During the drive home yesterday we listened to the Slate Plus segment of the Political Gabfest. The hosts were answering questions about the best and worst year of their education. Everyone agreed middle school was the worst, with Plotz claiming you should “never trust anyone who loved middle school”.
By grade 6, I was really struggling in elementary school. Maybe it was early puberty, maybe it was my general precociousness, and maybe it was the small size of our school and classes (each of our three classes had 19 or 20 students, with 59 students in total for the sixth grade). But by the end of elementary school, I was bored. The work was easy, my friends and I were outgrowing each other and starting to have different interests. I had so much free time, most of which was spent playing basketball with friends or playing video games or Magic: The Gathering. We were cranky.
I remember that winter that I was put in a reading group of my own for our holiday assignment. I read Lord of the Flies from my teacher’s personal bookshelf, which I’m pretty sure was meant to be some kind of preparation for middle school. It was the first time I was taught about symbolism and the ideas behind literature and was instructed to see beyond the plot. Brilliantly, my teacher did this by having me read the short book, asking me to write up what it was about in our standard way, and then handed me the Cliffnotes. It had its intended effect, suddenly forcing me to confront the book within the book that I hadn’t realized I had read.
Middle school was a relief. From 59 students to 250 students, there were all these new people with different experiences. Some of these kids were friends I had for years through Little League, basketball, Hebrew school, summer camp, or even preschool. We took different classes with different teachers with different personalities. There was a whole array of afterschool sports and activities to take part in. There was more work, advanced classes combined 7th and 8th grade math and science into one year, but it was still easy to keep up with— the pace was at least no longer glacial.
For the first time, I felt like I developed meaningful relationships with adults. Teaches, coaches, and guidance counselors all related to me more as an adult than a child, at least more as an adult than I ever felt like I was treated before, and that was a breath of fresh air. I never settled fully into one group or clique, at least that I recognized, and instead spent a few years trying all of the interests and personalities and people that were available to me.
Maybe I was just ready? For me, middle school was like being brought to a city filled with restaurants of varying cuisines after a life time of only grilled chicken breast and steamed vegetables.
The way a lot of people describe going away to college is how I experienced seventh grade. Maybe that would help the folks who hated middle school understand what it was like for those of us who really fucking needed it.