High School Report 6
So apart from Cougar Time and sports hysteria and the TAAS test spectacle, surely the rest of the time is spent on education? Not exactly.
Every six weeks there’s a celebration for the honor roll students in the library. All the students who have straight A’s and B’s get a speech from the principal, the counselor again provides cookies and lemonade, and they all receive a gift. The first time it was a calculator. The second time a telephone.
Since the honor roll celebration begins at 2:30, this day, too, has an adapted schedule. The day after the celebration the principal spends about five minutes of announcements reading out all the students on the honor roll.
Each class meets four or five times a year in the library to discuss raising money for their senior trip. As freshmen they already start with selling tickets, candy, etc. in order to go somewhere in their last year.
Every meeting is the same. Only a few students have done the work they were assigned to do, and their adviser gives a lecture about how they really have to work for it, because otherwise they won’t have enough money to go anywhere in their last year. And then another deadline is given for selling Christmas decorations, Easter eggs, popcorn or whatever.
Well, but at least it’s good that these kids get to go somewhere in their senior year, you say. After all, most of them have never left the county. At least a trip will be educational, their one chance to see a big city maybe, with art museums, a science museum, a famous play…
Nope. The trip they are planning is to Disney World.
Discipline also requires a lot of time. Teachers seldom solve problems with their students themselves. If a student says “fuck” or throws a soda can on the floor instead of in the trash, he is immediately sent to the principal’s office.
The principal has usually “stepped out”, or is talking to another juvenile delinquent, so the student spends the rest of the class hour staring at the wall in front of him.
Students whose hair is too long, or who are wearing a t-shirt that’s too long, or a shirt that’s not tucked in, boys wearing an earring or sandals, girls wearing skirts or tops that are too short — all are sent to the principal. Sometimes the parents are called in to get their child so he or she can change clothes.
Arriving late for class (except after band or football or basketball) automatically results in detention.
Officially there are two types of detention. In practice after-school detention isn’t given, because no teachers want to stay after school to sit in a small room with a student. So there is only in-school detention.
Mr. R., whose primary purpose seems to be carrying out discipline, sits in a small room with the student during school hours. In-school detention can be as long as the whole day for arriving late six times, two days for seven times, and three whole days for eight times.
I’m sure the tardy students get an assignment from the teacher, but that has to be limited. In this, one of the poorest school districts in the nation, Mr. R. earns his pay by reading the paper all day in that windowless room.
One of the smartest students in the school, one of the few who are going to go to college outside the area, often comes late or not at all, because she’s bored out of her mind in class. She gets the best grades, but can usually be found in the small room with Mr. R., because rules are rules.
And then there’s the school yearbook. Each year a book is printed with the official school photo of each individual student, all the teachers, and for the rest mainly lots of pictures of football games, jumping cheerleaders, and point-scoring basketball players.
The yearbook is done by the high school students, under the guidance of the art teacher. This takes place during school hours, maybe during her art classes, I don’t know.
A five-student committee spends the whole year taking pictures, typing subtitles, and arranging the printing. They also arrange elections for the favorites, most likely to succeed, best dressed, most handsome, most beautiful, best athlete, best all round, and funniest.
Halfway the school year the schedule is adjusted again because the students have to have their class photos taken. The girls preen even more than usual in preparation, and the boys take turns putting on the suit that the photographer brought with him.
The second day is spent taking the seniors’ graduation pictures. They take turns putting on a gown and mortar board. A big cardboard background is set up in the library, depicting bookshelves with leather-bound books. A leather chair is placed in front of it and the seniors pose this way, to give it all an intellectual feel.
These graduation pictures aren’t published in the yearbook, because it’s not certain yet that everyone will graduate. Some students still haven’t passed the TAAS test at the time of printing.
The counselor regularly arranges talks about a certain profession in the library, as well as field trips to companies or colleges. Everyone must attend. So even students who have already registered for college and want to be a teacher or physiotherapist have to go to the community college to see a welding class, and they have to sit in the library and hear what a wonderful career you can have in the army, or how exciting the Border Patrol is.
All in all there’s not a hell of a lot of time for education.
(From a letter in 1996)
The next post in this series is about Special Education.
Wow. What an outstanding series of posts. Your account also pretty accurately describes what it was like to attend high school in Pascagoula MS in the early 1980s (except for the TAAS test. Pointless standardized testing wasn’t in quite in vogue yet.) How funny and depressing! Boy, I hated high school. The kids were petty and cruel, the teachers were indifferent, and the whole thing was such a colossal waste of time.
That’s sad. I’m sorry it was like that for you. A good thing there’s internet, right?
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