Don’t Let Them Tell You Where to Sit (I Gave In, But You Don’t Have To)
Senior year of high school, I took AP English. For those of you not from the States, Advanced Placement courses are meant to introduce college-level material and workloads to you while you’re still in high school. If you got a high enough score on the final AP exam, you could count that class towards college credit, putting you ahead before you even hit freshman year.
I took a ton of AP courses junior and senior year, because I was a smarty-pants highly competitive honors student, and that was what you we did. Those of us who took this particular class came to (un)lovingly refer to it as AP Kindergarten.
Our teacher (let’s call her Mrs. K) was from a bygone era—literally. She was an odd-looking mix of several past decades (I’d pin them as the 50’s, the 70’s, and quite possibly the 1890’s?), and she could not seem to fathom that, as the crème de la crème of the school, we were not going to sit with our hands folded and our legs crossed and recite the ABC’s back to her in perfect Standard American diction (as her students in bygone eras did, no doubt).
We were going to ask questions. We were going to have our own opinions. We were going to challenge her interpretations—because in all of our other classes, that was what teachers encouraged. Seeing as, you know, this was supposed to prepare us for college and all.
What Mrs. K especially did not seem to fathom (which I’m amazed her centuries of schoolma’arming didn’t teach her) was that if we were treated like we were in AP Kindergarten, all of our intelligence and independent thought would channel itself into unruly behavior, lackluster performance, and occasional bouts of snark.
It was unfortunate, but that’s what happens when you treat intelligent young adults like small children.
A Room Divided
As the year went on and it became clear to Mrs. K that we were not, and would not ever become, the shoe-polished Dicks and Janes she thought we’d be, she decided to take action. One morning, we entered the classroom to find the desks rearranged into two clear sections—one directly in front of where she stood to teach, and one off to the side.
She had plans for each of these sections.
As we filtered in, she told each of us which section we were assigned to—and it quickly became apparent that the section directly in front of her was The Bad Kids’ Side—the rabble-rousing disrespects she needed to keep under her nose at all times. All of my close friends were put into The Bad Kids’ Side.
I began to realize this from the seat I’d already taken, as directed…on The Good Kids’ Side.
This assignment was ludicrous for two reasons. One, I was a high school student, and wanted to sit with my friends; and two, I was not, in fact, a Good Kid.
Oh, I’m sure to her I looked like one. I got all my work in on time. I knew the answers when called on. I was polite and respectful, and although I laughed like hell when the Bad Kids raised a ruckus, I never raised one myself. This is because I was very good at wearing the Good Kid front. I still am. It’s how I manage to hold down a job and a house and a living in The Way Things Are, where I bide my time until the day I’m making enough with my freelancing to say Fuck You to all of it and leave in a blaze of cursing glory.
But, at heart, I was a Bad Kid. And I knew it. In fact, I took great pride in it.
Evidence of My True Allegiance
1. When the faculty supervisors of our school paper censored an op-ed piece on how unfairly a school club was being run, I started an underground newspaper with my friends. We distributed it in the wee hours of the morning before anyone else had shown up at school and hung up scandalous anti-establishment messages on the lockers that said things like “THINK” (all of which were promptly taken down).
I was Editor-in-Chief of the school paper at the time. I sat side by side with my Co-Editor-in-Chief and wrote a piece condemning the crudeness of the underground paper at the direction of the faculty supervisors. I’d tried arguing with them about why the op-ed should be printed, but they wouldn’t budge, so I helped started the underground paper. To this day, I don’t think anyone realizes I was part of the uprising.
2. I dropped out of AP Kindergarten midway through the year to take a poetry class taught by my creative writing club leader—the O Captain My Captain of several of our young, idealistic lives. Screw AP credits; this was my one and only chance to take a class taught by one of my heroes, and I was damned if I was going to let that pass me by.
Mrs. K and my guidance counselor managed to make me realize that AP English was in fact kind of important to my high school transcript, seeing as I wanted to major in English Studies in college. So I met with Mrs. K on my lunch periods to keep pace with the rest of the class while also taking the poetry class. Who needed lunch periods when I was master of my own destiny?
3. The summer before senior year, we learned that school policy was being changed, and we were no longer allowed to use any photographer we wanted for our all-important senior photos. (The photos that summed up everything we were and imagined ourselves to be.) Instead, we had to use the school-sponsored photographer, and every girl had to don the same black off-the-shoulder stole and string of pearls. So I started a petition.
I called everyone I knew, got over 100 senior signatures in 2 weeks, and marched it straight to the principal’s office (accompanied, of course, by a two-page extremely passionate essay on the injustice of it all), where I handed it to a very confused-looking summer secretary.
The policy was reversed within weeks.
So yes, on the outside, I might have looked like a Good Kid. That was because I knew that being a Good Kid got you farther ahead in the academia game, and I liked being good at whatever game I played.
But at root? At root, my place was on The Bad Kids’ Side of the room. And I would not have some condescending embodiment of The Man tell me otherwise.
My Test, and My Failure
So, as class settled in and Mrs. K flipped through her lesson for the day, I calmly gathered my things, stood up, and took a seat next to my friends in the Bad Kids’ section. Mrs. K got through several sentences before she saw me, at which point she stopped and shook her head.
I still remember distinctly what she said:
“Oh, no, no, Kelly. You don’t belong there.”
I do not remember exactly what I said and did after that, because at that point I was caught up in the indignant revolutionary fugue that tends to make me do and say things I can’t later recall. I remember that I stayed put, that I argued that I did in fact belong there—but in the end, my Good Kid game-playing side won out, and I crawled back to my assigned seat.
I didn’t want to ruin my chance at a glowing letter of recommendation for my transcript. I still wanted to win the game, even if secretly I thought it was ridiculous and I would do everything I could to express that. I was too invested in the benefits of the Good Kid image to let my inner true self take her down.
I failed, in other words.
But you don’t have to.
Don’t Let Them Tell You Where to Sit
If you can’t stand the 9-5, start your own path.
If you don’t want a picket fence and 2.5 kids, don’t let them tell you why you’re defective.
If you want to live in a cardboard box eating Raman and creating art, fucking do it.
Don’t let them tell you why that’s not good enough.
Don’t let them tell you why they expected better from you.
Don’t let them tell you that you’re one of them.
Especially don’t let them tell you why being one of them is important.
Because it’s not. Many of them are secretly miserable, and wishing they had the balls to stand back up, say “Yes, in fact, I do belong here,” and sit back down on the Bad Kids’ Side.
Because the only game you need to play is the game called living your life like it’s yours.
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