The Seditious Student: Small Steps to Rebellion

Work with schools: writing a composition, girls wearing straw hats, bent over their work circa 1910s.

Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

I do not break rules.

I color inside the lines, a textbook example of a goody two-­shoes.

This is mainly because I am afraid of what will happen if I am caught breaking the rules. More specifically, I am afraid of the question of “why.” I like to have reasons for everything that I do, and so a question like, “Why did you hop that fence?” or “Why did you eat ice cream for breakfast?” leave me feeling like a complete deer in the headlights.

The truth is, I have been blessed by a community whose values I usually share. When authority figures such as my mother or teachers impose rules on me, I generally understand the necessity for the rules, even if I find them inconvenient. This puts the idea of rebellion out of my mind the majority of the time. Being oppositional would just lead to trouble and hurt people who I respect.   

However, I have recently discovered an area in my life where I feel I have to rebel.

With seven hours of school, two hours of commute, fourteen college applications, and four hours of homework on a good day, I often feel as though I am being asked to put my academics above my own health and sanity.

At the beginning of the year, I would find myself awake in the wee hours of the night working on calculus or writing essays. Though every fiber in my body wanted to go to sleep and forget about indefinite integrals, my mind would win out, convincing me that by failing to complete my homework I was being lazy, not living up to my potential, and disrespecting my teachers.

I have realized that this is not my idea of integrity. I have decided to set a limit for myself regarding how much time I will spend on academic pursuits, leaving myself time to engage in activities that interest me and to get (almost) enough sleep. This means that, sometimes, I will show up to class without having completed the homework. It also means that I have to face the dreaded “why” question. That is where the rebellion really comes in.

My idea of rebellion is following my own moral code, whether or not it agrees with the ethics of those around me. It is about having a “why” for any rule I break. It does not mean that I disrespect my family, teachers, or friends, but that I do not compromise my own values in order to fit their definition of “acceptable.”

When my teachers now ask me why I have not completed my homework, I surprise myself by always being confident in the “why.” I maintain that if my education is compromising my physical and mental health, something is wrong with the system, and that merits rebellion.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

Topics: Schools
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So what happened when you told your teacher? What consequences?

How to cite this page

Goldberg, Ilana. "The Seditious Student: Small Steps to Rebellion ." 21 January 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 4, 2023) <>.

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