Well they took you from your mother’s womb and put you in a school
Told you how to run your life by following the rules
Told you not to pick your nose or disrespect the queen
Scrub your teeth three times a day keep mind and body clean
Save up all your pocket money, nothing is for free
And you’d better trust your parents cos there’s no one else you see
And then they send you off each day remember what you’re told
“You may think you don’t need teaching but you’ll need it when you’re old”
And if you’re too intelligent they’ll cut you down to size
They’ll praise you til you’re happy then they’ll fill you full of lies
Cos intelligence is threatening and genius is sin
If you could ever see through them they know they’d never win
Subhumans, From the Cradle to the Grave
In the modern western world, High School is the place where young people define themselves. For myself, and many others, it was a relentless challenge to find me when every mechanism pushed me to become ‘everyone else.’ Here are the rules, the social hierarchy, the expectations, the acceptable and the necessary. No one person pushed those ideas, as a dealer pushes dope, yet the net result of the push and pull of every individual for and against those intangibles was quite tangible, a nearly irresistible force working on every one of us. It might have won me, perhaps, save for a defining moment in my sophomore year.
I was quite shy as a child, (or so I thought – later I discovered and came to understand the experiences I had that pushed me into my little cocoon – but that is another story) and so as I reached high school I was solidly situated at the bottom of the social hierarchy. I never got into any real trouble, I never challenged positions of authority, and when my thoughts did stray toward rebellious, I made excuses for why I was wrong. Yet, some part of me must have known I was right – at least some of the time – and so I was gradually drawn into the punk movement.
Early in sophomore year, I decided to take the plunge. There were only a couple, older people in my school with any punk affiliation. Although many of my friends toyed with it, no one expressed it openly. So I was the first. I went home one night, took out the scissors and got to work.
When I arrived at school the next day, I asked a friend to ‘tidy up’ my efforts. We sat on a table in the lunch room before school and she trimmed the back of my head. As she did so, the cafeteria erupted. Catcalls and uproar. Empty yogurt cartons and other food thrown at us. It was quite bizarre and could have been a defining moment for me in any case. But it was what followed that ended up setting my path.
As the uproar escalated, one of the school deans walked out of the Guidance Center, grabbed me by the arm and dragged me into her office. How DARE I cause such an uproar. She could EXPEL me for such actions. If the EVER happens again, she will., blah blah blah…
And then I got mad. How DARE SHE blame the actions of a bunch of bigoted adolescents on me. Kick ME out of school, for sitting in the cafeteria? Trample all over MY rights and MY personal dignity in the interest of blind conformity?
Of course, these thoughts were not well elucidated at the time, but the rage was. So I dedicated myself, then and there, to removing this awful, hateful, weak woman from MY school. It was unbearable that she might inflict herself upon me a second time. Any qualms I had with opposing authority disappeared then and there. Because I just KNEW that she was in the wrong, though I had no data to back me up.
So I found that data. Shortly thereafter, I presented a speech on Student Rights. Citing the Black Armband case(see <http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials /firstamendment/tinker.html) I clearly explored the fact that a student cannot be held responsible for the disturbance caused by others unless the student actively and intentionally incites those actions.
I have no idea if my campaign against her had any effect. All I do know is that the following summer she accepted a position elsewhere and I never saw her again. No matter the reason, I could, and did, count it as a win… and a clear confirmation of my own competence.
Shortly thereafter, the school administration determined that it was, perhaps, in everyone’s best interest if they dedicated a couple of empty senior locker rows to me and my friends for the duration of our high school experience.
At the same time, my entire relationship with school changed. No longer was I there to learn things taught by teachers. Not that I disliked learning, I have always been quite the intellectual in most ways, but I found that I had more important things to concern myself with. Things that didn’t come from books and authorities. I became rather obsessive in my search for human-ness.
Who am I, what am I about, how do I fit with other persons, and how do those relationships affect me. How do I build relationships that will help me be me… and help those I love be them. How do I open myself up to other people and allow them to open up to me. What do I believe? What do those I love believe? And how do the two fit together.
Again, as a fifteen year old kid I certainly couldn’t have listed these questions. And I wasn’t nearly as open to the deep emotional consequences of those questions and their answers as I have since become. But perhaps that is the point. Because I was able to redirect myself to seek these things I became a person that could finally, twenty years later, fully appreciate the consequences of those questions.
High School, for me, was a period of collecting experiences and relationships that later, before and during college (I took a couple years off) I was finally able to start mentally cataloging, explaining, understanding… so that by the time I left school once more, I could almost say that I really, truly understood WHOIAM. I grew a lot as a person as I went through that process. Unfortunately, during that time I also cut myself off from many of the support mechanisms, relationships and environments where I could truly BE the person I was coming to know.
So what does that do to ones soul?