High School

March 4, 2004 | 7 comments
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Driving my daughter to Seminary and then to high school this morning, I learned an amazing amount about the social structure of Middleton High School. According to my daughter, the most despised group is the “Populars.” This is ironic because, as you may know if you have teenagers, the Populars aren’t … they just act like they are. The “Semi-Populars” (at this point, I am already beginning to think that she is making this up as we go) are really the most popular. These are kids who don’t act popular, but are really decent people, usually with a good sense of humor. The Freaks are fun. Well, at least those who are into drama and art. Some people are freaky in a creepy sort of way, and they are definitely not fun. The Druggies come in at least two varieties: Mild and Hard Core. The former are just dumb, but the latter might be dangerous. The Jocks are what they are everywhere. Geeks, too.

Armed with all of this information, I asked, “So what are you?”

“I’m not sure,” she responded. “I’m still finding myself.”

If I had been one of those fathers in a Church-produced television commercial, I would have had a snappy comeback, like, “That’s a process you will never finish, honey.” Or something like that. As it was, I said, “Well, good luck with that!” So much for the teaching moment.

If I had to capture my own high school experience in one word, it would be “angst.” Now that I have a child going through that experience, many of my long-suppressed high school memories have been resurfacing. The fact is, I never “found myself” in high school. That didn’t happen until BYU. And despite the dramatic experience of joining the Church and going on a mission, a little bit of that high school angst has remained with me. Now, I tend to portray these feelings in a more favorable light, but at root, they are about trying to understand my place in the universe. So, while sometimes I feel inclined to spare my daughter the trauma of high school, I usually have enough perspective to understand that these feelings won’t end when she graduates. Good luck with that, Laura!

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7 Responses to High School

  1. Bob Caswell on March 4, 2004 at 3:15 am

    Gordon, I don’t know your daughter but I can guess that out of the available categories, it felt obvious to me that a) she either considers herself a “semi-popular” or b) she wants to be considered by others a “semi-popular”.

    Just by the fact that “semi-popular” is so elevated above the rest gives me this feeling.

    Heck, I want to be “semi-popular” myself. :-)

  2. Renee on March 4, 2004 at 9:37 am

    I’m with you on the angst part. High school was a manic time for me. Of course, I didn’t help it by surrounding myself with music by the Dead Kennedys and The Smiths. :^/

    If I ever have kids, I hope that I can somehow convey to them that life WILL get better. The dramas of high school seem so small to me now. I gave my peers more “power” in my mind than they really had.

  3. Melissa on March 4, 2004 at 11:41 am

    I couldn’t help laughing through your post. I never thought about it like this before, but I think graduate school is rather like high school.

    Instead of being/not being/wanting to be/pretending to be “popular” the trait in question is how “smart” I/you/he/she/everyone is. I sat in a class yesterday where this actually manifested itself to the point where I was audibly giggling.

    Your daughter has inspired me to group and categorize:

    1. The Smarts-don’t mistake them for the “Brights”
    These are the graduate students who are not smart, but think they are for various reasons (usually has to do with prep school instead of public high school and a big name undergraduate degree). These are “good students” but don’t have much to say (i.e. read Bourdieu/Derrida/Hegel but didn’t understand him)

    2. The Semi-smarts. These are the *really* smart ones who always know more than they say. They may not know they are smart for a variety of reasons (they went to public high school, feel restricted by religion, gender class or race), but everyone else does. (They read Bourdieu/Derrida/Hegel and understood him well but who may hold back in discussion.)

    3. The Imposters. These are the students that you look at and you honestly wonder how they ever got into graduate school. I don’t mean this in an unkind way. I mean these are the students who genuinely don’t like to read, who don’t attend class, who hate teaching and writing. So, they don’t care about being or looking smart. Like the “freaks” (above), however the imposters are often really fun. Since they aren’t doing any of their work, they have time to plan parties and participate in all the social events. They often end up with lots of friends. Of course, some of the imposters are just creepy and definitely not fun. (They never read Bourdieu/Hegel/Derrida and don’t care)

    4. The “Should have gone to law-school-s.” (no offense to the lawyers out there)
    The “should have gone to law school-s” come in two kinds: mild and hard core. The mild ones are those who may be “semi-smart” but start to wonder if they really want to be an academic (again, for various reasons–some of them good ones). However, this fear/doubt/inspiration causes them to move from legitimate intellectual development to going through the motions of school until they can actually apply to law school. These “should have gones” are definitely NOT fun for the rest of us. (They read Bourdieu/Derrida/Hegel but only to keep their grades up. They may or may not understand him)
    The hard core “should have gones” drop out of altogther and actually go to law school where they (and we) are much happier. (They never read Bourdieu/Derrida/Hegel and are glad they didn’t)

    Vis a vis Bob’s comment earlier I’m sure it is not too difficult to figure out which category I would put myself into/or hope others would put me into :)

    I apologize to anyone in advance if this hilarity from my little world offends.

  4. Melissa on March 4, 2004 at 11:50 am

    Oh, I forgot the other two categories:

    Jocks: No jocks in graduate school (except my advisor whose nickname is “Jock”)

    Geeks: In grad school we’re all geeks, but it is no longer pejorative :)

  5. Adam Greenwood on March 4, 2004 at 12:42 pm

    Melissa,
    I’m glad you decided to point out that you intended no offense before you analogized lawschoolers with druggies. :)
    The more I read judicial opinions the more I find the analogy apt.

  6. Julie in Austin on March 4, 2004 at 3:01 pm

    Gordon,

    I like to recommend _Reviving Ophelia_ to anyone delaing with teenage girls.

    Like pretty much everyone, I thought junior high sucked. If someone could have walked through the ideas in this book with me, a lot could have been different.

  7. Kristine on March 4, 2004 at 5:26 pm

    Ugh. Just reading the title of your post made my stomach knot up. High school was so awful. I wasn’t one of the Untouchables (y’know, the ones so low on the social totem pole that just speaking to them could contaminate a “popular”), but I was only one step above–Geeky, but aware of my geekiness and appropriately deferential to “Populars.”

    What’s amazing to me is how much that experience still colors my reactions to people. When I go into a new situation, my default assumption is that no one will like me, and so I tend to be nervous and overly talkative and painfully eager. My husband, on the other hand, was a “Semi-Popular” in high school, and he always wonders if he’ll meet someone HE’LL like. He’s relaxed, talks if he feels like it, gracefully exits boring conversations, etc. It’s quite astonishing to me.