On this expedition I learned that middle school is as I remembered it from my pre-teen years: full of humans awkwardly flailing through life as they attempted to take on adult behaviors and appearances despite lingering childlike mentalities and physiques. Little has changed in the last 20 years.
But in this day and age of rapidly changing norms, I thought I ought to go back and see if anything had happened in the month since I had seen the Mendive middle schoolers. This time, I was granted access to Career Day at Dilworth Middle School, a different yet eerily similar institution on the other side of town. Below is my record of the expedition.
The first thing I noticed was their peculiarly consistent attire. All of them wore matching black shirts embroidered with a Dilworth emblem. This was a clear difference from the Mendive students, who were dressed in a wide variety of clothing. At first I thought perhaps I had stumbled across some strange cult at Dilworth, but before calling the police to warn them of an impending mass suicide I remembered that this uniform style of dress is often imposed in an attempt to curb some of the undesirable behaviors often associated with adolescents dressing themselves. Despite this mandated sameness, the students managed to incorporate elements of individuality around their black shirts in the form of unique hair styles or other head gear, distinct pants and shoes and jewelry in their ears or around their necks and wrists. And while the uniforms prevented the young women from dressing in a way that excessively stimulated their hormonal male counterparts, this did not stop the adolescent boys from lavishing the females with their strange combination of desire and disdain.
In addition to recording the social behaviors of these students among themselves, I was able to speak to some of them personally and gain insight into how they respond to outsiders. For the most part, middle school life forms showed great reluctance to interact with me directly, preferring to limit our discourse to a predetermined question assigned to them by their adult handlers, known as “teachers.” Most of these children were content to leave my presence immediately upon receiving an answer to the question that would satisfy their teacher, which I attributed to their underdeveloped intellect and overdeveloped need to do the bare minimum – a combination that many humans carry throughout life.
A few of these Dilworthians, however, engaged me in conversation about my profession as an observer and recorder of human activity and behavior. A few of them inquired about how my work affects my overall level of satisfaction with life, an indicator they had begun to understand how they might one day blend the need for toil with the need for pleasure. Their inquiries also told me that they had begun to employ associative method of learning — i.e. they could ask if the stove is hot rather than touch it and burn themselves.
While a handful of these students showed this cursory level of intellectual inquisitiveness, one student displayed a much more advanced level of thinking hindered only by her limited speech communication abilities. She shared with me her observation that people often do not want to talk to reporters for various reasons and that reporters often disregard this avoidance and acquire the information in spite of the subject’s wishes. “Why do reporters report about bad things?” she asked me.
The philosophical nature of this question caught me off guard, but I attempted to explain the intricacies of this issue in a way that this student might understand. Sometimes people do bad things that others need to know about, I said, while sometimes reporters tell about bad things for no good reason other than to be nosy. This answer seemed to satisfy the student, who thanked me and went on her way.
Students such as this are not the norm at middle schools, which presents a challenge to the system tasked with educating such a diversity of developing human intellect. Many challenges are inherent in facilitating the learning necessary for humans to achieve a functioning level of adulthood, including who is best qualified to take on the role of teacher and what level of resources is required to fulfill the societal need to groom the species’ next generation of leaders and followers. As previously noted, some middle school students display behaviors that likely will never change and will determine their remedial station in society. Others showed what might be categorized as average intellect that indicates an ability to either advance or stagnate, and then some displayed signs of advanced thought indicative of a higher future position in society.
As one whose job it is to simply record events and not influence them, I will just say that I am glad I am not the one to decide how to groom this herd.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if there are any high school career days coming up.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.