School is crazy. It’s a place I’d rather not be, not because I hate learning, but because I’m unable to learn.

All I hear about is dating, clothes, and makeup. I’ve never quite understood why kids begin dating so early in life. Maybe I’m just a prude, or maybe it’s just because I’m Indian.

Having grown up in an Indian family, my views on life have always been different from those of the average American child. I’ve constantly been pushed to excel in school, violin lessons, and classical dance classes.

“Work before play. Anything fun you do after all your homework, studying, and practice is done,” I hear my mom say every other day. “And make sure you finish that classic I told you to read. Why would you sit mindlessly in front of the television or the computer? I’d rather you read whenever you get the chance!” Indeed, I can’t say all Indian parents are like mine.

Like many Indian parents, mine are paranoid, focused only on staying the course and eventually being successful in life. But through living in the midst of a successful community for the last 14 years, I’ve begun to understand the reason behind all the pressure placed on me.

As an eighth grader, I’ve begun to respect that. I also recognize why my parents won’t allow me to date boys, wear inappropriate clothes and makeup to school, or basically do whatever I want. There are limits on what I can and cannot do. While some of them are extremely annoying, there are other restrictions I find actually suitable to the way I prefer to conduct my life. For one thing, my parents’ insistence that I focus and work hard is paying off at school, a place of utter pandemonium.

The minute I entered middle school, I was blown away. I was only in sixth grade, yet kids were already talking about dating. Day in and day out, all I heard was about who was “going out” with whom and who had “broken up” with whom. At the time, I was just 11, and had entered a public middle school, after leaving one of the most rigorous private schools in San Jose. No one talked about dating in private school at fifth grade. There was too much work to do. At middle school, however, I was in shock. How could girls think of guys in just sixth grade? School was the last thing on their minds. And there I was, the dorky little girl with glasses who had exactly three friends.

Soon it was the beginning of seventh grade, and I knew the ways of my school, fellow students, and teachers. I had also made many friends, and had switched from glasses to contacts. I even began getting occasional compliments for my hair, my eyes, and my smile. By this time, scandalous clothing, excessive makeup, and discussions about kissing and sex was the norm. I still couldn’t understand why girls so young cared that much about guys, clothes, and makeup. Grades or schoolwork never mattered to some of the girls. Instead, they’d be applying makeup during class or writing notes to their friends and then attempting to throw them across the room. Homework? On rare occasions homework actually got done by some of these kids.

Now that I’m in eighth grade I’m no longer taken aback when I hear about things that shocked me at the age of 11. The way girls dress to school has only become more atrocious. Many wear thongs whose strings rise over low-rise jeans. Most of our class time ends up being wasted while teachers battle with students over behavior issues. If my classmates aren’t writing notes or signaling to each other from across the room, they’re trying to sneak to a friend and pull her thong, which is often in plain view for everyone to ogle. Classes get constantly disrupted. Sometimes it’s very hard to work with the constant hullabaloo in the room.

You’d think teachers would try and create more of a peaceful atmosphere in class, but they’re helpless. Teachers are incapable of keeping down the noise level because the students are just out of control. When kids do get into trouble, they get mad at the teacher, even though it’s their own fault. After all, they were the ones talking or fooling around during class. Thanks to the ruckus, class is quite amusing sometimes, but I still don’t appreciate having to put up with it day after day.

Sometimes I feel I’m too different from my fellow classmates, even my Indian friends. Go on. Call me headstrong, opinionated, and boring. Call me a geek with no social life. Call me a loser. I’m not someone who frets over what I wear to school. I don’t date. I don’t take anything or anyone at face value. But I’m proud of what I believe in. And right now, I’ve got other priorities.

After three years of wading through middle-school madness, I cannot imagine a school life unperturbed by outrageous behavior. Through school, I’m reminded of what it might be to have parents who cared little about grades. Through school, I’ve found out that my mom is cooler than the other girl’s mom because at least she doesn’t want me to have a boob job to impress a boy. It’s because of school that I’ve realized that I’d rather have a parent who could tell me why I should read Charles Dickens over Meg Cabot or Teen People.

Oh, the things I’ve learned things from being in school.

Pavithra Mohan recently finished eighth grade and is now a freshman at Saratoga High School.