Originally posted on August 25, 2015, “The Underside of a High School Education” compares my wildly positive experience in high school with others that were wholly negative.
Yesterday, I heard a name from high School I hadn’t heard in years. He was the kid who elevated himself at the expense of weakest, easiest targets – putting down the ones who didn’t talk much, who walked to their own beat, who had interests divergent from the norm.
Recalling him conjured up memories of all those forgotten kids – the picked on and discarded ones I haven’t considered since I graduated from Holy Trinity High School in 2005.
I remember the boy who was getting pegged in the head with the basketball nearly every gym class because he was short, nerdy, and Asian.
I remember the girl with the overbite getting castigated because she looked like a dinosaur and had the posture to back it up.
I remember the ones who were shamed for their obesity, their acne, their hairstyle, their sexual orientation, their glasses, their taste in music, their masculinity, their femininity, and the myriad other reasons kids get picked on for.
Man, they must have hated high school, I think now even though they weren’t even an afterthought when I heard someone else make fun of them back in the day. That was just the way high school always had been and always would be. I never considered it from the other side even though I myself had been made fun of in middle school.
While I contend in my July 17, 2015 blog “High School Inside and Out” that those high school years gave me a sense of who I was and who I wanted to be, others have converse views on those same years.
And I completely understand why.
Jeffrey Dean Myhre, in response to Michael McCullough’s The Huffington Post piece “High School Made You a Better Person” that inspired my July 17 blog post, wrote, “The people I admire most in life are those who believe their high school years were a complete waste of time.”
Ed McKenzie, meanwhile, wrote, “Worst 4 years of my life. I’d rather spend a day with a broken body then a day back in high school.”
Part of understanding high school and really how damaging those years can be is found in the nature of kids. They’re impressionable, they’re imperfect like everyone else, they’re trying to figure out who they are even if that means trying to be someone else first.
In the pursuit of popularity, even just mere acceptance, it’s far easier to be a follower than it is to be an individual, that much I remember from high school and that much I see as a middle school English teacher now.
I again return to the kid I considered a friend freshman year, the same one who rode around on the coattails of the in-crowd, willing to do anything to be accepted into their exclusive clique. There were far more of him than there were of those cast away, those made pariahs for having diverse interests, for being themselves and no one else.
Because kids trying to discover themselves want to fit in, not stand out.
They want to be accepted, not rejected.
They want to be included, not excluded.
Hearing about that poseur from high school, though, didn’t remind me of all the other ones (and, believe me, there were plenty); no, it reminded me of all the ones who, now that I think about it, were the poster children for bullying in school before people caught on to the breadth of the issue.
High school was a horror show for some and they are entitled to harbor ill thoughts about their time spent being judged and ridiculed, but, looking at the experience introspectively, I can speak from experience in saying that there is always a takeaway, even from a negative experience. I try to impress this upon my former students who now languish in high school and college classes taught by teachers who I’m sure are qualified based on their degrees and overall knowledge but, for whatever reason, are inept at relaying the information in a productive way.
Don’t lose out on a learning moment whether it’s as simple as better preparing yourself for even the most undesirable of tasks (because sometimes your job will demand this of you) or it’s the more complex overcoming adversity, There is always something to be learned, and I’m sure of that.
I ascribe to thoughts similar to those expressed by Dan Lipowski, someone who commented on McCullough’s piece. He wrote the following:
Here is what I learned while in high school. I learned this from teachers, coaches, other school employees, classmates, or classmates parents. This person is nice and treats people well, I want to act like that. Or this person is mean and treats people terrible, I don’t want to be like that.
And, remember, kids mature at their own rate. Some aren’t ready to be good people when they’re teenagers. Still, I like to believe that most of the heartless malcontents have the Billy Madison moment where he calls Steve Buscemi’s character and apologizes to him.
Being nice doesn’t cost anything. And you never know; you might one day find yourself saying, “Man, I’m glad I called that guy.”
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