In another class across the building, Tyler slouches at his computer in a cockeyed, bright green baseball cap and blue polka-dotted sweat shirt, a resplendent, psychedelic vision of street fashion gone haywire. (He violates the no-cap rule whenever he can.) He is completing a work sheet, listening to his iPod and occasionally noodling with the computer, which displays a cover of the magazine he designs in his spare time.
He calls the magazine Odd Future, which describes the universe he already seems to inhabit, a place dominated by three primary forces (besides his mother): music, fashion design and skateboarding.
Is it possible to be 16 years old and eccentric?
It doesn't take long to figure out that Tyler is an extremely bright kid with an old soul and a wildly creative mind. He also is attending his 11th school in 11 years.
"I don't really know," he says, in a pensive, gravelly voice, which sounds like it should belong to somebody's grandfather. "I had a couple of problems at a couple of schools. I remember at Anza [Elementary, in Torrance], I got into a little fight with another kid. . . . And then, me and my mom moved a lot."
Tyler's mother, Bonita Smith, says Media Arts gives him the freedom to express himself both artistically and academically. A social worker, Smith is one of few college-educated parents at the school and has high aspirations for her son. She says it doesn't bother her that no small number of his classmates are gang members or otherwise troubled.
"I think it's great for Tyler to be exposed to everything," she says. "Because I want him to know what's out there, I want him to know what's in the real world. I don't want him to be sheltered."
That mission has been accomplished, as anyone can see by viewing Tyler's contributions to YouTube, where he has posted raps -- at least one of which was recorded at school -- that embody the misogynistic, profane and violent side of hip hop.