If I were to go back to school right now, I would live it vastly differently because of what I know about others, myself, and the values of things.
My parent moved around a lot, and I went to 11 different education facilities. The quality of the experience is immensely different depending of the school and yes, money helps. I did not live the same experience in poor areas and rich ones.
But, assuming you get only one school, and it sucks, you can only learn those by either:
- growing up
- being taught about it
The first option is moot since you are still a kid in school.
The second one assumes your parents are able to do that, but if they were, you wouldn't have had the problem in the first place.
Actually, even paying for a top school is only half of a good solution. Toxic environment can take different shapes, and are everywhere in life. Also, you may be a profile that doesn't fit easily in most places. Being born awkward is a thing :) Better learn to deal with it than working around the problem.
So no, I have no solution, even if I acknowledge changing schools help.
However, I do know what my current self would tell my previous self:
- conformity is a balance. Full conformity will kill your personality. But total rejection will make your life much harder. It's unfair, especially since a lot of what people conform to can be things you think very badly about. However, it's important to pick your battle: forcing yourself to do a few conventional stuff makes the ride much smoother for a reasonable price. Again, it's unfair to have to do that. But think of it as gravity: you can try to oppose it as much as you want, but it's not going anywhere. Better learn to deal with it. Language and appearance are low hanging fruits: they don't affect you as deeply as activities.
- it's important to learn to defend yourself. This includes several steps. Accepting that people will do things you can't imagine doing yourself and can't believe they do, that destroy and hurt. That doesn't make them bad persons, but it is here, and you have to accept it exists. Then realize you don't have any reason to put up with it. Then learn to fight it of in a progressive manner: bad behavior is not a 1/0 switch, it's a curve and you need to answer early, and proportionally to what's happening. It's exhausting at first, but it prevents the "silent for long, then explode or collapse", and you will be surprised about the positive consequences of doing this right. Setting and respecting boundaries (even artificial ones) are an important social mechanism. This doesn't help with people in charge behaving badly however. Kids life suck for that: you are basically at their mercy unless you are ready to pay an ungodly price.
- pay the price. All those things have a price. Again, it's unfair. But people will get mad at you. You will make enemies. You will be punished. Hurt. And other unexpected costs. Assessing the cost and making sure it's worth it is a matter of experience. But if you don't chose the price to pay, you just end up paying one anyway, and one that is assigned to you.
- the people in charge are not here to help you. People have their own agenda and ego. Some are great, but most will protect themself and the institution. Again it does not make them bad persons, but play the game understanding that when you'll have a problem, they probably won't be the solution despite what everyone says, and that applying a solution may make them act against you. Stash that in the "price to pay" column, and make a choice.
- stop being a jerk. When you are in an environment where you don't fit, you often react in a jerky way. Some become aggressive, some arrogant, some needy, some victimize them-self. It's a natural reaction. But it makes things worse. You don't have to be nice unless you feel you'd like to. Don't force yourself (it's a horrible idea). But don't be an ass unless you need to: this you should force yourself to avoid. It's incredible the number of situations that completely change depending of the way you react to it. A victim posture attract bullies. Arrogance breed rejection. Etc. A good starting rule is: be positive first, then next time, behave like they behaved the last time with you.
- it's ok if people get angry. Your parent may be angry, but they are not always right and don't live what you do. If you don't think you are screwing up (and deep inside you know when you do), just be ok with the fact they are angry. They have their own perspective. Same for teachers. Same for friends. Also accept you will fail and makes plenty of mistakes. It's ok to get angry at people as well. It should not, however, be a permanent state. That would indicate something deeply wrong. But, allow yourself to antagonize people and vice-versa: this gives you space to act. Adult are not always right, they don't have the same objectives, constraints and they don't have the whole picture. And other kids, well, they are like you. They are just doing their best to live this thing.
- you can't win all the fights. There may be hundreds of things you want to change. And they may all be worth it. But you are limited in time and space. Physics is a b*. So pick a few, invest yourself to them, but let the others go. You can't defend the weak, be popular, make sure people recycle, call out the mistake of teachers, get the girl, motivate your friends to quit drugs, win the championship, promote animal rights and have straight A+. Unfair ? Well yes. Guess what, you'll also end up dying.
- don't blindly listen to advises (including this comment). I've been given terrible advises by people that I trusted and that cared about me. "Just be yourself". "Don't listen to them". "It doesn't matter what they think". "Fighting is bad". "Tell your teacher about it". Now I don't know what will be your conclusion, and I don't pretend I know the one-and-only-truth. But it's important to try things, reject what failed, and stick to what works. Test an advice, see the result. Be honest: what happened ? Does that make your life better now ? And later ? Is the cost worth it ?
Deep insides me I knew those things but didn't apply them because it seemed dark.
The funny thing is, applying them made life easier, and happier for me, and people around me. It's a weird thing. But basically, reality is not perfect, and when you start embracing the imperfect side of it instead of mourning how it could be, it becomes very fun !
People say that you should be yourself and don't listen to others despite the fact that we know that it's at best disingenuous, because we have a need for others to validate our identities. Similarly, we talk about "true love" and "justice" because we need to be loved and we need to believe that justice exists.
How do you teach something like this? In a classroom, or is it only good incase it comes from experienced parents?
I hated PE classes until the one or two I had to take in high school. Then I could elect to take weightlifting. I wasn’t coordinated at all but I could “pick things up and put them down”.
But no amount of “self-confidence” and having a “positive self-image” would stop a short fat uncoordinated computer geek  from getting bullied. No I wasn’t bullied in high school but I’m sure it didn’t have anything to do with being “self confident” and I wouldn’t have been able to “defend myself” against the football players if half of them weren’t my friends.
 I got better as an adult - got more into physical fitness and became a part time fitness instructor.
Teaching this can only be done by somebody close to you. Family or friends.
However, two conditions make it rare that it happens: said relatives must know about it, and they must be willing to teach it.
Very few people actually know about this: either they do it without understanding that they do it, or they don't do it. It's a rare combination to have somebody acting in this way, and understanding deeply the ins and outs of it.
As for the will: teaching it means it does not go against the person agenda. It means the person must have the ability to teach. And the desire to invest the time and energy to do so, as it's a long process that involves patience, failure, and a lot of leading by example.
Bottom line: it's hard to be a good parent. Damn it, who knew?
However, if I decided to teach it to somebody (I decided not to have children), I wish I would be able to do do the following thing:
- Be extremely honest. Half of the problems in this game is about all the lies we tell each others. That adults are always right. That schools is always here to help you. You have to be nice. They are wrong and you are right, or vice versa. Justice exists outside of the human mind. Being a child is easy. I'd talk about the pain I had, I listen to their pain.
- Talk about cost. A lot. Social cost. Punishment. Long term consequences in life. Being hurt. And hurting others. This must be demystified. It's not something special. It's life. It's ordinary. It's not the end of the world and it's the same for everybody. You can find happiness between those. But you need to make conscious choices about the costs, and not let them happen to you.
- Be patient. Accept failure. Talk about it. My father used to double anything the school would punished me with. So basically, if a bully kicked my ass and I defended myself, I would pay 3 times for basically minding my own business. This is the opposite of what you want.
- Teach about basic grooming, fashion, language and social conventions. Show them as tools instead of constraints. You can change clothes and wording to match occasions: formal when needed, fashionable when required, personal when with loved ones. Once you master them, you can actually use them less and less and be yourself more and more without friction. Life is funny that way. But as long as you reject them as artifact of our sick societal system, they will be a burden to you.
- Have the "boundaries" talk. How to respect others. How to make others respect yours. By body language. Verbally. Physically if needed. It's weird to have something that artificial to deal with, and so it's even more important to highlight it.
- Lead by example. Speaking only helps so much. You must show. And involve.
This is more abstract than guitar. There is not one technic you can follow.
Those skills use less the intellectual part of the brain and more the emotional one. It makes them hard to mass teach because words suck for explaining them.
I don't have a simple solution to offer, as I learned it by trial and errors, and also luck.
Therapy helped me but it's not scalable. Meditation too but it's very slow, and good luck to make teenagers practice it seriously. I would still recommand them, with the warning that quality vary hugely between practicians.
Lots of good books have helped as well. They are useless without practice though.
Because in the end, the only way to learn is to be in the situation, react differently and evaluate, then adapt.
Anyway, to all those with these challenges, good luck. It's possible to live an happy life as a square in a circle world. But it does requires to adapt and you may be the only one in charge to find a way.
Despite my seemingly pessimistic view on the topic, a positive way of seing this is to say : hey, nobody did it, let's make a website with plenty of content, practical examples in videos and exercices for those who need it.
You'd need a dozen of contributors with different social background and gender to make something that's worth it.
Things need to be very visual, so acting will be important. You need kids to be part of it as you'd get out of date easily. You'd need to remove judgement out of it. Not the right place to get your "drug are bad" messages through is.
Repetition is important, but sustainable progression is another. Practicing those skills will get you in trouble at first.
But more importantly, the emphasis must be based on real experiences from the teaching and in the exercices.
Hard to get righ. Interesting challenge.
A nice idea to explore.