Michael Strong tells a bittersweet tale about public middle school girl culture:
Upon opening the middle school, about half the incoming students were normalized Montessori students and the other half came from public schools. Among those who came from the public schools were three girls who had already adopted typical public middle school girl culture — jaded and cynical, heavy make-up and provocative clothing, socially successful cool girls. The internal Montessori culture, boys and girls alike, was sweet, open, innocent, and full of a love for learning and friendly camaraderie. The new girls hated the Montessori middle school and complained about how uncool the kids were. They lobbied their moms hard to let them return to “a normal school” so that they could get away from these weirdo kids who liked learning and being nice.
Gradually, after about six or eight weeks, the new girls began to change and adapt to the Montessori culture. By the end of the year they enjoyed the friendly, open environment and they (mostly) loved learning.
When the original Montessori students approached middle school graduation, although they knew they were going to miss Emerson School, they also were excited about entering the big world and having new experiences. When the oldest of the girls from the public school cohort approached graduation, she cried and cried bitter tears — she did not want to have to return to the culture of brutality she had known before, in which she knew that she would have to pretend to be jaded and cynical, and in which she would no longer be allowed to express the same love of learning and community that had been her daily nourishment at the Montessori school.
Again, skeptics often don’t believe, first of all, that American teen culture could be anything other than what it is. When I describe how wonderful the peer culture is in many Montessori adolescent programs, the response of many is first that it can’t really exist, and then that if it does exist it is unnatural and that kids ought to be exposed to the rough-and-tumble of public middle school life. I always reply by pointing out that, in my adult life, the only time that I experience boredom as numbing as experienced in public school is when I have to renew my driver’s license, and I never experience interpersonal cruelty as an adult. Outside a few elite suburban districts, public middle schools have mostly become brutality factories, and it is terrifying that caring parents glibly accept it everyday.