders gathered around to watch. Only the insiders can feel the physical actions and the emotions caught in this situation. Although, an outsider might have emotions, it will only be ones made by him/herself. There is no way that an insider in this situation can also be an outsider because they are already involved with the fight. They can walk away from the fight, but they can not just turn into a bystander like the other outsiders. So that it why I do not think that a person can be both an insider and an outsider. Of course a person can play a role of both within different situations, but they cannot be both in a single situation.

Comment 3:

Much like [commenter 1’s] idea of what it means to be an “insider” or an “outsider”, and furthering his box analogy, I also believe that there are multiple boxes, but boxes that are almost concentric because of their ability to fit within one another all while sharing a common axis point – acceptance. In my opinion, an “insider” is someone who has access to certain privileges – such as secrets, popularity, acceptance, money etc. -and a consequent respect. Sticking to the boxes within boxes analogy, an insider would be the innermost square – around which the other squares are formed – thus creating a type of hierarchy. As one travels farther away from the innermost square, he or she can then be defined as an “outsider,” or a person barred from the advantages – or square – of the “insiders”.

Going back to my idea of an axis amid these concentric circles, I believe that at the center of each square – regardless of its nearness to the “insiders” – is a desire to be accepted and well-liked. Therefore, even the “outsiders” in the farthest square seek approval.

In regards to the idea of being both an insider and an outsider, I find that it’s extremely possible for there to be a conflict between being an insider but feeling like an outsider. Such is the case in high school, when someone appears to be popular and well liked, when really they feel excluded from their group.

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