Highschoolers aren’t all bad ;-)

2010 January 8
by Evan Lenz

My friend Elsa recently wrote this response to my “Bullying” article. I wanted to repeat it here, because it adds some needed perspective to the negative picture I painted. I’ve also included my response below.

That’s a very interesting story, and oddly almost the opposite of what I experienced when I transitioned for an alternative program to a public high school. Going in I was very nervous about other kids and what they might say or do… I feel like I may have seen too many horror stories on after school specials. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised. Despite the fact that all my classes were with total strangers, I felt very welcomed by my school community. I made new friends, and people were by and large very nice to me. It saddens me to hear about those painful times you went through, but I think you might be giving high schoolers too much of a bad rap. In my experience we are generally a lot nicer than people give us credit for. I was not ostracized when I transferred in from that strange hippy school called options. I hope that your story is the exception rather than the rule. I’ve really enjoyed my high school, and the people I’ve met there.

Hi Elsa, thanks so much for your comments. I think you’re probably right that this post could mislead people by painting too negative a picture of high school. It wasn’t as if everyone was mean. I made some good friends in my 3 years in high school. The vast majority of kids were friendly and nice to me. It’s unfortunate that only a couple of people (one in particular) could have such a negative influence on my overall experience.

I’ll reflect some more on my high school experience. Apart from bullying, I still wasn’t particularly impressed by the experience. I can think of some peak moments, like reciting Hamlet soliloquies for my English class (and happily accepting my teacher’s offer to swap more performances for incompleted book reports). A field trip to Ashland for the Shakespeare festival (with that same class) also stands out as really positive. But these were really hit-and-miss. The majority of the time, I was bored and unimpressed. And there are a few bitter memories, such as when my advisor talked me out of skipping a grade of math, or when my joke of a biology teacher (who later got fired for inappropriate relations with a female student) told me “you think too much”. Or when I got my first B, in traffic safety of all things. Oops, I’m lapsing into negativity again, sorry. :-)

I finally got through it all and went off to college, where in my first year, I matured more than all those three years of high school combined. When I compare my high school and college experiences, they’re like night and day. I knew I was in for a different experience when my academic advisor in college didn’t hesitate one moment to let me jump right into the upper-level “History of Philosophy” course as a Freshman just because I wanted to! I intend to go back to school one day (and never return, moving into an academic career). For all my love of academia, you have to wonder why I’m so negative on high school and everything preceding it. I think it comes down to the forced aspect of public education. Generally, college students are there because they choose to (although I fear that’s changing too these days).

I’m glad that you’re flourishing in high school, both academically and socially. And I know that you want to be there. And I’m especially glad that your transition to high school was the opposite of mine (a relief instead of an ambush).

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  1. January 8, 2010

    Well, shucks! I was just gonna leave my math comment and go back to lurking. I didn’t comment on your initial bullying post, althought I was tempted, but I guess I’ve now been motivated to contribute to the discussion here.

    Elsa, I’m very happy for you that your school experience was a positive one. I do know some people like that. My MIL still hangs out with her HS buddies a half-century later and I know a coupla other folks who seem to have benefitted from their HS experience. However…

    My wife used to say generically that her HS experience was “fine,” not great but not horrible, until she thought about going to her 20-year reunion and had nightmares and cold sweats about it. Fine? Would a fine experience do that to you? I don’t think so.

    We had a nephew live with us and attend HS for a coupla years about 15 years ago. We had an exchange student living with us who attended HS for one year in ’04-’05. Our younger daughter gave HS a try last year. (She stayed for one grading period, got all As, and returned to unschooling at home because HS was just “so boring.”) All of those experiences were “fine,” too. Nobody was horrible to any of our experiencers, no teacher was unmanagably intrasigent, although we did have a number of conferences for our nephew and exchange student where we had to have a frank discussion with a coupla teachers who should’ve gone into a different vocation IMO.

    Nonetheless, most of the people we know who were schooled do not have fond memories of the experience. Perhaps our statistical universe is self-selecting for that end of the spectrum. I don’t think so but I have no proof to support my opinion. At root, I have only my own experience as sure and certain knowledge. I wrote about my experience with bullying in sections 1 and 2 here. And I described my HS experience by playing along with this meme.

    YMMV and hopefully it does. Significantly.

    P.S. I am a blunt and vulgar person. If intensity and harsh language offends, don’t follow my links.

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