by Carolyn Fado
I work in a middle school. Do you remember middle school? I don’t think I have met one adult who has told me they would love to go back and relive middle school. If you are nostalgic for middle school, I wish that my middle school self could have learned from you. Now that I work in a middle school, I find myself looking back and remembering who I was way back when.
In middle school, I wanted to fit in, but I felt that I failed at being like everyone else. My nose was too big, my hips were too wide, my complexion was too blotchy, and my top was too skinny. Luckily, there was one thing I could aim to be, however much my appearance seemingly failed me. In my group of friends, it was cool to be smart.
My family, teachers, and friends have encouraged me to excel. I thought that if I got straight A’s or accepted to some fancy school, then more people would like me. All my life, I have been told to be a leader. Everyone, it seems, has expected me to be above average, just like every other usually white kid from my affluent neighborhood. In middle school, I hadn’t done anything special for people to assume I’d be above average. Nevertheless, when I cared about my classwork people reacted positively, so I kept trying.
Not every student is so encouraged. This was true in my own middle school. I went to a racially and socioeconomically diverse school, but it was divisive. The wealthier, generally white and Asian, kids were almost always in the intensive classes, and everyone else was almost always in grade level classes. If you were in the “unusual” level of class, a white kid in a grade-level class, a black kid in an advanced class, people would talk about you.
What if my teachers and peers hadn’t expected me to succeed? What if I’d felt accepted in gangs and not with the nerds? What if I’d caved to peer pressure to do drugs, as many teenagers do, and been caught?
If I hadn’t been encouraged to succeed, then I doubt that I would have succeeded as much I have today. If I hadn’t been encouraged, maybe you could today assign an undesirable label to my face, such as: A gang member. A teenage mother. A drug dealer. An inmate.
Instead, here I am. A recent graduate who has lived a life of privilege, trying to understand how to make the world a fairer place. Why is it that my voice, the voice of a 20-something, privileged white woman holds sway? The world is filled with privileged voices and so much is lost because underprivileged voices get shut out.