Equality of High Shcool

I miss high school.

It’s an odd thing to miss that awkward time in life.  You’re trapped between being a child and being an adult, often with some skewed and incomplete set of responsibilities compared to the freedoms full adulthood might grant.  Hormones are raging and societal pressures mount.  Parental pressures too.

My high school experience was far from ideal but – having heard stories of some peers – was vastly better than most.  I had many advantages (middle class, white, male, straight, cisgender, etc).  I also had the boon of being creative, a wee bit intelligent, and still have some athletic prowess.  And while I wasn’t gigantic, I wasn’t small either.  I experienced very little bullying through most of my school career.  I say all of that to get out of the way that while I’m about to wax about high school, I know others had a far less…positive experience.

Another factor about high school for me and having such a positive opinion of it was that I figured out high school pretty early on.  High school was a game.  High school was, not a joke, but it wasn’t the end-all of life that many of my peers thought it to be.  I knew professionals and even college students thanks to my family and, as a result, I understood just how inconsequential the boogeymen of the SAT and the college transcript actually were.  I also worked all through high school so my life didn’t revolve around school; it was just the first part of my day.  And I also moved across the country twice during high school.  Nothing reveals the impermanence of a thing like seeing the exact same social games being played by different people in a different building in a different city.

No, what I miss about high school are the people, the assignments, and the grades.  Odd list, I bet.

High school (school in general) was the only place I can recall ever meeting other people on a truly even footing.  With the exception of the class ranks (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior), everyone there was a peer.  Depending on the school, there were social castes born of societal prejudice (jocks ranked higher than drama kids, for example) but that was part of the ‘game’ of high school.  It was all so painfully obvious that it was artificial, fabricated.  Even before I moved across the country, the idea that a football player was somehow granted more esteem than a chess player seemed so very bizarre (especially since our football team was nothing to write home about).

A giant crowd of people, all of whom were more or less on equal footing, who were more or less peers.  I know not everyone had the freedom to do it, but I miss the ability to essentially just walk up to people, say hi, and have some common ground to discuss.  Lunch room issues, that one teacher, and so on provided a million ways to immediately share similar perspectives.  There was a very quick limit to what wealth or poverty could do to you in school.  Likewise, everyone was within the same age range.  The difference between 14 and 18 seems like a lot in the moment (and, to be fair, it isn’t trivial), but it pales to the range you find in the adult world.  There was an equality that high school brought.

As an adult, I have found it very hard to find that again.  Go to a social event (if you can even find one) and you meet people decades apart in age, as well as experience.  Trivia matches at the local bar aren’t that much fun against a 50-year old that’s watched every episode of Jeopardy.  Going to a Crossfit gym can be a prickly situation if it’s your first session and everybody there has logged more than a year at the sport.

Most interactions one has in the adult world will not be between peers.  When I go to a convention, I give a presentation (speaker to audience), I sell books (retail worker to customer), and I meet with readers (celebrity to fan).  The actual genuine interaction between peers is surprisingly hard to find.  I discovered it last year when I attended a CDC conference for my day job and I was shocked to meet other people with whom I had so much in common professionally.  But I had nothing in common with personally.  We lived in totally different states, had very different job responsibilities, had very different home lives, came from very different educational backgrounds.  The list went on.  And what’s worse, that was just trying to get these people to talk.  Most seemed to have forgotten how to socialize.  It’s almost like spending 40+ hours a week at a desk and a computer and de-trained them in how to speak with other humans.

I’m not a terribly outgoing person.  In fact, it is often a struggle to do the things that need to be done if they involve leaving the house.  But there is part of me that suspects that is conditioning; it is the momentum born of years and years of working without dealing with others.  Without being around others.  Without even seeing other humans.  I’ve gone days at work where, aside from the walk into and out of the building, I don’t even see another human being.  This isolation can’t be good.  And when it is broken and I do interact with others, it is always uneven (retail situations, for example).  I miss being around a wide variety of peers.

The assignments, and relatedly the grades, I also miss from high school.  Because I was already writing (and foolishly planned to be a writer ‘when I grew up’), I didn’t take school terribly seriously.  I didn’t take AP-level classes (I think those are a scam but that’s another matter) and I didn’t really take things that were hard.  I did, however, take classes that were challenging.  I took classes that interested me.  I didn’t just breeze through school without any effort, but I didn’t tackle the hardest topics I could find either just for the sake of their difficulty.

Most assignments were fairly easy for me.  Homework was often fairly simple.  Projects could be simple if they were solitary.  In contrast to my above waxing about peers, anytime there was a group project my grade tanked.  One of two things happened: I worked with friends in which case we didn’t do any work at all, or I worked with strangers in which case I ended up doing the majority of the work.  I must confess a certain perverse delight in letting everyone else dump on me, assume I would turn in a stellar project they could sign their names to, and then roll up to class with a C- project and they realize they had screwed themselves through their apathy.  Yes, I am quite apt to chew the wrapper to spite the gum.

Solitary assignments, whether they were homework or projects, were often fun.  Part of what them fun was their diversity.  In an effort to stimulate teens in different ways, school curriculums often have multiple types of projects – from book reports to crafts to plays – and that diversity was fun.  One week, we’d have to give an oral report.  The next week, we’d have to make a diorama.  The challenge of so many different types of assignments was a delight.

Related, too, were the grades.  Complete a task and get a grade.  Accumulate enough good grades and you get an even better, more important grade.  It’s like the most banal video game ever, right?  But there was immediate feedback.  There was an immediate indication that what you had done worked, or didn’t work, or was good, or wasn’t good.  In the adult world, often the only feedback you get is when you do something wrong.  And sometimes, not even then.  Most of us adults have stories of doing the wrong thing, or doing something the wrong way, for weeks or months or even years, before it was finally corrected.

And I don’t even mean with the day job.  I’ll make some change to my writing career and…maybe it will work?  Maybe it won’t?  It’s hard to tell.  Even when we discuss seemingly simple metrics like sales numbers or page hits, what works and what doesn’t can be surprisingly amorphous.

So yeah, I miss high school.  Sure, some of this is the rose-colored glasses of being so far removed from those years.  And, as I stated above, I had a pretty advantaged experience so I know most other people wouldn’t share similar experiences (I have at least one gay friend for whom high school was four years of literally fearing for his life).  So I get it.

But still, my high school experience was kind of cool.  At least, it was once I figured out where high school belonged in my life.  I do wish I could bring some of those elements into adulthood.  Their lacking really sours the experience of being an adult.  On the other hand, I can stay up as late as I want and have ice cream for dinner, so that’s nice.

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Author: Robert V Aldrich

Author. Speaker. Cancer Researcher. Martial Artist. Illustrator. Cat dad. Nerd.

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