Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fun with Seventh Graders [or] Packing Our Invisible Knapsacks

After school last week, I had the privilege of driving Twelve and three of her friends across town to put together 1200 goody bags to get ready for some sort of Harry Potter event. I had a wonderful time, strangely enough, and it was a stellar example of how social class privilege reproduces itself. (Yes, some of us are incapable of having a good time without analyzing everything.)

Fun first: These girls are a total kick in the pants. In the span of maybe 20 minutes (I drove slowly), topics ranged from how Twelve and I look like sisters to how they're not sure about the boy Twelve has a crush on because he uses bad language. I can't even begin to describe the conversation; I was trying mightily to enjoy it fully while remembering everything so I could write about it later, which I never do very well.

A small recording device would come in very handy sometimes.

I was tickled pink about the whole situation for at least two reasons: The girls were talking candidly in the presence of an adult, which I doubt very much will continue very much longer, and they were being distinctly critical of a popular boy because he used 'the word that starts with W and rhymes with door.' He was apparently tossing this term around in Twelve's direction. Granted, I'm critical of anyone who calls people whores, too, but I don't necessarily expect seventh graders to hold their peers to such a high standard. It was incredibly cute how earnestly and innocently appalled they were. Suspicious of the flippant nature of the name-calling incident, I asked the girls if they thought that he knows what that word means. No, they replied, but he has two older brothers who teach him all kinds of stuff, so he probably learned it from them. 

Sensing a teachable moment, I added that it's not necessarily a problem to know the words - Twelve has known all the words for a really long time - it's just a problem if one doesn't know how to use the words only in appropriate contexts. Twelve is technically allowed to use whatever language she wants at home, although she doesn't take advantage of that freedom very often. Our joke is that I better not get any phone calls from school about her using 'bad' words, and the fact that this is a shared joke indicates that she's on board. 

Ah, I am in such a bubble of pre-adolescent bliss.

Twelve has always been exposed to a great deal of very adult conversation, both in the terms used and in the topics discussed, and I've done that very intentionally: I want her to know what's going on. I know the feeling of not getting whatever other people are talking about; not knowing what 'boner' meant in seventh grade caused me at least one miserable class period, and just the other day I had to consult Urban Dictionary to grasp the point of a Facebook comment thread about feltching.

Note: I do not recommend finding out what feltching is.

Anyway, we proceeded to the event center, and I walked the girls inside. One of the girls' dads is the director of the whole department, which is how this whole thing came about, and it happens to be the first place I worked after college (the first time), so I know the woman who runs the center. As the girls introduced themselves and were shown to their work area, it dawned on me that this is exactly how the intangible aspects of class privilege accrue. Being behind the scenes of a cultural event held at a major state university's conference center auditorium provides tidbits of information about things that members of the privileged class know and take for granted:
  • Stately buildings exist for the sole purpose of gathering well-dressed people for cultural and intellectual pursuits. 
  • It’s someone’s job to organize everything and delegate responsibility, and there are other people whose job it is to do what she says. 
  • The person in charge wears her choice of professional clothing and shoes, and the other people wear matching polo shirts, khaki pants, and serviceable shoes. 
  • Vendor areas are common to such events, and each space is delineated by a system of ‘pipe and drape’ (which is exactly what it sounds like). 
  • Clean water is available via several drinking fountains. 
  • Clean restrooms, always fully stocked, are located to the left and right.
What am I missing? I don’t know; I’m sure there’s an equally long list of things of which I’m completely unaware.

Twelve, having attended many events at that particular venue, already had a great deal of the kind of context that helps you soak up even more information, and the process will continue until her invisible knapsack is fully stocked. 

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