The sheer mass of letters in response to Camille Paglia’s Welcome to my world is hard to believe (13 pages worth of them), but even more amazing is their single-mindedness: nearly all the letters are on her shredding of the modern high school environment, and every single one of them, save one, emphatically agrees with some part of her comments. This came from everyone from disaffected shop teachers and craftspeople, to religious homeschoolers, to Lies My Teacher Told Me readers, to people advocating the destruction of standardized curricula. Now, most of the comments ranged from off-target to painfully reactionary, but I think this should really indicate something: high schools really suck. Nearly every single letter had the same theme of alienation, boredom, and stifling while in high school–whether from post-grad degree holders or dropouts.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot that’s good about high schools today. I had a great high school experience. I wouldn’t mind teaching at one of them myself. But there is a lot that is actively cutting against that good. And most of it has to do with the petty authoritarian structure of high schools. Students are forced into class, they sit and fill out forms, bells ring, and like good little rats they find their way through the maze to the next classroom. Guidance counselors
track them into the course line-up that most befits their socio-economic background, goon squads of idle administrators patrol the hallways lest anyone consider spending their time outside of approved venues. Since I left my old high school, they’ve begun requiring student ID cards and greatly tightened up a once nearly unenforced closed campus policy.
The best parts of my high school career were the times when I was really free from this kind of micromanagement. My senior year I had a Early Release car tag that was supposed to only cover the last period of the day, but was effectively permission to leave campus whenever I pleased. Lax enforcement of attendence and tardy policies for seniors made it even better. I stuck with all my classes and learned a lot–and I really enjoyed it, because I was finally being treated like a responsible human being capable of making my own choices. I really look askance at the administrative response to school violence, which has been to tighten up and lock down their little bureaucratic fiefdoms as much as possible for the sake of
security. That locking-down means even more locking-down of imagination, critical thinking, even more conversion of vital young girls and boys into boring docile bodies filling out forms. It’s taking what should be an academic community and turning it into a prison.