Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)

Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Middle school media

Now you know why I stopped watching the news this summer.

  • Saturday, August 31, 2019 10:23pm
  • Life

In my teacher life I spent some years in the Junior High. I liked that age group. Every teacher has a preference to where they hope to be and some have definite ideas about where they will refuse. And for some it is the Junior High, but I liked those kids.

One of my most enduring memories is of a 13-year-old young man trying to convince me that “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown“ was a classic poem and he should be allowed to memorize it for the assignment. And I let him. He obviously knew something I didn’t, because I’m sure those who are 50-plus today will recall Jim Croce before Longfellow, or even Robert Service.

Junior High these days is often middle school: sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Sometimes it is seventh, eighth and ninth grades. Whatever the format, those kids are bundles of attitude and emotion. Not much energy left for education so we reinforced, reviewed (in other words, pounded it in) and didn’t introduce much new material for a couple of years.

The social arrangement is most interesting at that age. Mean Girls get their start in Junior High. These are usually a small group of wannabes who make life miserable for the kids who are shy or less socially astute, and in Junior High there are lots of those. These young ladies band together for social safety and go after only those they think they can intimidate.

And then there is the Instigator. Some call him the Class Clown, but usually he is a little ahead of his adversaries and eggs them into rash behavior just to laugh at their discomfort or to get them into trouble. This guy (and it usually is a male) knows which buttons to push, and seems to have none himself, or they are well hidden. And he is personable enough that when he says “Aw-w-w, I was just kidding,” people (even teachers) excuse him with a chuckle.

And the BMOC. He is usually a good athlete, or the president of a class who believes he is king of the hill because of that. He knows how to use his charm, but is not above a little blackmail if that works better. He usually has a posse that hangs around because he is who he is.

Put them all into a class together and watch the fun. And during the full moon try to teach them to write a complex sentence. But the more interesting interchanges take place when they think no adult is watching. Mean Girls and BMOC get their hits in on an innocent victim, but Instigator jabs them all then stands back and laughs while they go at each other. Every. Day.

Now you know why I stopped watching the news this summer. I retired from all that several years ago and never had any desire to return. I turned on the news a couple of months ago and learned about racist vegetables. Then it was someone explaining the Mueller report for the umpteenth time, and talking heads parroting the word ’trope’ five times in one hour. I flashed back to an eighth grade girl whispering to me the ‘real’ meaning of “The House of the Rising Sun” trying not to say the word ‘whorehouse’. She learned a new word, but then I had to tell her parents (with a straight face) how the word BROTHEL came to be part of the conversation that day.

Junior high kids are like that. They assume that because they don’t or didn’t know, no one else does either and are eager to tell/teach you so you can also be enlightened. Some current politicians and the news media are the same.

I moved into high school later and watched the evolution of the students. The Mean Girls drifted apart in most cases; the BMOC found out there were lots just like him, and the Class Clown honed his skills. Whatever their destiny, the biggest lesson they learned is that real life is not a country song, or even a sitcom. And you can work the system only until someone smarter (or older) comes along.

I saw one of my former Junior High students a couple of years ago, and he laughingly reminded me of how I had convinced them I was not an easy grade: I flunked my youngest son. It was the only time I ever had him in class (thank heaven) and he had to push the envelope however subtly to assure his classmates he was not the teacher’s pet. He deserved the grade. But when they found out I didn’t believe in identity politics, they got the message (and so did he!). Didn’t change the class dynamics, but taught them the teacher was not a pushover, even for special interests.

Now, if we could just get someone’s mother to go to Congress with a red pen!

Virginia lives in Kenai and can be contacted at vewalters@gci.net .

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