In the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, 24 year old James Dean plays the role of Jim Stark, an emotionally confused teenager, at odds with himself and his world. Dean did several other movies over his short career, but this is the one for which he is best remembered. It is this dramatic role as the rebellious teen that captured the imagination of a generation of teens and solidified his reputation as an memorable actor.
The stories we ingest from our literature, movies, music and popular media culture are saturated with rebel characters. You know, the one who successfully shuns the system and in return wins material wealth, gets the girl and metaphorically rides off toward the horizon with freedom as his reward? I think these stories give us hope in the face of the feeling, This can't be it, someday, I'm going to escape all of this and go my own way.
I suspect it's the difficulty in adapting to social expectations that seeds the desire to break away from the group. However, it is important to remember that these rebel characters are romantic depictions of what an audience wants to see, hear and feel. In real life, most anti-heroes don't pack nearly as much charisma. Unfortunately, many teenagers look to these fictional rebels and adopt them as behavioural role models.
But in reality, there is catch to such romantic ambitions. If you attempt to break free of the status quo and fail, but try again, there will be sympathy waiting for you. If you succeed, there will be admiration and envy. But, if you are a failure and bring scorn to your group, expect to be ostracized. I I have learned, rebels are never short on supporters, until they get into trouble.
As a teacher I have a different view of these rebel want to be characters because they can wield a negative influence on my job in the classroom. We are charged with the task of communicating information and knowledge to large groups of people, and it is to be expected that some members are not willing to accept the message and the messenger. The draw back to this fact is the teacher often becomes the target of the rebel scorn, but it is really the larger group who suffers. While the outside world romanticizes the rebel, we have to deal with the realities of their behaviours.
So, how do the rebels in the classroom get started? I figure, as classes become larger, the more difficult it is to reach everyone on a personable level. Consequently, the individual in the audience is at greater risk of feeling detached from the group. If a student becomes lost, they are more prone to boredom and many times this will lead to disruptive behaviours. I realize this is a simplification of the problem as there are often darker forces at work.
In addition, sometimes a student will enter into my class with a lot of emotional, intellectual or social baggage which will compound the potential problems. But, as the person in charge of the learning environment you need to deal with these people or you will not be able to accomplish the goal assigned to you.
For me, the clothes, tattoos, the piercings, attitude, the music, none of these bother me the way it irks many adults. The behaviours can range from the pesky to the outrageous, so I'll keep the observations to my classroom. By far the worst rebel behaviours are the ones that derail the learning process. Most of the time I don't even think the kid knows why she is doing it, they are like as rebels without a clue.
It is a mistake to get into a confrontation with anyone while they have an audience because their arguments of passion almost always trump arguments of reason. So,within my own classroom, I give the rebels three warnings and then I remove them from the group. This takes away their fuel source and lets me get on with my job.
Here is a list of rebel behaviours I have experienced in the classroom over the years: constant lates, unprepared for learning, sleeping in class, talking, arguing, cell phone use, not doing home work, refusing to leave the room, swearing, fighting, lying, cheating, burping, farting, passive aggressive behaviours, daily washroom requests, regular guidance appointments, faked illnesses.... sounds like a zoo eh. Well, the bright side is that most of the behaviours I mention here have been tracked over the years and are not representative of any single experience.
Unfortunately for me, over the last ten years, the public school system does not support the removal of students from the learning environment for behaviours which derail the process. I am always amazed at how few parents ever complain about the fact that their child really loses out on an education because of a very small group of kids.
By the end of the century, Marshall Bruce Mathers III a.k.a. Eminem became one of a host of new rebels for a whole new generation of teenagers. Like Dean, teenagers around the world idolized Mathers for his ability to express his rebel stance. While the real emotional turbulence apparent in most of the previous rebel idols was concealed, for Eminem, it was promoted to give him authenticity. The underlying message being that He is a rebel, but with a cause.
Fortunately, most teenagers do not actually follow through with the desire to rebel by adopting the lifestyle of a true rebel. I suspect it is the innate knowledge that they need to be part of a group to survive. It is much safer to fantasize about being a rebel than actually living the lifestyle.