There are times in one’s life when the story we’ve been living simply doesn’t feel like it fits anymore. It might even make us feel unwell or unhappy. It can be scary to step out of the old story and find a new story, but it’s worth it if you know that a healthier and happier future is a possibility. I think of it as embracing “uncertain happiness” vs. “certain unhappiness.” It’s ever so tempting to hang on to certainty even if it guarantees unhappiness, because it’s so darned familiar.
For our family, we hit one of these forks in life’s road and we chose to find a new story for the middle school years. That one decision changed all of our lives for the better. It showed us that being true to ourselves, honoring our intuition and passion, and taking care of our health are the best choices no matter where we are on life’s road.
Recently, I tuned in to “This American Life,” when it aired a program on middle school. Ever the optimist, I hoped I would hear about a place or two where they had found an inspired approach to the middle school years. During the program, a middle school principal asserted that middle school was a special time of learning (I agree), when what we end up learning really sticks (it’s true that when we love learning, what we learn does stick). The principal said that tap dancing and French is what stuck in her memory (how many middle schools offer French and tap dancing?). Later in the program, interviews with middle school students only reinforced the idea that awkward misery seems to define this period in one’s life, especially when it comes to friendship. By the end of the program, I felt sad for the kids and frustrated that adults continue to inflict such a stupid and painful structure on children’s lives.
A blog I recently visited included this pithy observation in the author’s bio: “Attending middle school, I decided that all people between the ages of 12 and 14 should be kept away from each other at all costs for the good of humanity until they get their hormones straight. Instead, we corral them into a building and try to teach them about photosynthesis.”
He’s right. Isn’t it possible that too much time spent with a homogenous age group does not bring out the best in anyone?
Joy Hakim, who wrote the fabulous American history series Natalie and I gobbled up titled The History of Us says, “The idea that putting 25 children of the same age in a box (i.e. classroom) is a great way to teach socialization skills is a concept that needs to be examined…. Gangs are usually age similar groups; they are not great at fostering self-esteem.”
I hope we can come up with another story for this period in children’s lives that instead of isolating them for three years allows them to see and be a part of the larger world. After all, these are the years when children begin to form a vision of their place in the world.
As Hakim says, “When you are eight you can learn a lot from ten and twelve-year-olds. And if you spend time with younger children, you’re likely to learn the value of patience and maybe sweetness. If, at ten, you’re called on to teach others, you’ll find that teaching is a terrific way to learn subject matter.”
To listen to the “This American Life” episode on middle school, click on this link: