Update: Very good news! Soon after posting this, I was contacted to run this article. I’ve moved the whole of it there, but here’s a bit of it with the rest now on their site.
Here’s the link to the full article, as published on Common Ties. Enjoy!
I submitted the following essay to an unnamed media outlet but it never made it to print. So I thought I’d give it exposure in the place it really belongs: Mental Mayhem. Comments are welcome.
If you scratch the glass
My husband and I moved to the Unites States from Amman, Jordan a year and a half ago. During this period I had to adjust to a myriad of lifestyle changes. Whether it was learning how to use the garbage disposal, handle a furnace, or even attempt to catch a glimpse of the American dream, my life in the past 18 months has been overwhelming and hectic at most times.
But of all the pieces of Americana that I try to acquaint myself with on a daily basis, there is one that never ceases to dazzle me to this day. It is the American high school. We currently live in the suburbs of Washington DC, right next to a buzzing high school. This location has its perks, one being the serenity of the suburbs and affordable rent. But living next to a school can be tiresome, as it brings into our quaint neighborhood at some instances a good share of noise. From weekend concerts to high school football games, the serenity of our suburbs gets shattered as a result of this constant teenage activity.
Putting the inconvenience aside, I have to admit that our location near an educational edifice has introduced me to a new realm: the world of American high school kids. It is a world that I had previously watched in awe from my parent’s house in Amman via American movies. Of course, being so close to a high school doesn’t really give me a full access to the mysterious life inside this building. I am merely a voyeur. I observe from afar as kids march half asleep to school in the mornings and drag themselves back home in the afternoons.
Very interesting, thanks for sharing your perspective!
The problem with American schools are several:
1. Influence from the ignorant over what should be taught.
2. Arguments from the same about “opting out” of things they don’t approve of.
3. A tendency for schools to want to improve *how* education happens, but at the cost that 90% of the methods available are crazy BS that makes things worse.
4. Parents that refuse to punish kids.
5. Parents that refuse to believe their kids are responsible for anything they do.
6. Administrators that cater to *those* parents, out of fear of lawsuits.
7. Other parents that don’t have time to counter the stupidity of the ones causing the problems.
I think you get the point. One thing about most strict schools is that ***they*** control what they teach. That this is sometimes denial of reality about some small number of things that their ideological stances demand they reject is a bad thing. That they don’t have 10,000 different perspectives bombarding them all the time, many of those completely ignorant and stupid ones they never the less are forced to deal with, and can concentrate on teaching the stuff they do teach correctly.. That is what makes tightly controlled schools, like Catholic schools work. But they are as human as everyone else, and when push comes to shove they will happilly ignore 1-7 above, and instead rant about how its having iPods and short skirts that are “undermining” education.
Clothes are only a problem if lack of respect exists. And everyone from parents that *insist* their poor Johnny couldn’t have stuffed little Bobbies head in a toilet and flushed it, to the ones that are so scared to death of other people, the court systems, their neighbors and anyone else that *might* take their kids away for abusing them, that they *can’t* teach them any discipline are actively participating in making “most” of the kids going to them lack any discipline, any sense of respect, and all too often, also undermining everything from biology education to bloody reading comprehension, based on how their sect of some 100,000 different versions of what ever religion they belong to doesn’t like evolution, thinks Harry Potter is witch craft and doesn’t belong in reading classes, or is convinced Geometry some liberal conspiracy to destroy their faith.
We have more than our share of nuts in the US. Unfortunately, everyone is interested in protecting children from imaginary people that won’t to stop them from giving each other Christmas cards, but oddly… not one of the same lunatics is the least bit interested in protecting schools from interference from the flavor of the month from lunatics and liers.
You want to worry about your future kids. You should be less worried about what they are allowed to wear, even if that means someone decides they should be allowed to go naked, than about the *huge* number of nut cases that would like to revert education back to 15th century Europe, where the only thing taught at all is Bible verses and endless lists of excuses for why anything and everything that isn’t found in Bible study is a lie or some form of witch craft. Don’t believe me? You haven’t seen some of the insane BS that people apposed to the content of Science blogs at scienceblogs.com link to as defense of what ever insane mystical BS they think is “really” responsible for everything from heart surgery to keeping planes in the sky.
I am **very** worried. But not for *any* of the reasons normally waved about as evidence of the decay of American civilization.
“When I was a student, I never dared challenge the uniform rules put forward by the nuns who ran my high school in Amman. Wearing for example dotted socks to school instead of the requisite all-white was considered a serious violation in those days. Those who dared to rebel would get the message loud and clear. The outcome of their rebellion would usually come in the form of a physical punishment: slap on the cheek or a pull of the ear. I never challenged the uniform rules. The nuns made it very clear to me. I knew better.”OK Natacha,This is not a good way to learn,It’s called in plain english,abuse and harassment went to Catholic High School in Zarqa,Jordan and i had to endure lots of phisical abuse from teashers =Education and Centers of Learning must be free of any strick roles and control,here is an article I like to share with. It’s very funny
Quite thoughtful and interesting piece. HS in USA have certainly changed much since the 50s when I attended one, the 60s when I taught in several, the 70s-90s when teaching college. Today’s schools seem even different from then, and the differences I notice are many of the same you mention…those are the directions society in the USA has been moving for about the last 50 yrs. I find it worrisome in some ways, but I’m getting curmudgeonly.
You are confusing public and Catholic (or other religious groups) high schools. Kids in Catholic school still wear uniforms, but standards are laxer than they were 30 years ago.
I went to public school, but I had friends who went to Catholic school, and the nuns were pretty strict then. Of course, nowadays, there aren’t any nuns teaching; most of the teachers are laymen.
Christian (non-Catholic) schools vary. Jewish schools also have a wide variety of standards, depending on the strictness of the sponsoring group.
I really enjoyed your essay! Yes, public school students often dress stangely in the US and have very lax attitudes, but many parents send their students to strict Catholic schools similar to what you described in Amman. I teach at one of those and wearing dotted sockes is still a pretty serious infraction, although our students are never physically reprimanded. The socks not only have to be all white, but cover the ankle as well. And public displays of affection between couples are forbidden for students! Twenty years ago, our nuns used to grab ears and smack hands as well, but that has changed, as it probably will in Amman in the futre.
well. you’re right, it’s much different here from there. But I’d like to say that things have changed in here.
In my school for instance, we can alter a little in our uniforms. And no one would pull our ears or anything (this is wrong already).
Relations between guys and girls aren’t that creepy. You can find couples, but they have to abide with some discipline when at school. If they are caught in deep intimate moments (deep isn’t that deep:P) the social teacher would talk to them in a nice way. I really liked that in my school.
About cars, one or two guys i remember used to come in cars to school… simply because they were above 18. But in the states, they get their license at the age of 16, and they are trained when are 15. So it’s not about school, but about the government rules in here and there.
yet still, things are different.
Interesting observations and you can add more to it, and kill off some possibly otherwise boring evenings, by catching on-campus events like sports, band concerts, plays, etc.
This essay may evolve into something really good yet.
You are a good journalist when it comes to news however, you are a bad essayist. I thought the story line was incoherent. Your reasoning was superficial and did not grasp the underlying values in each culture that drive the seen and visible behaviors. I like your postings but you need to work more on your writing skills. Peac
Great essay! American high schools are truly unique and quite varied even around the country. I think I can share your concern about the future of our youth in these places but Jeff and I turned out fine (I think…heheh). The burden of parenting in this culture cannot go unnoticed. In places where children are well disciplined and looked after, most kids are respectful and courteous as a result. In the US, slack parents are easily mirrored by their children’s behavior. Despite being exposed to many great freedoms in high school, Jeff and I both were able to make wise (most of the time) decisions, largely due to our folks good parenting skills and discipline. In a country so full of busy, career-minded families, raising children can easily be overlooked with terrible results. Unfortunately, the clique-based social structure of American high schools carries over into businesses and companies throughout the country, it can be quite extreme in some cases. Freedom here is taken for granted by many, and no place is it more greater reflected, than in the lives of the out-of-touch high school students. They struggle to define their identity so early that they often miss out on larger concerns. This could be true of the teenager in general, but is so much more magnified in America. Their seems to be an interesting balance that many teenagers can strike, perhaps numb to the massive overstimulation of their world, but again I think it goes back to the parents. Without their guidance and intervention, these kids would have nothing to stand on or for.