Dear High School, You Suck, Sincerely, The Real World.

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Well, this hasn’t happened in a while. A news story has inspired me to rant. Actually that happens all the time but whatever. For some reason I’m drunk. The reason could be the debate tonight, or possibly I’m just an alcoholic. Anyway. Here I go.

So this week, Whitney Kropp, a high school girl, who was voted homecoming queen as a prank did that classic American thing and came up smelling (and looking) like a rose. It’s a real Cinderella story.

Yeah.

Look. I’m happy for you, sista. Less impressed that you are a skinny girl with a boyfriend, but points for how cute your football player escort’s smile is. He looks like the cat that ate the canary. I’d love to know what he’s thinking. Anyway replay this story next year, or somewhere else with a fat androgynous girl who’s never even been kissed (me at 16) and I’ll be really captivated. For now: meh.

CarrieWhat’s making me rant is that this exact thing happened at my school TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO. I was in grade 12. The joke was played on the frosh (freshman) queen. I don’t remember her name but she was a chubby, very awkward social outcast. I didn’t really know her, but two of my best friends were freshmen and they told me how the class conspired to elect her frosh queen as a cruel joke. My friends didn’t think it was very funny. Neither did I. But she was crowned at the frosh dance (or something). I suppose she knew it was a joke on her. Maybe she didn’t care. Maybe she did. Like I said. I don’t remember her name. She could be dead for all I know. I don’t think this was a positive experience for her.

For every Whitney Kropp who makes lemonade from lemons, there’s a Stephen King’s Carrie, a girl or boy for whom this kind of humiliation is the last fucking straw. Bullied kids kill themselves and others literally every day in the USA. When pundits ask why bullying and violence are so rampant in middle and high schools the answer is usually something along the lines of “well, kids are jerks.” An easy answer, blame the individual, because surely there is nothing wrong with our perfect society.

Okay, kids can be assholes. We get that. But let me ask you this: where in the real world are people encouraged to randomly choose someone to represent them in some way without that person’s consent? Obama and Romney have volunteered to compete for the job of president. We all know that if we could randomly choose any old person for the White House it would probably end up a tight race between Martin Sheen, Justin Beiber (who is Canadian BTW) and I don’t know, Snooki. Oh hahaha, we would laugh. Aren’t we funny for mocking the idea of democracy? Hahaha isn’t it amusing to place someone on a pedestal and worship/demonize them? Aren’t we witty for mocking someone else’s shortcomings in a public arena without their consent? Hahahahaha…

I’m all for student council elections. Candidates for student council nominate themselves. They are prepared for it. Incidents like the two described above don’t happen with student council elections. Prom king and queen, homecoming court and frosh king and queen are artificial and archaic leftovers from a time when villages voted for people to sacrifice to the volcano fairies. These symbolic sacrifices are providing even more opportunities to make young adults feel badly about themselves, trapped as they are in an arbitrary and synthetic environment with little or no control over their destiny.

WTF? Why is high school so fucked up? Because WE MAKE IT THAT WAY. We make it into a popularity contest that has no bearing on intelligence, interpersonal skills, spiritual or emotional integrity or morals. It’s a free for all, a dog eat dog contest where even the winners are losers. Is it any wonder that the teen suicide rate is so high? Why do we subject our young people to such cruel games? What does homecoming queen, prom king and harvest princess and prince accomplish for anyone? In what way does it prepare young people for the real world? At Walmart, employee of the month is based on sales and performance, not popularity. At Price Waterhouse promotion is based on results and effort, not attractiveness.

In the real world, success should be (and mostly is) based on ideas and determination and should have nothing to do with how good your parties are or what kind of car you drive, how rich your parents are or who your boyfriend is.

Once again, all too frequently it seems, it is time to really look at our school system and what it is teaching young people. From where I stand it seems mostly it is teaching kids how to be mean.

Rant over.

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8 thoughts on “Dear High School, You Suck, Sincerely, The Real World.

  1. A very moving post. I often read about these sorts of things in novels set in the US, and I’m always surprised by the massive stratification that seems to be the norms in your schools. Though we do have cliques and groups here in Australia (I suppose that’s inevitable), it seems to be nothing like the level of what occurs in the US. We don’t have cheerleaders or idolised sports teams, and unless it’s changed in the past few years we don’t have things like prom queens and so on.

    Then again, we seem to be quite apathetic and uninvolved on a lot of levels as well, so perhaps our kids suffer more from a sort of non-participative alienation than an alienation from being shunned?

    • Well kids are alienated on both levels in the USA and here in Canada (It’s not quite as bad here. I was a cheerleader, but we weren’t popular). But we ALL were completely alienated from public life and “the real world”.

      • I definitely agree that high school is its own little eerie eco-system. I think it’s becoming more so now that kids (at least here) are heading off to university, but remain living at home. It’s very easy for people to live the first third or so of their life basically not participating in the real world at all. No wonder people don’t have the skills to be able to function in the everyday world.

  2. The problem is less that these things exist and more that kids — all kids, regardless of personality, talent, or interests — are told they should be super-interested and invested in them. I don’t know why society stresses popularity and attractiveness over good grades, intelligence, etc. Or why we have this idea that you can’t have both. We have this “popular people must be stupid and geeks are never attractive” mindset. The truth is, different kids will gravitate towards different things and that is OK. Extroverts will be social and like that part of high school. Artsy kids will do art. The problem is when the studies-focused, quiet kid is told that they should care about something that they have no real interest in or aptitude for, or else they’re worthless. The problem comes when different interests are set up in a hierarchy. Kids who are trying to define themselves suddenly wonder whether their interests and personality are “good enough” according to the high school caste system.

    I guess I was weird in high school because I didn’t care about anything except what I wanted to do. I dissociated myself from cliques, but I wasn’t antisocial. In fact, I knew someone in pretty much every clique in the school. I always knew the latest gossip, but I never told anyone. People just…talked to me. I think they thought I was quiet and neutral and therefore safe, or something. Surprisingly, I found that once that barrier was breached, people were almost always open to talking and becoming friends (or at least acquaintances).

    • When they have a school wide vote, and dance celebrating the winner of the science fair, the art show and the debating champs then we’ll be there. While it’s prom/frosh/homecoming/harvest king and queen it’s still just “popularity” – ie looks and meanness.

      These are SCHOOL SPONSORED events, not things the kids dream up themselves. The school is asking the kids to judge each other on subjective measures. That’s a recipe for disaster.

      • When I was in Grade 12 the Grade 9s chose a blind girl as frosh queen. I still like to think it wasn’t a nasty joke but a genuinely kind gesture. The fact is, sadly, that this girl remained pretty much a social outcast. I don’t know if anyone was actually mean to her; she just didn’t have any friends. Some girls commented – not in her range of hearing, that I knew of – that she “smelled.” Unfortunately that was also true. There was another girl in a higher grade who was ostracized for the exact same reason. I guess my point is that some families and parents exacerbate their children’s social problems by not teaching them about basic hygiene. You can’t legislate kindness, particularly not with teenagers. High school can be a pretty vicious and merciless place but it’s only 4 years of a person’s life, and the only thing that got me through it was focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel.

      • Thanks for your comment. It’s true that “High school can be a pretty vicious and merciless place but it’s only 4 years of a person’s life,” but so is prison, and we don’t send ALL children there.

  3. Pingback: Yes, I WILL help you do your homework. | Gabrielle Prendergast

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