It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a great place to raise a child is a crappy place to be a teenager.
This gets worse and worse the smaller the town is and the longer you’ve lived there. Everyone knows everyone else’s business. Everyone has strong opinions about everyone else’s business. Everyone is easily dragged into everyone else’s business. If you are a geek, that fact is pretty much well known and that makes it hard to do the most basic step involved in dating (lie and/or make a good first impression). Everyone knows who you are and there’s not much you can do to break out of that.
In fact, it’s fair to say that living in a small town is only one step removed from being part of a crazy dysfunctional family not able to leave their own yard.
Even here in Japan, I’ve encountered such things. When I was teaching on the Sea of Japan coast, one of my schools served a small town that was almost literally squeezed between the beach and the highway. All students seemed to share one of a few family names and all of them also seemed to share years and years of bad blood.
One week, even though it was technically illegal for me to conduct a class by myself, I suddenly found myself solo-teaching while Mr. Oguma, my Japanese English teacher, was off doing something he hadn’t bothered to tell me about. The students pretty much considered it to be free time and I found myself getting slowly frustrated and then completely frustrated.
After a couple bad classes, I finally confronted Mr. Oguma about it and he very apologetically explained that he was having trouble organizing the girls in his homeroom into rooms for the class trip. It seemed that their families had hated each other since the girls were in kindergarten and that hatred had followed the girls into junior high school. Family A refused to let their daughter room with girls from families B and C while Family D didn’t want their daughter associating with Families A, B or C. Family E was right out. Mr. Oguma was in the middle of a tense negotiation to try to find an acceptable formula.
What still strikes me about this is Mr. Oguma is a former punk rock musician who is almost as tall as I am and has an intimidating physical presence. He actually aspires to work in troubled schools, including one where a student was killed during a bullying incident, and I’m sure if we dropped him in any troubled school in the USA, he’d thrive. He remains one of the best teachers I’ve worked with. Suddenly he was negotiating with teenage girls to get them to leave school for a few days and he was having a hard time.
He assured me he was making quicker progress than their 1st grade homeroom teacher had. It had taken him three weeks of negotiating to get the girls to room together for one night on a ski trip. When I asked why he didn’t just say “You have 10 minutes to get your name on this room list or you’re not going” he assured me it was impossible as the trip was part of the girl’s education and they had to go.
A year later, during the sports day events, one of the mothers involved would directly confront one of the girls involved and call her names in front of pretty much everyone. That girl stopped attending class, even though she still went to school. She simply studied in a room by herself.
The sad part is, having grown up in a small town, I kind of understand all this.