Why I Left Latin and Came Back: Alex Kaplan Speaks Out

Alex Kaplan

Staff Writer

Being at Latin, transferring to Lincoln Park, then coming back to Latin has been more or less an adventure. It has certainly made me feel adrift. That said, it taught me a lot, and my outlook on life has changed as a result thereof.

My mind was made up from the first day of school in 2012; I would not graduate from the Latin School of Chicago. I had been bullied persistently the past three years, most of my friends were in CPS, and I could see no logical argument for remaining at Latin. An incident in October involving members varsity soccer team (most of whom have since graduated) and another student (who has since fled Latin as a result of similar treatment) only heightened my sense of urgency to leave. I was scared in August, and am even more afraid now. Harassment didn’t end there, expletives hurled from passing cars and snide remarks in the halls plagued the rest of the school year. [Note from the Editors: If you were on the team in question, please feel free to comment with your point of view if you feel necessary.]

As a result of such treatment, my guard went up and my head went down. I felt like I had to keep everyone at an arms length, whoever they were, so long as they went to Latin. In an effort to tip the scales, I surrounded myself with graffiti writers and dropouts, individuals who had spent time in county jails or were getting their GED’s. I never once set foot in the Latin cafeteria during a lunch period for fear of confrontation (stemmed from threats). I was the first one out of school everyday. I believed that Latin had been soured for me already, and that the only option was for me to start anew.

So what did I do? I became extremely outspoken against Latin, imbued with a romantic idea of public school. One teacher tells me that my name had connotations such as, “The kid who hates Latin?” among teachers. And I wasn’t completely wrong about the parts of Latin with which I was malcontented. My mind was too made-up, though, and I far too dogmatic to hear any opposing arguments. So, as what I believed to be a solution, through a series of meetings and paperwork, I ran away from the Latin School.

The summer provided time for my emotions to settle and raw wounds to heal. At the exit interview, I scoffed at the idea of Mr. Graf wanting to discuss re-entry options. As the summer progressed, I was eager for a new start, but began to have questions about my decision. Was my Latin experience truly soured? Why couldn’t I have the same outlook towards Latin that new 9th graders did? Did the soccer team really ruin it for me, or did I botch it for myself? Regardless, I left all these ideas unresolved and began my days at Lincoln Park with as open a mind as I could.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lincoln Park; I want to dispel the myth right now that I hated it. I loved the anonymity and the real diversity that is found only in public school. There was no time to hyper analyze so-and-so’s outfit or giggle at whoever because their shirt had a hole in it or because they weren’t wearing a goddam polo shirt. You had a place to be, and frankly no one really cared what you looked like. In that regard, I loved being in CPS. I roll my eyes and long for students coming to school in full drag or with green Mohawks and leather jackets whenever someone tells me I look like a bum. There is such a huge spectrum, don’t you see! It isn’t Ralph Lauren or homeless; there’s a whole in between area, believe it or not. Middle class! What? God forbid! Digression, sorry.

The academics at Lincoln Park are not remedial or sub-par in any way, shape, or form. I met kids there who are far more motivated than I, kids who I believe (to be completely meritocratic) deserve a spot at Latin way more than I do. Plenty of CPS students go to Ivy League colleges every year, a fair number of those from Lincoln Park. The class structure of CPS was one that I was not used to, though. It was not discussion-based, and teaching to the test was common. The teacher talked at us, and we were to diligently take notes. If we didn’t, they weren’t going to be on our case about it; it was our problem. Personally, I was not a fan of this style of education. I like the ability to be friendly with my teachers, and this was not a reality in CPS. There was a permanent stiff-arm from our teachers whenever things got too casual. Despite this, my three and a half weeks there were very enjoyable. Kids were open-minded, and it was nice to finally be at school with the people I’d been friends with since I was very young.

Returning to Latin had been a thought in my mind since July. Even though I really liked Lincoln Park, I felt like I could flourish more at Latin (do I think I wouldn’t have been able to flourish had I remained at LP? No. I just believe it could be better done at Latin and I would have a greater impact here as well). I articulated my thought process/mental journey to my parents, who were as hesitant to let me return as they were to let me leave. In the end, they understood and we all agreed that it would be best to return to Latin. After another series of meetings and paperwork, it was settled that I would re-enter Latin in the fourth week of school.

So, what changed? Latin didn’t undergo a dramatic transformation during my brief hiatus. It is still composed of the same faculty and student body; the same ideals and world view are still thickly interwoven. The difference between this year and last is the lens I view everything through. Last year, I misconstrued 10 or 12 people with animus towards me as a whole school completely pitted against me. I was always very quick to talk about the horse blinders that ‘Latin Kids’ wore-sheltered world view, false sense of success/failure, etc. But in the same sense, I had a different pair of horse blinders over my eyes: I made myself oblivious to the amount of teachers and students here that cared about me and didn’t hate me, an amount that outweighed those that did/do. Now that I’ve realized my error, Latin is suddenly a much more open place. The restrictions I put on myself are now gone. Things I could never see myself doing a year ago I do now without thinking twice. Being part of a club, going to the lunchroom, even doing my homework! There is no need to lash out and surround myself with kids who are not making positive decisions like I felt I had to last year. Am I somehow better or different from Latin kids because I’ve been in subway tunnels, or known people who are now dead? The obvious conclusion is no, and it sucks it took me so long to realize that.

The transition back into Latin has been a smooth one, free of turbulence and full of warmth. It is unfortunate that last year had to work out the way it did for me, and I don’t regret transferring out, but I am glad to be back and to have acquired such a positive new outlook. This year will be good, I believe, and I am glad to be back.