In this dazzling debut, Carla Shalaby, a former elementary school teacher, explores the everyday lives of four young "troublemakers", challenging the ways we identify and understand so-called problem children. Time and again, we make seemingly endless efforts to moderate, punish, and even medicate our children, when we should instead be concerned with transforming the very nature of our institutions, systems, and structures, large and small. Through delicately crafted portraits of these memorable children - Zora, Lucas, Sean, and Marcus - Troublemakers allows us to see school through the eyes of those who know firsthand what it means to be labeled a problem.
From Zora's proud individuality to Marcus's open willfulness, from Sean's struggle with authority to Lucas's tenacious imagination, comes profound insight - for educators and parents alike - into how schools engender, exclude, and then try to erase trouble, right along with the young people accused of making it. And although the harsh disciplining of adolescent behavior has been called out as part of a school-to-prison pipeline, the children we meet in this book demonstrate how a child's path to excessive punishment and exclusion in fact begins at a much younger age.
Shalaby's empathetic, discerning, and elegant prose gives us a deeply textured look at what noncompliance signals about the environments we require students to adapt to in our schools. Both urgent and timely, this paradigm-shifting book challenges our typical expectations for young children and with principled affection reveals how these demands - despite good intentions - work to undermine the pursuit of a free and just society.