the perfect high school?

First things first. Thank you, thank you to the students, staff, and parents of the Chadwick School (esp Kim Sonnenblick!) for making my visit so relaxing and enriching. I enjoyed the last two days so much!

Now I am in Cerritos. The ride from Palos Verdes here was mind-boggling; a typical LA mild-traffic jam kind of experience. I guess living out in the country is having more of an effect on me than I realized. I kept thinking who are all of these people? Where are they going? And how do they live so close to each other??? The driver of the car pointed out houses that cost millions of dollars that are – literally- separated from their neighbor’s million dollar house by only a few feet. I cannot get my head around that.

Today is catching up on work day, so I’ll keep this entry short. I have a question for you before I go: if you had a magic wand and were going to create the perfect high school from scratch, what would it be like?

Image hosting by TinyPic a sample of cool artwork from Chadwick

Image hosting by TinyPic picture of the ocean, for Meredith

22 Replies to “the perfect high school?”

  1. Students would be able to take classes that interested and challenged them. They would be encouraged to go deep into subjects they enjoy, and to develop expertise. Classes like (for me) math and science would be taught differently to make them accessible.

    Teachers would be brilliant and nurturing mentors.

    There would be a very strong, conservatory-level program for the Arts. There would be top-drawer facilities such as computer labs and a great library available to all students. Poor kids would have the same opportunities as rich kids.

    If there was a social hierarchy at all, coolness would be directly related to smarts AND niceness. So the 98-pound weakling who is inventing a vaccine to help cats and enjoys Strauss and would be BMOC.

  2. perfect h.s. continued

    OH, and there would be a COOL sports program, like you could take surfing or yoga if you wanted.

    AND the grounds would be beautiful – maybe a rambling arts-and-crafts house with a wooded park an ocean view.

    AND the food would be excellent, dishes from around the world, everything fresh from small local farms.

    AND the kids would be encouraged to work in their communities and do real-world things, not just memorize stuff.

  3. Re: perfect h.s. continued

    Blog-hopped here, and had to respond to this. Thinking back, my high school was a good portion of what you describe — the notable execption being that the grounds were anything but beautiful.

    The other things I especially liked about it —

    We had more classroom-type classes 2-3 days a week, more active lab and small group type classes 1-2 days a week, and 1 day a week for pursuing our own interests and doing community service. We had a wide variety of electives to choose from, and for some classes (like math and physics), there were some different options to select from so that you could pick the type of math/science teaching that best fit your needs. For most of my courses, the teachers didn’t fuss about attendance at the classroom-type sessions; as long as you were maintaining at least a ‘B’ in the class, they trusted you to decide whether you needed to be in class that day. Very little of our learning was memorizing — it was more about understanding concepts and how they fit together, figuring out the connections between different ideas or people or events or theorems, and real-world projects.

    Oh, and the cafeteria had good vegetarian dishes in addition to the regular menu. And we did indeed have the option of taking yoga for gym, although there wasn’t anywhere for surfing. The school’s changed significantly since I was a student there, though — in some ways good, and in some ways I’m less sure.

    Even then, it wasn’t truly ideal, although the academics came close for me — the admissions process was too focused on scores for my tastes, access to health and mental health services was appalling, and the administration went a bit overboard in trying to pretend that none of the students were sexually active.

  4. If I were to use a magic wand to create the perfect high school from scratch, I would make it so that you could take classes that you actually WANT to take instead of classes they FORCE you to take. Another thing, I would use my magic wand to make the pretty/jock/preppy/popular kids know what it feels like to be a total and complete ugly/loser/dork/nerd, who gets made fun of all the time.

    I think that’s about it.

    Oh, and I’d make the cafeteria food real, instead of —whatever it really is.

  5. Perfect School

    Cafeteria Food – lots of chicken, lettuce, no tofu burgers, blegh!

    Teachers (and other forms of Administration) – They wouldn’t treat us like crap and like we don’t know anything. They would acknowledge that we have minds and actually listen to what we say. They wouldn’t automatically assusme that we’re all delinquents trying to start trouble and ccuse your boyfriend of doing drugs; we’re just underage kids obeying the law. You’d be able to find the counselor and she would let you see your PSAT scores.

    Classes – I agree with everyone here. I would like to add my own personal bit though. This “No Child Left Behind” thing is never gonna work. Not everyone learns on the same level, and ignoring this fact hurts everyone. I’m one of those people who reads novels all through class, doesn’t ever take a book home, and still makes A’s. I don’t want it to be that way, though! I want to be challenged; I love to learn! I like actually wondering what I made on a test for once. One of my best friends, on the other hand, take notes in class, studies for two hours every night, and still makes very low grades. It’s completely unfair. If they made different levels of classes that were designed to reach certain kids, it would help. I could take a class that challenges me; she could take a class that she understands. There wouldn’t be as many drop-outs.
    And there would be more than just Spanish offered as a foreign language – like French.

    Extracurriculars – The band would have a good director. That knew how to keep time. Yearbook would be counted as a credit.

    Students – There wouldn’t be annoying people that asked stupid questions all the time. Well, maybe that’s a little too far – because then it wouldn’t be high school, would it?

    I’m glad you had a good trip.

  6. I’m mostly with literaticat, except I would add that my ideal high school would provide full vocal support for GLBTQ youth–including group therapy services (one of which would be directed toward queer youth seeking solace from the manipulations of anti-gay religious extremists… especially if these youth have parents who fall into such a category), a full library of quality queer YA and other texts… as well as women’s groups and library, library and alliances for students of color, AND an alliance for white students interested in dialoguing on what it means to be white in the local and global communities.

    Further, there’d be a number of required courses in the “American” history of minority populations whose cultures were disrupted and displaced by the horrors of European colonialism (i.e. Native Americans/First Nation’s People, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Latinos…). In looking at European history there would be an emphasis on the ostracized Jewish experience throughout European history. Gay and lesbian history would also be offered, or at least more than adequately addressed in the context of another American history or literature course.

    Okay I guess I have more… haha. To continue: one would have more options to fulfill a physical education requirement than a typical gym class–these options would include dance, speed-walking, yoga, tai chi, and aerobics. In the regular gym classes there would be no showers required. ๐Ÿ™‚

    For every P.E. credit required, there’d be an art/performance credit required.

    P.E. teachers would have to fulfill sensitivity training before teaching. This training would include an active discussion of the possible presence of homophobia in the attitudes of themselves and others–and the dangers of such attitudes toward young people who are both gay and straight. Further, the right to fluid gender roles/expressions would be thoroughly discussed, including how to meet the needs of transgender and transsexual students (in regards to locker rooms and bathrooms, etc.). Clearly it would also be important then for gym teachers to know how to deal with instances of homophobia and gender discrimination in their classes so that would be a part of it as well (knowing which counselors to refer troubled students and challenging students to).

    Finally, gym teachers would actively remove bullies from class without repeated warnings (thus allowing the behavior to continue to mess with other students). Students would regularly be encouraged by teachers, administration, and counselors to break social code and come forward if they felt threatened in any way by another student. The ideal solution would be mediation… So this school would have many counselors on hand with experience in varieties of inter-personal issues. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. A perfect school from scratch, that would be a majorly hard decision. All the above ideas sound perfect, but I guess I have my own way of saying it.

    First off, it would be near a large lake or ocean. The shcool would have large open windows that overlook the scenery- especially in the Art and Writing clsses that would be available for students.

    Also it should have a student lounge where they are free to do what they want. I know back in the day, my High School had a “smoking circle” where students could smoke a cigarette. Althought smoking is evidntly bad for you, some seniors could relax in there and smoke a cigarette.

    For the education, I believe they should only teach what you really use in life. Such as Math, English, and Science. The teachers should be more undestanding and patient with their students. Classes should be small, because it’s always easier to learn that away.

    Bathrooms should have censors for everything, such as toilets, paper towels,toilet paper, sink, and the air dryers. That way there is less bacteria and germs or whatever’s going around.

    The food should have vending machinea full of snacks and soda, like you see at a hotel too.

    My school has this thing called a “senior Priveldge” pass. That’s where you can off school grounds and do whatever you want to do during a study hall. Only thing is, you have to have all 70’s or higher in every class and have a pretty good attendance. I like that idea.

    For P.E.- I dont think it should be mandatory, like it should be a choice. All P.E. would include things such as the regular things they teach, yet also dance, yoga, meditation, etc.. I don’t think P.E. should be necessary to graduate high school.

    I think schools should aim more at the choices to steer them in the path they want to go. Like for me, back in my old school at FM they had a Creative Writing class where you could write whatever you want. There was really no deadlines, and you read your writing aloud to other students. I loved that.

    But yeah, that’s pretty much.

    (By the way, I wrote you a letter Laurie.)

  8. In my perfect high school, everyone would get along. and there would be no gym class..and study halls would always be in the school cafeteria where students would be offered food all day.
    there would be no cliques or sports. and you can leave for lunch if you so chose to.


  9. the perfect high school?

    The perfect high schoolโ€ฆ hmmmm. My old Latin teacher dressed us up in white bed sheets and helped us to build chariots that we raced around the school parking lot. Later we wrote and talked (in Latin) about getting our togas caught beneath the wheels. That was pretty perfect. Geeky, yes. But also perfect. I think every adult on a school campus needs to be a teacher. Our school janitor was an incredibly great track coach. That made sense. One of my favorite English teachers, a tiny old nun, taught us about iambic pentameter (and much more) by marching us around the classroom while she recited โ€œTIGER, tiger, burning bright/ IN the forests of the night,/WHAT immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?โ€ That was perfect. But I donโ€™t think I can imagine a perfect high school. Bad food. Bad choices. A test with a zero on it. A zero!!! Small pigs in formaldehyde. The feeling that the experience might never end. How to eliminate all that without killing the whole thing?

    Hereโ€™s a look at the Florida House of Representatives attempt at legislating the shape of high school:

  10. School…again

    Oh, yeah! I agree – P.E. wouldn’t be necessary for graduating. And there would be a wide span of requirements to be an honor graduate. Like everyone wouldn’t have to be taking basically the same classes. Someone with a lot of art, music, and English classes could graduate with just as high honors as someone with physics, chemistry, and advanced trigonometry classes. I mean, I’m not gonna need to know everything about biology and all the laws of physics, but I’m forced to in order to graduate with honors. I try to tell people I don’t care about being an honor graduate because I don’t need to know all that, but then they say, “Oh, you’re so smart; you’ll be able to pass these classes easily!” They just don’t get it because they don’t listen.

    WE would also have an open campus. Our school has a gas stastion right across from it that we could buy a good lunch from, but they won’t let us go outside for anything. My shcool’s very anti-fresh air.

    I’d love if my school had a creativ writing class! We have AP English and Lit and stuff like that, but that’s it. It sucks.

  11. Minorities

    Christians and other religious groups should be able to voice themselves, too. People should be able to state what they believe without being called a “Bible thumper” or a satan worshipper.

    I guess I have a lot of opinions on what the perfect school would be like, huh?

  12. Re: Minorities

    Nothing in my response prohibited the right to express one’s own religious perspectives in the public context of a high school.

    However, as I said, in my ideal school (emphasis on “my”) there would be necessary support for young adults who may experience a daily home life where the parochial concerns of their parents know no bounds–where a love of any deity, or savior, provides an excuse to maim the very essence of a young person’s growing identity as an individual who may or may not be queer or GLBTQ.

    At root, there would be a protection of the fundamental difference between religious ideals and the sexual choices/development of a young human being. They are not implicitly, and have never been explicitly connected. To state that this is the case (that a God has one purpose for the human body, to make babies) is not only impossible to prove as universally true–but such sentiments also make up an agenda which a teacher (indeed, my high school psychology teacher) may use to manipulate students to any end he or she desires.

    As for you having “a lot of opinions”… You can have your opinions on your school–that’s the essence of the delightful questions Laurie Halse Anderson posts in her journal. You get to imagine a school as you would like to–and this has the potential to reveal which aspects of life you are very connected to… what YOU find important. Cool.

    Further though, as you can freely answer the question in your own terms, you can also go to a church to connect with a community of people who may have similar religious perspectives as you. I’d be hard-pressed to find such local organizations, which receive steady social and government acknowledgment, to support the interests and development of queer youth in the average American town.

    Granted, I am not suggesting you would necessarily find an adequate religious community in your hometown, or that every church is across-the-board exchangable for another–but what I am suggesting is that historically there have been few dependably queer spaces in small-town America (beyond the local library, independent bookstore, independent movie theater, and possibly local theater community) for a young adult to go to for support. In many towns there is a drought of mentoring, of kind-words and loving-support. Your religious concerns have very little to do with the sexual development of those other individuals around you, let alone with how these individuals choose to express themselves culturally, vocally, and physically (in the terms of body movement, style of dress, or in the terms of who they choose to have sexual connections with).

    Finally: I think that if anti-gay rhetoric is introduced in schools via one’s own religious perspectives, that’s fine to have within the context of class debate regarding politics (when balanced by an argument for gay civil rights and the difference between personal belief and political choice as a U.S. citizen). But when such religious fervor translates into bullying–when this bullying goes unnoticed by the administration of a school in a town which (like many towns in America) assumes heterosexuality on the part of everyone… then there is a distinct problem. Young people, who are a part of a very unique queer “minority” population are not being told that they have choices (though they usually come around to the understanding anyway and come out–younger and younger every day)… and they are often not openly told that they are in fact human, and deserve the same love and support as every other teenager at school.

    Johnny B. might think it’s wrong for two men to love each other but that has no bearing on whether or not Joe and Adam attend the school prom together, hold hands in public, or kiss each other goodbye before going to their respective lockers.

    While tolerance cannot be mandated on the part of the individual, a surrounding world full of social institutions and possible mentors can be structured to include support for those young people in need-IDEALLY. As I am an idealist, still nursing my own wounds of growing up gay in small town America… this constitutes a large part of my answer to Laurie’s original query.


  13. Re: Minorities

    But yes, for all of my ranting… I think it is entirely silly if Christians and other religious groups are being called names. That’s disrespectful, and just… well, useless. ๐Ÿ™‚ I wonder though–if the religious rhetoric of certain individuals turns into personal critiques of other people… then it’s hard to say whether such name-calling comes as a defense or not on the part of those people who are targeted. For instance, sometimes the only way I could deal with a day was to make light of the hardcore negative vibes put off by some of my Christian friends and teachers regarding homosexuality. I might not have called anyone a satan worshipper, but I might have joked about what I saw to be close-minded perspectives on human sexuality… *shrug* I don’t think I would have done this to anyone’s face, nor with the intention of making someone seem less human. But it was a necessary means by which I dealt with daily life, my school, and my parents.

    ๐Ÿ™‚ Again, peace. Thanks for your comment.

  14. Re: Minorities

    I wasn’t trying to argue or anything. Ohmigosh, I hope it didn’t sound like I was; I really was just agreeing. I think ALL minorities – gay, lesbian, religious, cultural – should be around people like themselves and be able to talk about their own opinions without having someone shut them down.

    I know sometimes Christians get a bad name. Some of them are so quick to judge people and condemn someone just because THEY don’t like what someone’s doing but they use the excuse that GOD had forbidden it. That’s stupid. I’m a Christian, and I have gay and lesbian friends. I have friends that are atheist; as long as they can back up what they believe instead of saying, “That’s what my parents believe” or something like that, I respect them for it. But I’ve had people say bad stuff about me and my friends like, “Oh they think they’re better than us because they go to church!” Well, actually, it’s the opposite! A lot of times, we stress because we feel like such hypocrites – like when we judge others just because they don’t believe the same things we do or if we start to gossip about somebody.

    The problem is a lot of times at church there’s so many adults that act like there’s a set of rules you have to follow and certain things you have to believe. If you start to questions things, it’s like, “Oh, you’re not deep enough in you faith,” and stuff like that. If there was a group of people around the same age that were all searching at the same time, it’d make finding hte answers a lot quicker, I think. I had a whole period in my life when I thought, Well, what if the Bible’s just another good story? I could’ve worked out that question a lot faster if I had had other people to talk to about it.

    Okay, I’ve agreed with everything you’ve said so far except for one thing: My religious concern do have to do with the overall development of my peers. Religion can have a lot to do with your culture, how you dress, how you move, and your relationships. When I think about it, my religious beliefs affect every one of those aspects of my life. Some are only in minor ways, others are major. That doesn’t mean religion is my life, either. I know a lot of people I’m around everyday feel the same way. That’s all I really wanted to say about that.

    I’m terribly sorry that you’ve been bullied for your sexuality. It’s horrible that there’s so much hate. Why can’t people just accept what people believe and leave others alone?

    Byes, Leah

  15. Re: Minorities

    I want to say thank you to both Leah and Patrick for this civilized, passionate conversation. I think you are both on the same page about most things, and I really appreciate how you both took the time to clarify your positions and exchange ideas in a respectful way.

  16. Re: Minorities

    Hey Leah,

    I appreciate your message and the time you took to post it. I definitely responded to your original post with higher defenses than were clearly necessary, and I apologize for this (I am always working to be more empathetic with people who vocally connect with the Christian faith–because of my past and my hard-headed attachment to it as an essentializing force which absolves me of take the present on its own terms).


    Overall, I think anyone who makes a root assumption about another individual without attempting to understand this individual via empathetic conversation and respectful dialogue… is pretty silly. Name calling is ridiculous, in any context. It can, however, be good fodder for comedy, sometimes. I mean, how ridiculous does someone sound who thinks you consider yourself “better” because you go to church? The “church” may represent any number of social institutions in the critiquing individual’s mind (whose leaders may actually consider themselves better than “ordinary” people certain terms)… but the truth remains that this critiquing individual does not know what “church” means to you until they try to talk to you calmly and respectfully. And yelling at you about their own close-minded perceptions and associations with the word “church” will do little to break down the barriers.

    To further clarify the point where you offer welcome disagreement: I agree with you that an individual’s religion can inform the development of culture, dress, movement, and relationships–it wasn’t my intention to say that it doesn’t have a presence in the world–and I would never venture to suggest it doesn’t have a strong place in YOUR WORLD. But my primary point was to say that your religious perspective has no bearing on how I relate to or express my attachment to (what I term in this moment) my sexual identity (but which I might also replace with “gender identity,” “sexual preference,” or the umbrella “queerness.”).

    When I posted this sentence, “Your religious concerns have very little to do with the sexual development of those other individuals around you, let alone with how these individuals choose to express themselves culturally, vocally, and physically (in the terms of body movement, style of dress, or in the terms of who they choose to have sexual connections with),” it was with the intention of articulating how parochial interests are–to me–a personal thing. They have no right to lay claim to the bodies of other individuals, or to the root impulses that come through these amazingly challenging and beautiful vessels that are our respective bodies. Wherever sexuality comes from, there is no arguable connection between how you intake a religious faith/morality, use it to assist you consider questions of sexual development as they pertain to you (and any partners you choose to connect with)–and with how other people may or may not do a similar thing.

    Thus, I was just trying to articulate the need for queer spaces which include religion, but also which do not include religion. This is because, for me, when I was experiencing the joys/trials of coming out anything I shared about my sexuality instantly connected in the minds of other people to THEIR religions, and THEIR sexualities. If the point of coming out was to come to terms with an important quality of my “self”–and to share it with those I love–what those I love did with these qualities I shared (none of them new, just newly expressed via the conduit of language) was to selfishly make of them a mirror for their own moral questions, fears, and religious fervor.

    This meant that I received no support from my parents–two people who I had hoped to really build a close relationship with via coming out as a whole person… someone who was not hiding things.

    Anyway. Your points are all so well-taken, and I am very grateful you have shared your thoughts! I apologize for being so long-winded again. I just haven’t really taken the opportunity to express this in writing before–not with such patience and clarity. As I begin to live life on my own post-college, there is much space from the drama of home… so I can really let go and be honest.

    I’m thankful for your reading, and listening.

    Thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Namaste. Peace,

  17. Photo

    Hey Laurie, I finally got the chance to check out your website/blog and what do I see but a picture of my own mask. Mine is the one in the back/center. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for coming to Chadwick- it was awesome meeting you

    jordan (the Amherst girl…)

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