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Issues Exploration Based on Episode from Bridge to Terabithia   by Katherine Patterson

Prepared by Sue Kleckner

Purpose of Activity: The purpose of this activity is to help students explore the contradiction between issues of convention and issues of fairness and the overlapping of these two domains.

Grade Level 5th 
Time: approx. 45-50 minutes 
Materials: none

Convention: Gender Roles

Teacher: In our novel we have a situation where Jess tells his sister, Maybelle, that he can’t fight the girl, Janice Avery, because he will get kicked out of school for fighting a girl.

--What do you think of that?

IF the students object to the idea of fighting in general, say:

But in this case, the issue isn’t simply about fighting, but about whether a boy should every fight with a girl.

Are there different rules for boys about fighting with girls instead of other boys? Why is that? What do you think of that?

Some people say that if a boy fights a girl that he isn’t being “manly.” What does that mean anyway? What does this have to do with acting the way a guy is supposed to?

How about the other way around, would it be okay for a girl to pick a fight with a boy?

Why are there different rules for boys and girls? Not just in this case, but in general.

--Can you think of other times when people have different rules for what boys and girls can do?

--How about how people dress?

--How about what you can play with?

--Why do you think this is the case?

--How do you think things would be if we didn’t have these rules? 
(These questions are guides for the teacher…much depends on student response. It would be a discussion involving the whole group.)

Fairness Issue

Teacher: Let’s get back to Jess’ situation of the possibility of boys fighting with girls.

Do you think it is fair for boys to fight with girls?

What if a girl starts it?

Some people say that a boy should never fight with a girl because boys are stronger. What do you think of that argument?

How about in general – like let’s say it was two boys and one was really bigger and stronger than the other one, would it be right for the stronger, bigger boy to pick a fight?

Would it be fair?

If in the case of boys and girls, suppose that the girl is as big or bigger than the boy, should that make a difference?


If a boy did fight a girl who was bigger than he, would it be “manly” for him to fight a girl in that case?

Okay now what about other rules that treat boys and girls differently, like how we dress – you know like the norm that boys don’t wear dresses.

Does that rule have anything to do with fairness? I mean is it really unfair that boys don’t wear dresses?

Okay – so some rules just have to do with telling boys and girls apart, and deciding what are boy and girl things to do.

But sometimes those rules touch on fairness.

Sometimes when we make a rule that treats people differently just because they are a boy or girl that would be unfair. Can you think of any cases like that?

How about who should do the dishes and clean up the house? Should just the girls and moms do those things?

Now in the case of fighting, do you think in general that it is fair to say that boys should never fight with girls? How about men fighting with women?

 You know, men are almost always stronger and could seriously hurt women. Should that be considered when we think about how boys should act?

So here we have two possibilities – the rule about fighting could be fair rule that treats boys and girls differently to protect girls and women – or it could be an unfair rule that gives girls and women special treatment.

What do you guys think?

Moving Beyond Retribution

Okay now let’s just take a second here to think about why Jess was even thinking about fighting in the first place. Is Jess right to be planning to get even with Janice.

Let’s review for minute from the story what it is that Maybelle did.

From here the focus would shift to the justice versus vengeance discussion of moral responses to harm or injustice.

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