Monday, August 1, 2011

Elementary School Sucked

Last week we talked about how I was a weird teenager and a few teenage stereotypes that I really hate. This week I want to talk about another stereotype. This one doesn't just afflict teenage characters, but children of all ages.

Namely its the stereotype of how wonderful/awful different levels of school are. Elementary school is a time of unicorns and butterflies, utter perfection, and everyone getting along. Middle school is a time of confusion and horror. And high school? High school is utter hell.

I contend that this stereotype is grossly inaccurate.

Elementary school was probably the second worst time of my life. (Second, of course, to grad school, which is, was, and forever will be the most miserable, horrible, awful time in my life. It would take an awful lot to top wanting to cry under my desk almost everyday. And I'm not exaggerating. I cried more during grad school than I did as an infant.)

Stereotypes would have us believe that in elementary school, kids are too young to see differences. That they are pure and innocent and all get along without any problem. But in elementary school, I was an outcast. In third grade, no one in my class talked to me--but at least I had friends who had the same recess period as me. Fourth grade? Don't even get me started. I literally did not have a single friend in my school in the fourth grade. In fifth grade, my two best friends hated each other and made my life absolutely miserable.

All through elementary school I was the weird one. I was the girl who liked to read--heck, for a long time I was resented for being the girl who COULD read. I was reading middle grade novels in the third grade when some of my classmates couldn't sound out words. I was the girl who wasn't interested in boys. I'm fairly certain the girls weren't actually interested in boys. They just thought they were supposed to be. But because I didn't, because I saw boys as friends and classmates instead of boyfriends (whatever that means in elementary school), I was weird.

In elementary school I was stuck in a class of thirty other people that didn't change, except maybe (if I was lucky) at recess. (Note: my fourth grade school didn't have recess. Just PE everyday, so you were stuck with your class during that as well).

Then middle school came. We changed classes. Not just rooms, but we changed classmates. You were not guaranteed to have the same thirty people with you. The classes shifted, exposing me to more kids. And something miraculous happened.

I discovered I wasn't alone.

There were other girls like me. Other girls who liked Star Wars. Girls who liked writing and using their imagination. Girls who were still willing to play games of make believe even though we were "too old". Girls who didn't think I was weird. Girls who liked me.

Finally I had friends.

Middle school still wasn't easy, because I do believe that middle school is a time of transition. Things hurts more in middle school, because you're not entirely sure how you should react to them. You're trying to be grown up and a kid at the same time. Its hard. And there were difficult times. But it was SO MUCH BETTER than elementary school. I can't begin to describe how much better it was.

And it only got better. High school? High school was freakin' amazing. Want to talk about finding people like you? Meet the 300 person band. Meet the other thirty kids who think Latin is cool. Meet a school that offers every club for every interest: Aviation Club, Latin Club, Science Olympiad, Quiz Bowl, Honor Societies, and so much more.

And by high school, I knew who I was. I was (am) a nerd. And I had friends who were nerds. And despite popular stereotypical belief, I was respected for my nerdiness. As I've said before, teenagers aren't stupid. They realize the value of intelligence. And they realize that meanness gets you nothing. But if your nice to the nerd. If you genuinely like the nerd. If you get behind the nerd? Well then, maybe on the rare occasion when she thinks an assignment is grossly unfair she'll do the assignment and then send her homework out to the entire class*. Maybe she'll actually let you copy her Latin homework**. But only if your nice. Only if you respect her. Only if you realize that what she's doing for you is a favor. Not that the nerd is mean. She just requires human decency.

And I believe I mentioned before that I was on Prom Court. (Which before that goes to anyone's head, was only second string popularity at my school because if you were on Homecoming Court you weren't allowed to be on Prom Court (and yes, that's me in that picture right there. Not too pretty. Not too thin. Way too much hair on my head)). Being Woodwind Captain of the Marching Band, President of the Latin Club, Captain of the Quiz Bowl Team, Treasurer of the Aviation Club, and President and Founder of the Science National Honor Society may have made me a nerd, but it also meant I was pretty well known. In a school of 3,500 getting the votes of a measly 400 band nerds and general nerds actually goes a long way. And my friend AJ (Brass Captain) made his entire English Class vote for me to spite me. But heck, I got to go to Prom for free so I came to terms with it.

But pretty much everyone on Prom Court was in AP classes and other "nerdy" endeavors.

High school was awesome. I had a ton of friends. I had a ton of activities. I was always busy. I never felt like anyone was out to get me (except possibly my one friend, but she was going through some real emotional trauma, so we forgave her for being crazy). (And before anyone contends I must not have been that much of a nerd, below is an image of me and my friends playing Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. We were huge nerds. And yes that's me with the awful triangle shaped head. I cut off all my hair after that prom photo).

I thought it was just me. I thought I was the only one who suffered through elementary school and found rest and acceptance in high school. But its not true. After talking to several friends, I've found I'm not alone and this stereotype is simply false.

In elementary school you're forced to be with all these other kids. In middle school and high school? You can find your people. And among your people, you find acceptance.

So lets get rid of this tired old stereotype and write characters who have friends. Who don't care about stereotypical popularity. Kids who are odd but liked.

*I actually did this once. My senior English teacher assigned a totally unfair assignment, where she kept changing what was actually required everyday. The assignment was ridiculous and at least ten pages of work and she expected us to do it practically over night. So I sent it out to my entire class (via email). And yes, the teacher did realize what was happened. She pulled me aside in class the day we turned it in and asked, "Mandy, did you help people with this assignment?" To which I responded to the affirmative. She gave me extra credit. Go figure. But I would like to note that no one coerced me into doing this. There was no bullying. Heck, no one even asked. But I saw an injustice. I saw unfairness. And I was sort of a superhero when it came to brains in high school, so I swooped in and saved the day.

**I only did this in AP Latin when we had a crazy teacher who refused to teach us other than saying "Go home and translate that", but never actually teaching us how to properly translate it--the tricks of the trade. It was stupid. So every morning before class, the kids in my AP Latin class would meet in the band hall (there was only four of us) and they would copy the homework from me. Occasionally, when I was busy, I made the others do the work instead. Was this cheating? Possibly. But helping my classmates like this, cheating if you will, was my revenge on the teacher for being awful. She spent our class planning her wedding instead of teaching us and made me teach the Latin III kids we shared a class with on several occasions. Another injustice. Another superhero action on my part. I'm positive the teacher knew it was happening, because on most occasions, if I didn't do the homework that meant no one did the homework. So when she walked in and asked the four of us if we did the homework and I said no she would postpone it to the next day.

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