Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Advice to a Young Man: Fortunately, Social Structures Are Well Established. If You're Cool

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Advice to a Young Man: Fortunately, Social Structures Are Well Established. If You're Cool

Article excerpt

After years of home schooling, a 12-year-old boy I know has decided he is finally ready for the ruthless, dog-eat-dog world that is called, for lack of a kinder term, middle school. Clearly, this is a brave child. After all, experts say junior high is the most traumatic period of adolescence, a time when hormones are raging, moods are shifting, and a child's brain is actually changing shape and size (due primarily to the amount of brain cells that must be replaced each day after watching reality television).

Granted, this particular child has advantages, given his loving parents and the bucolic surroundings that have nurtured him with nearby woodlands to explore, farm animals to care for, and even a three-legged cat to add a bit of character. (I briefly considered adding some character to my own home, but neither cat seemed interested in making the sacrifice. Indeed, they found the idea so profoundly unsettling that, for a brief moment, they actually stopped licking themselves.)

But is this child ready for such a change? He'll need to brace himself for the first big difference: the ride to school. His day will now begin on a bus which, like every school bus manufactured in the United States, has that one seat specifically designed to make the new kid feel uncomfortable. And even though it only seems like everybody is staring at him, the fact that they really are is not something he should think about. And it goes without saying the bus driver will be a guy who needs a cigarette, needs it bad, but can't have one for 12 ... more ... stops.

Most important, this former homeschooler will need a good backpack to be self-sufficient throughout the day. (This avoids the need to go to his locker, unnecessarily exposing him to young toughs whose primitive motion acuity limits their prey to those who stand still.) His well-meaning parents will probably offer an old backpack covered in "War Is Not the Answer" stickers, which, for reasons that might not be obvious to homeschoolers, must be immediately torn off. ("Yo, Gandhi, wait up," a young tough will shout, adding cleverly, "give me your lunch money.") Alas, as a high-ranking federal official recently pointed out, you go to school with the backpack you have, and not the backpack you wish you had.

AT THE NEW SCHOOL, this homeschooler will encounter a completely different style of learning. No more cocoa at the kitchen table during morning study time. No more afternoons of discovery at the pond. …

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