Feb 23

“The things we forgot about being different in the Public School system.”

My friend’s young daughter has had issues with school, she is smart as a whip and extremely polite so as you can expect academics aren’t the issue. Although she is 22 years younger than myself I can understand what she’s going through. Blame this on me being an enormous 6 foot child mentally or the fact that my childhood memories are still pretty keen. Either way, the aspect of “fitting in” is starting to really grate on her young nerves as she battles the name-calling, the unsupportive people who look like her (more on this later) and the adults who lack the imagination to see things from her side. It’s a struggle that I remember well, and I hope for her sake that she is as strong a child as I was.

If you (the reader) are not black, some of what I am about to say will be news to you, some of it you have probably heard or figured out. For the black readers it may seem like I am airing out our dirty laundry etc. but here’s the thing, I write this in hopes of a few parents grasping a bit more on what their child goes through daily. Kids have it hard in general, whether they be white, black or other. The schoolyard is comparable to any forced situation, and I would put prison up there as a standard to compare it to. Like prison you will have your alpha dogs, your bitches and a whole host of other dogs that walk the line to not become a victim of the alpha. These alphas run in packs, they come from the worst parenting situations and their confidence gains them a sort of charisma that is beyond anything. If your kid is a follower, chances are that he/she is either best friends with the alpha dog or a gopher buying him/her lunch.

The Lord of the Flies
I love the book Lord of The Flies because it exemplifies this case in more ways than one, the only unrealistic portion being the inherently good alpha kid who develops his army to take on the evil kid. In my experience, the Lord of Flies, had it been reality, would have been one evil kid, a crap load of followers and a few moral kids getting run down without much order. This is very reflective of the type of schoolyard situations I grew up in. As a child if I were to run down all of the things I went through to survive the public school system, my mother would  probably have a heart attack. The schoolyard preps our mentality for a world that is better behaved, but the same under the surface, we are all bullies, outcasts or followers below the surface. When you ignore your job of guiding a young one during the most precious of years, you have no cause to wonder why he/she ended up doing something crazy.

Public School is Hell when you’re Different
The worst thing you can be as a child in our public school system is intelligent, cultured, and different. When you’re black and grew up in my years (not sure how different it is now) you can add in dark-skinned, speaking proper English and foreign. I am sure more than a few of you can identify, when a good bulk of your school is the product of poverty-stricken, barely educated, too young to have a baby, parents, these elements will “other” you. Change “foreign” to anything outside of white, black or brown-skinned Hispanic, and you will get the same recipe. If these little bastards didn’t grow up seeing people who look/act like you in their 8-14 years, they will give you hell for it. We all remember our hazing, it’s a wonder that so many of us survived it. If you aren’t hip to this, just realize that if you have one of these smart, well spoken, happy kids, that every day  you place them on a bus to go to school, this is what they are dealing with. Your struggles as a hard-working, ambitious individual in society can reap rewards beyond measure, but If you have a child, the minute they enter our imperfect school system it becomes a proving grounds for everything that you have taught them. I remember dealing with it, my best friends dealt with it, and I remember my brother dealing with it.

The Dark-skinned Black Experience
Let’s do a pattern study that occurred with dark-skinned blacks that were schooled in the 80’s like myself: Cause: Go to school – get heckled by other black kids for pigment/looks, being too smart and being too different.  Effect1: Look to other less heckling people for acceptance.  Effect2 (The result of Effect1): Labeled a sellout, wannabe or Oreo by other black kids. Effect3 (the result of Effect2): (1) You get hardened and develop a deep-rooted hate for your own black people, (2) become EMO and/or suicidal. (3) you find balance somehow, usually through re-earning acceptance by doing or being a certain way (a funny guy, a kickass athlete, or a hardcore militant) or being strong enough to look past the heckling. I saw fellow dark-skinned kids take on the aspects of item 1, they never lived it down or got past it. All the way into high school, these kids could not recover and either alienated themselves from fellow blacks or became bitter and hateful individuals. Others like myself learnt to step outside of our skin and look at people as people, we developed a cosmopolitan network of friends and we became a bit more cultured for it. When we hear things like “good hair” and “light skinted” we get flashbacks of the playground, and we feel sorry that the person uttering this nonsense has not had a chance to evolve.

Luckily for me, I had a source at home telling me that my assaulters were the result of a less than standard home and system. I dealt with it and came through scarred but toughened, ready for the world. Recently I did a search for the alpha dogs that ran the playground when I was a child and found that many of them have lived really hard lives following school. Although I would love to end this article by saying all of them have been either given lengthy sentences in prison or dead, I find no joy in saying it, but yes. Many of the bullies with whom I fought, befriended or silently loathed coming up are either locked up or dead. I wonder what I would have said to that if I had been told their futures back when I was 11. I was a tall, nerdy, book reading kid but I fought, I got bloody with the best of them and I never joined in with an alpha to heckle another. This was due not only to my parenting but to every adult who had taken the time to pull me to the side and square me up about life. It’s something to feel proud of, coming through that a survivor, remember to be present in a child’s life whenever you can, ESPECIALLY those hard early teens.

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  • Thanks for this post!

    You are so right. Unless you’re a kid who is ADHD, autistic, from a dysfunctional home or your parents are dead beats and or derelict.. you get left behind. Public school systems doesn’t know what to do with the talented and gifted and exceptionally bright students. And they don’t know what to do with their parents, either. We are the ones who are always in their faces about the bullying must stop and the superfluous b.s. from certain teachers is a waste of tax payers money. Don’t let me have to come up there.. I’ll be brining Becky Oliver and Shaun Rabb (DFW watch-dog/ investigative reporters). Don’t play when it comes to my talented and gifted kid! I tell all my friends to show up for their kids! And not just when you’re mad about something!

    As a never married single mom, I remember being told.. They need more when they’re teens than they do as toddlers. It’s amazingly true. I wouldn’t be anywhere else but home from 4:30 on Mon-Fri.. My 10th grader has a full honors load with AP classes and 4 hours of homework errnight! And she comes home hungry. I know her every mood.. and what stresses her out. I know her favorite foods and how to get on her good side to help her study and prepare better. I when she’s not telling me the whole story and I know when she’s sick and tired of me.

    But not all kids are so fortunate… That’s why we have to use our voices to share about helping kids and parents deal with mess from “the ones from less than standard homes” and how to get good grades no matter what system their in.. because IT IS SO POSSIBLE to over come!

    Good job!!