Tag Archives: middle school

Coop’s Youth Part 7 – Limping to the Finish Line

Among other presents, my brother and I got the Beatles’ White Album and Simon and Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme for Christmas, both on our list that our mom had solicited from us. The tag on the wrapped gifts under the tree in our living room indicated they were from “Santa”. Our mom continued to believe in Santa Claus, or at least that her kids should continue to honor the myth of this jolly old avatar who loved children and spent his entire undying existence bringing gifts and joy to young people throughout an often child-unfriendly world.

Now that I had quit my paper route and no longer had my own money from it, Christmas gifts were an important source of particularly the games and record albums that were so significant to me developmentally. When we were little our mom and dad had done their best to observe our play carefully and buy us toys that would present a compelling “curriculum” for our play. In more recent years, our mom had taken to asking my brother and me for a list of the things we wanted for Christmas, and then tried her best, even collaborating with our dad, to get us those things that they could within their limited budget. I would put careful thought into our lists, because the toys, games, records, tape recorders and other stuff we ended up getting over the years continued to play the role of important self-directed developmental curriculum.

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Coop’s Youth Part 6 – Coping Mechanisms

Many of the events of the outside world came into our home on the little twelve-inch black-and-white TV in my mom’s bedroom. As such she tuned in to the 1968 Democratic Convention in late August of that year. As part of her continuing effort to connect with the academic community in our university town, she was getting into liberal politics, particularly around opposition to the Vietnam War. Often her companion watching TV, we both watched as events inside the convention hall were upstaged by the young people in the streets, protesting and battling with the police. I for one was struck by the courage of the kids in the street and felt a solidarity with them, though I did not know if I had the courage to demonstrate so brazenly like that and risk the wrath of the adult authorities.

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Coop’s Youth Part 5 – Baseball & Bookends

The cast on my right leg finally came off a week or so after the end of school. All was well with the healed wound and the function of my right leg and I gave up the crutches that I had been mostly embarrassed to show in public and had contributed to me being pretty much housebound the past six weeks during an otherwise glorious (as always) Ann Arbor spring. I was ready to try to put the trauma and stress of my second junior high year behind me and embrace the range of my own chosen activities that was my ten weeks of liberation before I would have to report for duty for one final year at Tappan Junior High.

Part of that stress was the difficult question that Grace Slick would continue to ask me from the rock radio stations from time to time…

Don’t you want somebody to love?

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Coop’s Youth Part 4 – Not Quite a Girlfriend

Second semester of eighth grade started in late January of 1968, along with Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In on U.S. television and the Tet offensive in Vietnam. My mom worried about an endless U.S. involvement in that war that might eventually lead to me being drafted for military service in another five years. My hands ached from the cold even with gloves on as I lugged my saxaphone case in one hand and a load of books in the other arm the nearly mile-long trek to school and back. It always seemed farther than that because of all the twists and turns on the five different streets that got me to my destination, along with the fact that given a choice I wouldn’t want to go to school, particular this one. Though my American history teacher was entertaining at times and I still had some sort of a crush on my young female math teacher, I knew at some level that I could better spend my time doing activities and being around peers of my own choosing.

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Coop’s Youth Part 3 – Guides on the Side

I pretty much dreaded the first day of school in the fall of 1967. I was returning to Tappan Junior High now for eighth grade with the memory still raw of my first difficult and painful year in that institution. The intervening ten weeks of summer sojourn had helped me recover my self-esteem to some degree, but I really did not like the idea of going back to those packed classrooms full of other uncomfortable kids my age picking on each other to blow off the anxiety of being jammed into that unnatural situation. If it had been my free choice I would never choose it. I’m not sure I thought of it at that point as something that all us kids had to do. Or was it more like it was something that if you were not willing to do it, there was something really wrong with you, and if you missed that developmental train that society had worked so hard to create for you that you would be doomed to never being able to participate in the adult world.

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Coop’s Youth Part 2 – Summer of Love & Respite

I felt the profoundest sense of relief when the last bell rang ending the last day of my first year at Tappan Junior High School. All us students spilled out onto the big front lawn on the south side of the school overlooking Stadium boulevard, a part of the school’s campus that seemed rarely used during the school year. We had all been given our yearbooks and the idea was we would all mill around together signing each other’s copies with cute or poignant little memorable comments. One last exercise in social hierarchy. All the cool kids clustered around each other laughing, joking and signing each other’s copies.

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Coop’s Youth Part 1 – Puberty Pressure Cooker

A junior high yearbook picture
My 7th grade yearbook picture
Our mom, my brother and I returned from two long full developmental weeks of our vacation on Cape Cod, beginning to find some equilibrium as three still emerging human beings, without a male parent in the household, now in mostly positive relationship with each other. I was now pretty much transitioned from my childhood, where one fully existed in the orbit of their parents and their parents’ worldview, to my “youth” (as the term is now used to describe the years generally from age ten or eleven until adulthood), where one begins to achieve the escape velocity (to continue the astronomical metaphor) to leave that orbit and explore the greater solar system of a community beyond ones home.

But stressful challenges were ahead for all of us. Our mom still figuring out her persona now as a single adult woman, “divorcee”, and part of the progressive community that existed around the university. Continue reading →

Sweathogs, Heathers & Mean Girls

Conventional patriarchal wisdom does not necessarily think about young women who are coming of age developing a “thick skin” to help them navigate the slings and arrows of life. Women are supposed instead to be soft, receptive and relational rather than “tough bitches”. But our daughter Emma learned to toughen up to survive a gauntlet of challenging female classmates, and that thicker skin facilitated her overcoming her shyness. Her experience recalled for me the cliques of girls in the movies “Mean Girls” and “Heathers”, and the very tough class of students known as the “Sweathogs” in the “Welcome Back Kotter” situation comedy of the late 1970s. When I discussed it with Emma recently, she said it was definitely the low point in a life that she has generally found blessed and wonderful.

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Conditional Respect & the Struggle for Self Esteem

In 2003, after three years in a humanistic alternative public charter middle school, our daughter Emma decided to experience attending a large conventional public high school, with nearly 4000 students, for her ninth grade year. One day, early in the semester, one of the vice-principals was a “guest lecturer” for a couple hundred of the Ninth graders, including Emma, that were spending their PE period waiting because they had not yet been assigned to a specific physical education class. He welcomed them to the school and reminded them that their teachers deserved the students’ respect, but the students would have to earn their teachers’ respect. Emma was now duly welcomed and warned that she was now a participant in a large public institution for youth, where she would presumably have to behave and perform to gain the conditional respect of the adult staff of the school. Continue reading →

Staying Home

Tappan Middle School in Ann Arbor
Tappan Middle School in Ann Arbor
During my last two years of Junior High (Eighth and ninth grade) I was absent from school as much as a third of the time. Looking back I see it as a coping strategy for a school experience I was not comfortable with. In general I was just not comfortable in my skin at all, lacking self esteem, and my school experience did little to help me with that.

I had been mostly okay with my last couple years of elementary school, though I got through it by being more of a trained seal than a real learner. I particularly remember working my way through the color-coded SRA reading program, reading there level-rated prose pieces and taking the comprehension test after, before moving on the next piece and eventually up to the next color level. What I was reading was not particularly interesting to me, the whole point was to try to “level up” which had some self-esteem boost for me. Continue reading →