Dear Mrs. Norris,
I go to a classical school. Most of my neighborhood friends and some kids I know from soccer all go to public school. When I hang out with them, they make fun of my school. They say that it isn’t a real school because we don’t have very competitive sports, we have to wear uniforms, and we have to take Latin. They make me feel like I’m missing out and like I’m never going to be as cool as they are, all because I go to a classical school. At this point, I’ve started resenting my school for being so weird.
Dear Classically Weird,
Is being cool the most important part of school?
I’ve taught long enough—and lived long enough—to know that a limited number of kids look forward to school starting each fall, and an even smaller number look forward to school because of the subject matter. New and old friends, competition, sports, electives, field trips, pep rallies, and the 3:00 bell are typically more enticing. Believe me, the teenage mind was once mine, too.
At some point, however, you’ll have to make decisions like an adult even if you don’t feel the way an adult does. You’ll have to ask yourself with an air of real seriousness whether, when it comes to school, you are caring about what matters, or about what your friends say and what is the most gratifying.
School is about learning and about the formation of your character. It can feel like fun and games when you’re winning a spelling bee or making a brilliant dive in dodgeball, but you don’t get a second chance to take your young education years seriously. It’s a sad irony that often, grown adults look back on their teen years and wish they had been more serious, while teens lack the life experience to wish for that seriousness before it’s too late.
Do you really want to base your school choice on what makes you more popular? Is that really what matters to you now, and is that really what will matter to you when you are grown? And, perhaps most importantly, is that what should matter to you?
All that said, I do get what you’re saying. No one wants to be the weird kid.
The good news is, you’re not the weird kid. Their definition doesn’t define you. If you go through your life accepting every label thrown your way, you’ll be always be “weird,” “boring,” “annoying,” “quiet,” “chatty,” or the like. You may even come to define yourself by what you think others are thinking even when they don’t tell you. This pattern of accepting labels from others puts you at risk of becoming a captive of everyone else—if they don’t approve, you try to change; if they do, you have confidence only as long as you can maintain their approval. At that point, you won’t be free to act on your own.
Change that now. Realize what it took me a long time to figure out: you can take leadership of who you are and prove others wrong when they throw a negative label at you. Prove to them that classical school kids make great friends: Show them your character. Be cheerful. Be friendly. Be good. It will be tough for them to remain critical when you show that criticism does not rattle you. However, if they demand you violate your conscience, don’t let yourself be swayed for the sake of earning their good will. Persuading them that you make a good friend is only worth your while if you can maintain your integrity in the process.
As far as your concern about missing out, realize it’s not an all-or-nothing sort of situation. You might be missing out, but so is everyone else. No school is perfect, but few schools are completely horrible. Your experience is certainly different from that of your friends, but they are missing out on the positive aspects of your school just as you are missing out on the positive aspects of theirs.
What is more, I caution you against getting too caught up in a worry about missing out. Not everyone is given everything, despite the fact that having so much often leads us to think that everything should be within reach. Sometimes when I’m at a restaurant, I start to dislike my food just because someone else’s looks a bit better. It’s a bad habit, and I don’t recommend it.
Instead, realize that your friends are missing out as much or more than you are. A classical education—if taught well—is a profound gift of wisdom that will help you in real and relevant ways throughout your life; your friends are missing out on this gift. You also likely have small class sizes, so you probably know your teachers better than your friends know theirs. You may get more playing time on your sports teams. Your Latin, which you may despise now, will be useful in your future education. Try to appreciate what you have, even when your friends try to show you how unhappy you should be.
Finally, please don’t resent your school. If weirdness is its worst flaw, you are more fortunate than most. Try to be grateful for the good things about your school instead of bitter about the bad. As easy as that sentence is to say, however, I don’t pretend that gratefulness is easy. Feeling cheated or left out doesn’t exactly put us in the mood to be thankful, and we’d often rather stay gloomy to prove that we’ve been wronged. Try to fight it. Find something you love about your school and be grateful.
That’s not to say that you should pretend everything is bright and cheery even when it’s not; honesty about real problems at your school is one of the best ways to help them get fixed. Discuss your concerns respectfully with your parents and possibly with teachers. Of course, whining that your school is weird won’t make any progress, but suggesting a sport, for example, and doing some research to help your athletic director add it to the options is the adult way of handling the matter. Some things can be changed with a little work and willing leaders. Others may remain frustrating until you graduate, and your patient frustration is allowable. Just remember that resentment fixes nothing and drags you down in the process.
Note: The student query in this article was written by the author specifically for this article.