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Middle School: Ramblings of a Grownup who Remembers

The Rich Writer: Middle School: Ramblings of a Grownup who Remembers

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Middle School: Ramblings of a Grownup who Remembers

I think our culture tends not to consider kids "real" people; you know, they don't have jobs, don't vote, their worries are "unimportant". Not true. Middle school was about the time that everything became important in my life. It's a time when everything becomes more complicated, too, and school begins its not-so-subtle shift from fun and simple (mostly) to a proving ground for the rest of your life.

Middle school is also a time when kids face some of life's uglier lessons. Like--what is bullying? How do you stand up for yourself? When do you take a stand and when do you step back and decide the the fight isn't worth it?

Many of today's middle schools provide anti-bullying programs, to teach kids how to deal with tough situations. I like that. I like it because I remember seeing bullying, when I was in middle school, and I remember doing nothing. I was a quiet kid, a sheltered kid who never realized this kind of stuff happened. Without thinking about appropriate responses beforehand, I had no idea what to do--so I did nothing. I've regretted it ever since.

We're teaching our quiet kids, our kids who see and care about injustices around them, to stand up and make a difference. Sounds good, right? The problem is that when someone steps outside their comfort zone--when a quiet kid tries to stand up against a perceived wrong--she might get it wrong the first time.

If I'd tried to stand up for this girl, the one with the greasy hair who had a mood ring one of the popular girls decided she wanted--if I'd tried to stand up for her, I bet I would have been the one to get in trouble. Why? Because I probably would have done it poorly, maybe used too much force or broken some unwritten "rule" of confrontation. And because the popular girls were the ones who knew how to lie. They'd practiced sweet-talking teachers before. They knew smooth ways to slant the story in their favor. And me? I was the gawky kid who got tongue-tied when embarrassed--traits that are often misinterpreted as signs of a guilty conscience.

The quiet kids, the sensitive kids--they're the ones most likely to see the wrongs in our world and try to right them. Unfortunately, they also tend to be the ones with the least experience with confrontation. And when the quiet kids step into the territory of the popular, the more articulate, and the extroverts to assert themselves--well, sometimes they screw it up. Sometimes they're the ones who get in trouble.
So what, should they quit trying? Nope. Quiet kids, introverts, gawky and shy kids, geeky kids--well, maybe we screw up when we try to stand up for ourselves, but we also grow and learn from the experience. And I still believe we're the ones who will change the world into a better place. Guess that's why I write for them.


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