Hair­cuts by Chil­dren and Other Ev­i­dence for a New So­cial Con­tract

Dar­ren O’don­nell, 216 pgs, Coach House Books, chbooks.com, $21.95

Broken Pencil - - Book Reviews -

I have to ad­mit, I never thought I would find my­self pon­der­ing the ben­e­fits of child labour — and yet, here we are: play­wright and ur­ban cul­tural plan­ner Dar­ren O’don­nell’s thought­ful new work, Hair­cuts by Chil­dren, ar­gues that in­cor­po­rat­ing chil­dren back into the work­place may not be as bad as we’ve been led to be­lieve. Serv­ing both as an ex­plo­ration of the work that O’don­nell and his Toronto theatre com­pany, Mam­malian Div­ing Re­flex, have done with chil­dren, and as a pro­posal for a new so­cial con­tract in which the adult/ child bi­nary is bro­ken down, Hair­cuts presents plenty of ma­te­rial to en­gage with.

Hair­cuts shines when O’don­nell cov­ers his past col­lab­o­ra­tions with young peo­ple — such as the per­for­mance piece from which the book draws its ti­tle — and the method­ol­ogy that he and Mam­malian have de­vel­oped from that: the Suc­ces­sion Model for Youth Labour En­gage­ment, or SMYLE. Al­though 300 words isn’t nearly enough to un­pack the nuances of the SMYLE, O’don­nell writes about the

method­ol­ogy and its out­comes for those in­volved in clear, qui­etly pas­sion­ate prose that is in­spir­ing while re­main­ing grounded and read­able.

Any­one work­ing with young peo­ple will want to give this book a read — the ma­te­rial is thought-pro­vok­ing, and O’don­nell’s con­ver­sa­tional voice only makes it more en­gag­ing. Some of O’don­nell’s vi­sions of chil­dren “bring­ing hu­man­ity back to the board­room,” as he puts it, feel a lit­tle too much like wish­ful think­ing, but his un­der­ly­ing no­tion of treat­ing chil­dren as in­di­vid­u­als to be learned from, rather than only to be taught, is worth tak­ing into se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion for just about any­one. As a re­sult of Mam­malian tak­ing that tack, he notes, the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the work they did with chil­dren were “both the chil­dren and the adults” — and that sounds like a change we could all use. (Kris Bone)

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