Monday, April 28, 2008

Do We Ever Really Get Over Our High School Experiences?

I've been reflecting on why I got so mad the other day at Kim's post "I'm So Over Homeschooling". Part of is it hormonal- I'm either majorly PMSing or possibly pregnant. But beyond just my general irritability is the fact that the post brought up old (and obviously unresolved!) issues from my high school years. Now, I would've thought that well over a decade past graduation I would be long past all the petty cliquishness. I'm embarrassed to have regressed from a fairly rational 30something into an emotional teen.

The nerve that Kim's post stuck had to do with the hostility at my alma mater between the "artsy" clique and the "brainy" one to which I belonged. The two cliques ought to have gotten along reasonably well since most of the artsy kids were bright and many of the brainy kids were talented in art, music, drama, or creative writing. But it didn't work that way in my high school.

Looking back now, I think a big problem was the atmosphere of the school that overemphasized certain types of achievements (athletic and academic) while pretty much ignoring the arts. It must've been frustrating for the artsy kids to see the brainy ones rewarded for "playing the game" at the same time their own accomplishments were overlooked. We received all kinds of honors and awards for our talents- everything from scholarships for the ten kids with the highest GPA's in the class to outside recognition like the National Merit program, Who's Who, and the National Honor Society to having the pennants from the prestigious colleges to which we'd been accepted placed on prominent display. They might get the occasional passing mention in the town newspaper for if they placed well in some arts competition but that was about it. If you're feeling like a square peg in a round hole, then you're likely going to resent the round pegs getting all the adult attention.

We brainy kids found the artsy ones to be pretentious; they acted like they thought they were soooo much cooler than the rest of us. They looked down their noses at us for hitting the mall and buying our clothes at J. Crew, Express, American Eagle, and the Gap instead of going to Harvard Square and shopping at Urban Outfitters or vintage clothing boutiques. They were vegans and ate organic food from the local co-op- which is fine except they then proceeded to lecture the rest of us in a completely obnoxious way about how enlightened they were. They would mock us for working our tails off in pursuit of conventional goals such as a 4.0 GPA, 1600 SAT, Ivy League acceptance, science fair or math Olympiad win, and so on. And they would whine whenever anything that had previously been "alternative" or "indie" became popular with the mainstream- grunge, ska, and Lillith Fair music, Doc Martens, Birkenstocks, henna tattoos, metrosexuality, etc.

This type of attitude is what I saw in Kim's post with its dismissal of homeschooled kids winning spelling bees or being accepted to Harvard as "b.s." and so on. To me, it seemed like she felt there is something inherently wrong with these things. And that took me right back to the old stupid artsy hipsters vs. brainy overachievers rivalry of my high school.

If my school had recognized a wider variety of accomplishments, I don't think the artsy kids would've felt the need to act this way. They could've felt unique and special by celebrating their own talents rather than putting the rest of us down for being "uncool". There's no reason why only academic and athletic achievers should've been valued. The system unnecessarily set up "winners" and "losers" with its emphasis on grades, test scores, and admission to "elite" colleges to the exclusion of other forms of achievement. It created division between cliques instead of fostering cooperation and learning from each other's strengths. Winning the Academic Decathlon competition isn't inherently superior to creating a beautiful work of art- but that's the message the school conveyed. No wonder there was such hostility between the two groups :-(

So, Kim if you read this- please accept my apology for my childishness the other day!


Mrs. C said...

Crimson Wife, I'm just so honoured to see this. I have a *really* hard time admitting when I am wrong or have said something in the wrong way.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. Sometimes I think I am posting mostly to myself. :]

Kim said...

Hey, I'm glad I popped by to read your post on why you reacted the way you did and I am so glad you explained it. I think I had a similar time in high school, except maybe I was more of a clique hopper. Didn't know which clique I identified with more.

Anyway, I think I get what you are saying about the way we have historically tend/ed to value certain traits over others, academic skills that translate well to success over creative talents for example. I never thought of it, but maybe that is what artsy people like to feel cool. Or maybe it is just that inner drama student popping out. Either way, food for thought. I do hope the educators of the world, both homeschool and school based are adopting the multiple intelligences perspective. Thanks for the apology and I'm glad your comments helped me find your blog!