Chris Johnson

Middle school sure has changed since I was a kid

@BR BodyRR dropcap GRAY50:There are moments when you start to feel a little older. One of those came earlier this year when I was at a Braves game and looked at the roster of players. Every single one of them was younger than I am. And everyone was talking about old, decrepit, veteran Chipper Jones … who also is younger.

Of course, that pretty much goes for every sport I attend now. Let’s hope the Champions Tour makes a stop near me soon so I can go root for some really old people.

Other moments that make me feel my age involve my son – especially when he goes through things that bring back old, old memories. One of those occurred last week when he began middle school. That’s a life event I remember vividly.

But something was very different about his first day of middle school than my first day of middle school -- namely that he didn’t come home from school ready to find a tall building to jump off of. He actually kinda -- gasp! -- liked it.

Some things have obviously changed since I was in middle school (besides the fact that we called it “junior high.”) I dared not tell my son how horrible my middle school experience was and acted as though it were some wonderful experience, even though the only wonderful experience was sitting behind Stephanie Wigglesworth in algebra class and being able to see her bra straps if she leaned just right.

I wanted my son to go in with an open mind, even if it meant having his bubble burst as mine was on the first day of middle school. But his bubble wasn’t burst. Sure, there was an issue for a while with having been stuck with a top locker on which he couldn’t see the lock’s numbers. And he had about 3 minutes to eat lunch. But that’s it. It wasn’t anything that warranted jumping from the highest roof in Ellaville, Ga. (which would be enough to severely sprain an ankle.)

I wonder if it’s got something to do with bullying, and the fact that middle schools have gotten so much better about preventing it. In fact, the only bullying middle and high schools now permit is having coaches run kids to death, sometimes literally, in dangerous heat.

I wasn’t bullied when I started sixth grade, but I sure lived in fear of it. You would, too, if half the boys in the eighth grade were 6-foot-4, 285 pounds, ran a transmission repair shop after school and had more hair on their faces than the guys from ZZ Top. Their having flunked eighth grade 16 times gave them a significant size advantage at recess and was totally unfair. You can’t win a fight with a guy who does arm curls with dumbells that weigh more than you.

Middle school was all about fear for me. Fear that the bus driver with nails in his paddle wasn’t an urban legend. Fear that the biggest kid in eighth grade really did kill four sixth-graders the previous year. Fear that I’d never figure out algebra. Fear that Stephanie Wigglesworth would never notice me in my Toughskins and Traxx sneakers. Those last couple of fears were realized. The first couple I’m still not sure about.

Why my son is OK with middle school, I’m not sure about, either, but I’m not complaining. Maybe he’ll emerged not nearly as scarred as I did. And maybe someday he’ll be able to explain algebra to me. At age 41, I wouldn’t know a quadratic equation if I stepped on one.

And to this day, I don’t know which was easier to figure out – algebra or Stephanie Wigglesworth. But I remember which was more fun to study.

Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. He can be reached at