After unschooling all her life, my 13yo dd started the 8th grade this fall because school was (and still is) an experience she really wanted. Since dh and I had been all set to homeschool both girls all the way up to college or other pursuits, we saw no problem with buying a house in a suffering school district. So when dd expressed the desire to attend school, we started looking at our options. The comprehensive middle and high schools here have severe problems with violence, so we pursued charter or magnet school enrollment instead, and dd was accepted into our district's fine and performing arts magnet high school for grades 7 though 12.
I do think there is much less violence in dd's school than there is in the comprehensive schools. Students with chronic behavioral issues are refused admission -- but I'm realizing that if the school was too strict in how it defined "chronic behavioral issues," they'd end up kicking out the majority of the kids they were designed to help.
As a result, my 13yo, whom I see as a pretty normal kid -- I mean, she cares about her school work but she's not obsessive about it, she'll often decide that the work she's done on a paper or other assignment is "good enough" and spend the rest of the evening watching YouTube videos -- is in a situation where she "stands out," simply for being capable of/willing to do things like be quiet and listen (or at least appear to be listening) while teachers are talking, be quiet during tests, and listen respectfully while her fellow students are giving presentations.
Dd says the majority of the kids are never quiet -- they don't just whisper and discretely pass notes while teachers are talking, they talk very loudly right over the teachers. Which explains why dd was specially selected to go on a really fun field trip that most of her classmates didn't get to go on, and why she periodically gets tons of extra credit points for what I see as basic things like being quiet during a test.
On the one hand, I think it's good that she gets these extra perks, because she often has to endure frustrating situations, such as having to spend much of the earlier part of this semester doing bookwork in theatre class, because the majority of the students were too unruly to spend a lot of time working in small groups doing stuff like improv. It does seem to be getting better now, and I think it will definitely be better next year when she's actually a theatre major and will be working with other kids who share her same passion for acting.
One big advantage of this experience for dd is that she's getting to see inside other cultures. She's the racial minority in her school, and she's starting to become very aware of racism and social injustice. This injustice is one big clue as to why many of her classmates seem to have so little respect for most authority figures. Whereas dd grew up seeing police officers and other adults in authority as basically her friends -- based on what I've learned about racial profiling, it seems likely to me that many of her classmates grew up seeing their parents being harassed or treated suspiciously by the police or other authority figures, or being harassed themselves.
So while dd is able to walk into a new situation with a basic degree of trust and respect for the people in leadership, even though she doesn't know them and they certainly haven't jumped through any hoops to earn her trust or respect personally, I think many of her classmates are waiting to see the proof that these adults are actually worthy of their trust and respect -- and the catch 22 is that it's hard for the adults to earn that trust/respect if they can't even get many of the kids to listen long enough to learn anything new and see how making the choice to listen can benefit them.
So I'm eager for all the advice I can get about helping dd get the most out of this experience, while at the same time minimizing the negative affects of being in a situation where it's such a huge big deal for a kid to be engaged and attentive in class. On the one hand, I see it as a disadvantage that dd is getting special recognition for behaviors that were just basic in my suburban school when I was dd's age, and I also see it as a disadvantage that her progress in various subjects is bound to be affected by the disruptive behavior of many of her classmates.
On the other hand, I see it as a real advantage that she is, overall, still busy and engaged and having a great time, and developing some real friendships -- most of which are with kids from very different backgrounds and perspectives than her own. Growing up in the suburbs, I lacked knowledge about what life was really like for most of the world's people. Dd has a much deeper grasp of reality than I did at her age, and this is a definite plus.
Edited by mammal_mama - 11/23/13 at 11:56am