Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Unpopular Kid in Class

Let's talk about the kid everyone disliked in middle school, the one that had everyone in a silent groan the second they raised their hand. It's the overachiever of a specific type that gives people this reaction. They're the ones who need, and I mean need, to answer every question and follow-up with at least five of their own. Their enthusiasm is matched only by their social awkwardness, because that kind of temperament isn't one that only springs up in the classroom; it's in every facet of their life. They're the ones we look back on, years in the future, with a tinge of shame in the way we grouped together against this outcast of the grade. Even the nicest of us couldn't handle them all the time, so we shoved them aside. If they were lucky they could find others of the same mindset and form their own niche. In other cases, particularly in the small schools, there was no one out there to bond with and the result was the type of friendless existence we all pretended wasn't a big deal.

In my school it was a couple girls; Dixie and Corleen. Dixie comes to mind as the most pitiful of the two because Corleen was a fighter; she made it clear that although we'd ostracized her she wouldn't have been part of the group even if she'd had a choice. Dixie didn't have that kind of rebellion in her. Back then I could justify mine and the other's outright dislike of this girl. For one thing, she stank. There was never a day when she didn't fill the classroom with a cloud of several days worth of sweat, the kind that only a person going through puberty can really produce. She was a tattle tale. I remember a class period where she intercepted a note and, without prompting from the teacher came to the front of the class and started reading it out loud before Mr. Young cut her off. She was an awful clutz, which is a major flaw in a small town where the only thing to do is play sports. To me, and everyone else, these were reasons enough. She was cut out and when she moved away the next year no one thought anything of it.

It took a while for the shame to set in, but I definitely feel it now. That's what happens when you realize Dixie didn't smell by choice; she lived in a trailer park and her parents were too poor to afford soap. When the choice is between smelling good and having food on the table you can't blame them. She didn't pick up social norms from having any real friends, she learned from watching movies. Where else have you seen someone reading a note out loud in class? But that didn't matter to us. She was different, so she didn't belong with us. Coming from me, the weirdo who spent most of middle school in the library, that's pretty rich. I just happened to have some friends just as nerdy as I was, along with the athleticism to scrap by in a community that bases your worth on that kind of thing. It just as easily could've been me in that situation, going through the most drastically changing period in my life with no one my own age to help get me through. It's pretty fucked up that I couldn't apply that logic to Dixie.

I bring this up now because, nine years later, there's still a Dixie in the classroom. Her name is different but it might as well be the same person. She's the Dixie of graduate school, Dixie 2.0. And I can see it happening all over again. I see the snickers when she asks a question about a wildly specific scenario with about a dozen qualifiers. She says things like, "Standardized testing can be really biased!" and turns to us as though she's the first one in the class to have given it any thought. She's already in teacher mode, even when discussing papers with her peers. She takes every joke to heart and has yet to make it out of a conversation without mentioning a deeply personal bit of information. Dixie 2.0 has come for us with a vengeance and I can't help but think of how 7th grade Ellie would've reacted. She probably wouldn't actively taunted the poor girl, but she wouldn't have stopped the onslaught of teasing either.

What I want to say is that all that will change, I'll make a huge effort to hang out with Dixie 2.0 and relieve my conscience. And let me be clear, if I find a student like that in my class they'll have a safe space with me (despite how annoying students like these are for teachers). However, this girl isn't a child anymore. She's a college graduate with some habits I don't like, and I don't feel the need to be around someone when I won't enjoy my time with them. She railroads conversations, she interrupts, and she has a very black and white view of the world. Do I think she deserves to be teased for these things? Of course not, and I'll defend her whenever that happens. That's gonna have to be good enough.

I know that's not exactly the answer I'm supposed to say, but I think you have an element of responsibility for your own attitude and actions once you hit adulthood. That definitely applies to those who think it's okay to tease their peers for being socially inept. However, it also applies to Dixie 2.0. There are a lot of things I can take responsibility for, her actions are not one of them. So I'll keep myself in check, feel annoyed when she does something actually annoying rather than just out of the ordinary, and not feel bad about it. 

Keep those morals on point friends.

-E.B.