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A Descent Into the Maelström: Private School Diary—The Social Ladder.

A2PNotes: Ann Arbor is home to some 16,000 public school students, and approximately 1,700 students who attend the city’s various private schools. Those students are parented by tens of thousands of women and men who haven’t a clue about what their kids really do at school all day, not because they don’t want to know. Quite the opposite, most parents of school-age children want to know what happens in the classroom, the lunch room and on the bus. Elementary school parents are hectored into helping out at school; expected to be involved. However, middle and high school are quite different. Parents become personae non gratae not only in the eyes of kids who are trying to become more independent, but in the eyes of a schools that don’t provide many opportunities for parent classroom involvement in the upper grades. So, A2Politico has asked two kids to write about their lives as students. One of these students attends the AAPS, and the other attends a local private school. For obvious reasons, these two will write their entries anonymously. So, look for A Descent Into the Maelström weekly, and read about what your kids wouldn’t tell you even if you asked.


High school is a weird time in life. Every day you wake up at the crack of dawn and march off to school, sit in classes, take a few minutes to eat lunch, sit through more classes, then head back home for homework, and go to bed far too late. It’s a vicious cycle that throws kids into a world where friendships hold everything together — they make going back to school after a break or weekend bearable, they make lunch time more than just a time to eat, and they give you a sense of belonging amongst all those cranky teachers and tricky math quizzes.

We begin to form groups in an attempt to keep the people we like close, and these groups are what make up the social ladder. At my private school, this ladder is more complex than the two simple “popular” and “unpopular” groups, and goes deeper than the “pretty girls are popular, everyone else isn’t” mentality that is found in so many movies and television shows such as “Glee.” Social “rankings” change constantly, people move from one rung on the ladder to the next.

Let’s start with the girls. The top of that ladder—the popular group—is probably the smallest of the four groups. These girls at my school are not popular in the sense that everyone likes them or everyone is dying to hang out with them — they’re just the kids who seem to pretty and fashionable, have names like “Courtney” and “Brittany,” and have an endless supply of inside jokes to giggle about during class. Below them on the ladder, there’s the athletic group—probably the largest of the girl groups. You don’t have to be extremely athletic to fit in with them, but they all play at least one sport. They’re more relaxed. After them, there’s the quiet group — the studious girls who no one really dislikes, but who do annoy some people. Girls on this rung of the ladder always do their homework and never break rules, are friendly but don’t have a ton to talk about. At the bottom, obviously, are the unpopular girls. Oddly, they act like they’re at the top of the ladder.

With the boys things are a bit simpler — here are rungs on that social ladder at my school: the popular boys, the “normal” boys, and the unpopular boys — labels that pretty much speak for themselves. There are only a few popular boys, but not a lot of people like them besides the popular girls. The normal group, the largest group by far, is a lot more approachable. They’re the kind of people that you can work well with when partnered with in class and are easy to talk to outside of the classroom. Then, come the unpopular boys, who tend to stick together, occasionally mingling with the “normal” boys, but never with the popular ones, or any of the girls.

So why do people get put into the groups they do? Actually, they don’t. I don’t think people aren’t forced into a group by others — we choose our friends, and by doing so choose where we fall on the social ladder. And what determines if a group is high or low on the ladder? That’s a tricky question. The groups who are placed on the bottom are less likable than other groups, but the popular kids aren’t exactly well-liked, and are still on top. It seems to be a combination of many things — the clothes they wear, how athletic they are, how good-looking they are, how smart they are, who they knew before coming to our school, how friendly, mature, and funny they are. It’s complicated and confusing sometimes.

Most of my private school classmates don’t pay a lot of attention to the labels associated with different groups — they just hang out with who they like and avoid those who they don’t. Sure, we’re all aware of the social ladder, but who says things like, We can’t be friends because he’s popular and I’m not? We think those things, don’t we?

In reality, we all know the social ladder is there and we’re aware of it, but it doesn’t play a huge role in our day-to-day lives. One day, after a game of dodgeball in gym, one of my classmates said something about avoiding the people who were throwing the balls, and a strategy of staying in the game while everyone else was attacking each other and getting hit like crazy.

This is a great analogy for my private school — it’s like a giant game of dodgeball, and if you’re not careful you’ll get hit. I’ve been trying my best just to stay in the game while avoiding the people throwing the balls, and in doing so I feel like I’ve become one of those kids who is off the social ladder. My friends come from a lot of different groups, but I don’t fit into just one of them. Not only does being off the social ladder allow me a nice view of the social ladder without the biases that come with belonging to a group on the ladder, it also gives me a comfortable spot to wait out this crazy game of private high school in Ann Arbor. 

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Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=6161

7 Comments for “A Descent Into the Maelström: Private School Diary—The Social Ladder.”

  1. @maelstrom. There is hope. I look forward to reading more of your insights

  2. @Lane – Thanks for the support!!

  3. @Pearl – You mean this doesn’t end after high school?! Great… thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. @AAPS Student – Interesting to hear that things are similar at public schools! It’s weird, isn’t it? Thanks for the input!

  5. This is a great piece about high school, and yet another great column on A2Politico.

  6. Very insightful! Wish those ladders ended in jr high and high school. Seems we never get away from them.. sigh…

  7. I really liked the way you compare private school to a giant game of dodgeball. I have to agree! My school is a public school and it’s like yours because we have a giant game of dodgeball going at the same time. It’s hard to think about this social ladder stuff because everyone is totally trying to pretend it desn’t matter. But it really does and I agree with you that it’s weird how the most popular kids are not the most liked kids. Why is that? Anyway thanks for writing about this.

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