Tag Archives: high school

Haikus: High School Redux

High School Redux

Wearing blue sweater,
Laughing, leaning against tree–
Forever fall day.

Sister’s purple room,
Entwined in discovery–
Lethargic at school.

Basketball warmup,
Entangled, breathless on mats–
The gym door slammed shut.

Christmas gift in hand,
Eggnog nutmeg forgetful–
We reignited.


Now We’re Rocking & Rolling!

A Superb Set by Circespeaks

A Superb Set by Circespeaks

This superb set, once owned by Frank of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, now awaits a drummer to bring it to life! As any drummer can probably see, this was set up by amateurs, and one of the amateurs even moved the cymbal around, so that it would fit into the photo. Little did I know that drum sets come with keys, and special little seats, and a blanket stuffed into the bass drum.

The bass drum sets the entire house rocking, and if I thought the neighboring high school band was loud on football days like today, well now I know loud! And a part of me really loves it.

A Serviceable Set by Circespeaks

Drum Roll

Not long ago, in the middle of his senior year in high school, my son and his girlfriend came home and proceeded to unload an entire drum set from the trunk of her car. They trundled upstairs with the set, and it wasn’t long before the house was filled with the sound of drumming. It was not just the bashing and smashing I had feared.

At first I thought the mom who was so thrilled to see her son’s drum set leave through the front door was the lucky one. And I almost felt as though she should have asked me. She probably did say “Are you sure this is okay with your mom?” And of course he answered “Yes.” But, drums don’t have many needs. And like most musical instruments, they are quite good-looking. He has gone through phases with saxophone–lengthy–piano lessons–painful–and electronic keys–brief, so I wasn’t surprised to see a new instrument appear. Music lovers all in the family, we two are among the less gifted, but active participation compensates for native talent in many areas of life. (So maybe when he is not home, mom will be drumming?) Honestly, I just don’t want to hear a beginner on violin or viola, but am surely persuadable on that point as well.

Today, the free and serviceable drum set–with the exception of some nice cymbals–is about to be replaced by a Yamaha drum set formerly owned by a professional musician. The original owner is a jazz drummer from Colts Neck, New Jersey who played with the Springsteen crowd. Next time I speak with the musician and friend I purchased the set from, I will ask him whether it really was the guitarist, Richie Sambora, of Bon Jovi’s band, who played at the new set, or whether it was the drummer. Seems that it was Bon Jovi’s drummer drumming, but more importantly for those from NJ, it has Southside Johnny roots. It has history! I really do hope it will fit in the bedroom dormer where the free set now sits. Otherwise we have just lost a family room, where I enjoy sitting by the fire in the winter. Like my son, I am often more impulsive than practical. I knew that I could purchase this excellent set for a very reasonable price. Never did think to measure the set or the space.

Not that much of a realist, either, my plan is that by the end of Thanksgiving break, or at least the end of winter break, he sounds like John Bonham. Something like this? At least his hair is perfect. He’s got the early ’70s look.

Graduation Day! Mixed Emotions


Today is graduation day for the high school students in our district. Some years ago, Michelle Campbell (2007) wrote an article about the students who didn’t graduate, and were held back for summer school or worse yet, another year. Not surprisingly, most of these students were African-American men. My young man upstairs is a bit of an iconoclast, and gave us some (a lot!) of worry about whether he really would graduate. He is a stubborn one, and he is done: it would either be high school
diploma today or GED another day. Nothing, neither powers, nor principalities, nor parents would convince this independent-minded young man to attend summer school. My daughter nailed it when she said that the phrase “summer school” is an oxymoron.
From one end of the spectrum to the other: Some children attend summer school at local private schools, taking classes (presumably not PE) they will take the following year. Why do they do this? To be sure they will get As and into the right college. The culture of overachievement is just as depressing as the culture of underachievement. What kind of childhood is that?!
The boy (technically a man now, at 18) asleep upstairs spent part of his summers running around barefoot in Vermont at a camp that allowed no access to cell phones or computers. Meanwhile, these super-achievers spent their summers in classrooms staring at computer screens or enrolled in Kaplan or Princeton Review classes.
Our school system is singularly ill-equipped for the “average” student. This boy is far above average intelligence, but has adopted a fairly strict policy of not studying for exams or doing much homework. (Calculus was the exception to that rule.) He is not in it to prove a thing to anybody except, perhaps, that he won’t be programmed, scared, threatened or bribed into thinking that straight As and an Ivy League education are the path to happiness in life.
Many of the classes at our College Town, NJ high school are only offered at the accelerated or AP level. AP classes have proven to be little better than the Kaplan courses my sons refused to take for personal and political reasons. The exception to this was both sons’ wonderful experience in environmental science. This class includes field trips and a highly intelligent, disorganized, Canadian science teacher. I confess to never personally noticing that Mr. Anderson is disorganized and his classroom messy. This I was told by others. Shouldn’t a science classroom be full of interesting, touchable things? What I do know is that the ten minutes in Mr. A’s classroom at back-to-school night did not make me want to fall asleep or weep for the poor children in his class. I’m sorry I never took the class myself. There was only “earth science” when I was in high school, and that, sadly, meant that you were on the “slow” unacademic track, heaven forbid! So however interesting that class may have been, my friends and I never found out.
This is not a call for schools to cater to the “average” in the sense of lowering their standards, but to become more engaging, and get the kids out from behind their desks as often as possible.
The literary curriculum makes the skin of this former English major–who took accelerated English with an engaging curriculum & teachers–crawl. Please revise! Why on earth should my son, or any other high school student, read The Girl with the Pearl Earring? It is a fine book for book group or a light summer read, but offers nothing more. Did the local school board or state select this light novel because it is uncontroversial in content? I am appalled. This is but one example of a curriculum from middle school on, which has been gender inequitable, forcing books far more likely to appeal to young women than young men. I loved Jane Eyre, but my son refused to read it. He would not even stoop to read the Spark Notes or Wiki summary. Both his male guidance counselor and his male teacher agreed that they, too, would not read Jane Eyre for love or money. My son reads books on his own, as we all do in this family, independently and for interest. He goes to the place known as the “media center” to borrow books. Why not provide an option more likely to appeal to young men?
College will bring some of the same challenges, but more choices. A major in agriculture will certainly involve writing research papers, and writing up labs, but also, literally, time in the field.
God Speed, my idealistic and stubborn young son. I will miss you terribly and daily. Tears fall as I write. There will be no one around to drink a quart of milk and eat a daily box of cereal. The soccer field has already been rejected in favor of hiking and backpacking–outdoor adventure–but the tiny mudroom is littered with keeper paraphernalia and soccer cleats. I don’t think I will put them away any time soon. The saxophone, keyboard, and drum set are somehow crowded along with camping gear into a small and extremely messy room. Part of me itches to crawl under that bed and dig out some mysterious items, but mostly, I will miss him. But it is time. The University of Vermont, agriculture, environmental science, and ceramics await. This is not to mention friends, hiking, backpacking, skiing, and possibly club soccer. Fare thee well, my boy, my young son.


The Architecture of Oppression

The Pentagon, US Dept of Defense Building (Wiki commons)

The Pentagon, US Dept of Defense Building (Wiki commons)

Fascinatingly, NSA leaker Edward Snowden, about whose actions many people feel highly conflicted, has a GED–a General Education Diploma, commonly known as a General Equivalency Diploma–not a high school diploma. Why is that such a big issue? Are our high schools so wonderful? If so, why the extremely high dropout rates and failures in literacy? Retrospectively, it may not have been the best decision I ever made, but I finished high school in three years, merely by taking two accelerated English classes instead of one in my junior year. High school seniors are still typically marking time, kept in a holding tank where they will (hopefully) stay out of trouble as they mature. The unusual high school keeps the rare senior engaged and interested throughout the entire senior year. This is uncommon, or the phrase “senioritis” would not be a much-used phrase in the U.S. I earned a diploma from a well-respected high school, but I was never a high school senior.

Edward Snowden probably never had great respect for so-called authority figures because he did not complete high school in the traditional manner, nor did he complete college, goes the argument. Edward Snowden has, by this argument–like many home-schooled children and college drop-out, Bill Gates–been insufficiently indoctrinated. Alice has stepped through the looking glass again: If we do not want to live in a police state, should we not all question authority all of the time?

A less elegant phrase for “architecture of oppression” might be “entrenched, abusive structures of authority.” Why should we not openly know what many of us have suspected, that there is constant surveillance of private citizens’ every spoken or written word.

We were informed that every Tweet would be stored in the LOC (Library of Congress) archives. Fair enough. We know full well that Facebook and other social media sites will continue, like the Dementors of Harry Potter novels, to suck every possible bit of information about us, and store it in its data bases. The rules of social media will constantly change, so that we can never keep our privacy settings up-to-date. We can, however, eschew social media. But few of us can take a year, or even a week, at Walden Pond and forgo emailing or conversing with our colleagues, family, and friends. So the government’s illegal snooping affects us all, no matter how innocent. No, I am no Libertarian: far from it. But I do think our military-industrialist Capitalist State has gone too far.

The government exists to serve us. It is a “government for the people.” So what is this all about? Fear. Irrational fear, unlike the perfectly rational knowledge of gun control advocates. The First Amendment appears to be written fairly well, but is blithely disregarded. The Second Amendment appears to be written, as it was, for the post-Colonial era–the British might come back!–and is interpreted to and beyond the letter, in an absurd and harmful fashion, resulting in deaths of innocent civilian Americans every day.

Let us all reread the great, thought-provoking novel about social conditioning 1984 written by Aldous Huxley in 1931, and published in 1932. The government’s attacks on the improperly conditioned, the slightly freer thinkers, is merciless in 1984, just as we can be certain that our government’s actions against Edward Snowden will be. In the meantime, let us not, like sheep follow the herd. Let us not castigate, but rather thank, Edward Snowden for revealing half-suspected truths that we have every right to know.

The Raw and the Cooked: Boxers in Gym Class, Oh My!

The Raw and the Cooked, an iconic work in linguistics and anthropology by Claude Levi-Strauss, demonstrates the oppositional categories that we firmly hold in our minds. The mind/body conundrum is one with which I have wrestled a bit here. Why does this matter? Ignoring the entire grey scale, or should I say “brown and beige scale” in between black and white, is a relevant example. Categorizing people as either black or white, as either male or female, without recognizing intermediate positions, is a widespread form of social oppression.

Naked and covered, or naked and dressed, is also such a category. Why does this matter in the Western world? At a time when many of our young people are being criminalized for nonviolent, victimless crimes it does. The widespread incarceration, largely but not exclusively, of minority youth, damages the fabric of our society. No youth of any race, ethnicity or skin tone is immune to this all out for-profit war on the young. Privatized prisons profit from the captive bodies of our young people–primarily black and brown males–slavery of our times. A new book on this subject is The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. (I am in line to borrow a copy at the local library, so have only heard parts and read reviews to date.) The facts, not just statistics, but facts, are appalling: we are the most incarcerated nation in the world. Not so many years ago, young male bodies were a commodity sent to Vietnam. Today, there is an illusion that those serving in the armed forces do so by choice: some do; some don’t. Those of low socioeconomic status may have no other option, and gamble with their very lives when they “voluntarily enlist.” The voluntary enlistment of guardsmen and women, forced to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, is most certainly a fiction.

Today my subject is not quite as dramatic, but may, nonetheless, severely impact the future of a high school student. If hearsay is correct, a young man changing in the gymnasium of our public high school has been charged by police with sexual harassment. If these charges are upheld, he will become a registered sex offender. I know nothing about this student other than that he is 18, and will thus be charged as an adult. If he must register as a sex offender, his prospects of future employment, not to mention his reputation, are at stake.

This is the sort of overreaction to any minor infraction that makes it nearly impossible for young people to negotiate the world today. The offense this young man committed was not one of public nudity, but of changing from pants to gym shorts while wearing boxers. Boxers and men’s bathing suits cover the same areas of the body. Police involvement in a high school student’s efforts to get to class on time and be changed for PE so as not to lose credit, is yet another symptom of our societal need to control every minor nonconformist act of the young.

A recent New York Times article by Erik Eckholm reported that criminologists agree that police presence in high schools does not prevent crime, but does funnel many students into the courts (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/education.) Student behaviors typically brought to the attention of the principal or vice principal are now matters for law enforcement, and high school students are caught early in the dysfunctional loop of our criminal justice system.

My older son, who graduated from the local high school six years ago, reports that he routinely changed from shorts to pants in the gym, and that there was neither reaction nor repercussion. We must turn down the spotlights trained on non-violent behaviors of young people, occasionally trying to scramble over the virtual barbed-wire fence that education has become. We must save that energy to pursue corporate offenders whose actions have systemic, adverse social effects. There is no one too small to fail. Let us concern ourselves instead with the corporations above the law because they are too big to fail. Much effort is being put into anti-bullying campaigns, and rightfully so. These efforts are focused on preventing harassment and sexual assault among students. Yet adults, and a criminal justice system spiraling wildly out of control, bully an even greater number of young people.

Let us hope that the person “harassed” by the sight of a young man’s boxer shorts recovers in short order. Let us also hope that any person harassed by this sight never turns on the television, watches a movie, or opens a newspaper or magazine, wherein young men seductively attired in tight underclothing routinely appear. Let us hope that this nonsensical incident has already been laid to rest, and that this young man is able to pursue his post-graduation plans without interruption or blemish on his record.