|What Can Dr. Seuss Teach Us About Staff Division?|
|By Joe Bouchard|
The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.
What sort of trainer would use a children’s book to teach a lesson? Is it possible to break the ice, establish trust, and impart a lesson while talking in rhymes? It may sound strange, but I have facilitated excellent classroom discussions and shattered tons of ice by reading Dr. Seuss books to adults.
Think back to your most eccentric, unusual teacher. Chances are that you may have a few to select from. You may remember that the individual had strange mannerisms, an interesting mode of speech, or other uncommon characteristics.
The instructor may also have been unusual in delivery of material. Unorthodox ways of instilling a lesson stick in your mind, whether you realize it or not. Sometimes the best lessons are given in an uncommon way. This is especially true when adult topics are covered by using children’s literature.
Dr. Seuss is an icon of American literature. Though he started his career as a political cartoonist around World War II, Dr. Seuss is best known for his odd rhyming children’s stories with simple, yet endearing illustrations. Just below the surface, though, is the message. Dr. Seuss wrote of human truisms and placed them in a strange wrapping.
Most Seuss books have a simple, yet strong lesson. For example, “Green Eggs and Ham” is really the story of a person resistant to change. “The Lorax” is a tale of wise use of resources. “Horton Hears a Who” depicts someone who remains true to a concept despite universal opposition.
How can this be applied to Corrections? Let’s suppose that you are training a class on recognizing and repairing staff division. Further imagine that you will deal with the horrible specter of cliques and their ill effects. The book that you need is called “The Sneeches”.
“The Sneeches” is a story about a group of beings who happen to have a star shape on their abdomens. They bear an elitist attitude over the sneeches without stars on their bellies. Those without stars have a deep inferiority complex when they look at those with stars. Enter the antagonist. A hustler-type comes into the story as a salesperson who can affix stars to sneeches who have no stars. This is done for a price, of course. When the elite group is faced with a level playing field, the antagonist presents a star-off machine. The elite group, eager to remain in primacy, opts for the new fad of distinction. This causes pandemonium in the sneech society and nets a big profit for the persuasive vendor. The con artist is always one step ahead of the cliques, anticipating their needs.
Does this sound like group-think in an institution? Isn’t this all about manipulation that can lead to division?
If you have read this far, you are interested in knowing how this works. I have found it helpful to start with a pseudo-serious tone and with a suspenseful build-up for the students. For example:
The book must be hidden when delivering this pompous introduction. In my experience, when it is revealed, the surprise is pleasant. Now the instructor reads the story in a loud, clear voice. Have fun with the story. Become overly demonstrative. Hold the book up high so all can see the pictures. This helps draw the audience into the story. Humor can shine through the reading of “The Sneeches”. I have never yet had an audience that was not entertained by the story.
After you have read the story, ask some questions of the audience. This is the chance for the lesson to be driven home. This is when ideas of group-think are explored. Other topics can be covered such as how prisoners manipulate staff (as the antagonist did in the story) and how group vanity leaves us exposed to handling. Here is a list of discussion questions:
I honestly state that this is a fun and effective icebreaker. I have performed it in many places for different levels of custody. I have even rendered this to occupational groups outside of correction. I was even amazed to find that a group of serious psychology students found it memorable, entertaining, and useful.
So, in honor of Dr. Seuss, an American legend, I encourage you to give this icebreaker a try. I guarantee that you will never look at what appears to be simple literature in the same way.
Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.
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