Originally Posted August 2014
For many of us, it’s time for our kids to return to school. If your household is anything like ours, you and your kids might have mixed feelings about this time of year. Our schools are now complex environments that can be very tough to navigate–especially once kids enter middle school or junior high school.
For all of the attention we give to the quality and/or adequacy of public education, there is little said regarding what plays out socially in our schools. While my husband and I feel well equipped to help our 12-yr old achieve academically; the social side of things is another world altogether.
We had a rough year last year. Our son nearly drowned in a school that was too big and culturally different from what he had experienced previously. In short, he was not ready for the social dynamic created by large numbers of kids and teachers with varying values, cultures, standards, and personalities. This caught my husband and I both off guard as we have always been in very diverse environments. Or have we?
As academics we have raised our sons in very open, accepting, globally-focused environments. Even when we lived in small towns we were surrounded by other academics who basically had the same general values. We had different religions, different beliefs, and different approaches to life, living, and raising our kids. BUT, what we all had in common was a respect for our differences and an open acceptance that allowed people to be who they chose to be–period. Unless someone was hurting someone else, we were fine with each individual being a unique package and contributing in his or her own unique way to our little community. Some were introverts, some extraverts. Some were dancers, some musicians. Some scholar/athletes, some just scholars. Many traveled, some chose not to travel. Some who worshipped a higher power, some who didn’t. But in the end, we all respected the rights of others to choose who and what they wanted to be/become.
Through a series of complicated circumstances, our son entered middle school in a community that operates a bit differently. He ran into stereotypes, overt racism, elitist behavior, entitlement, and a number of other things he’d never before seen in such concentrated doses. He struggled beyond belief to understand survival in an environment that at times played by rules he had never been exposed to and at other times appeared to have no rules in place until after the fact. He made many mistakes and regularly operated on the wrong assumptions. He imitated behavior he should have found disturbing. He watched behavior we wish he had reported. He fought back when he should have given in and gave in when we wished he had fought back. In the end, he learned many valuable lessons and finished the year a better person for all he experienced. We spent a good deal of the summer helping him understand the role of emotional intelligence in surviving socially and reinforcing what he believes personally as compared to what he saw play out in the classrooms and halls at school.
He’s excited to return to school. We all know this year will be better because we are different people than we were last year—to include the people he will reunite with in the halls and classrooms of his school. But even if he runs into the same circumstances this year and people who didn’t change over the summer, he knows what he’s walking into and he’s looking forward to navigating more successfully and maintaining his values independent of what he sees. He’s no longer a little boy. He’s a young man. He’s a young man with some experience under his belt, a renewed sense of self-respect, and an understanding of the need for street smarts in the halls of his suburban middle school. He’s a 7th grader. -cd