Writer’s Workshop: Surviving High School

It’s Thursday, and the Thursday Ten today is a departure from the list format. Instead, today I’m going to do a prompt from Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop that involves the number ten:

A 10th grade memory.

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My alma mater, New Trier West High School, Northfield, Illinois, featured in the movie Uncle Buck.

I’ve done just about everything I can to wipe the memory of my sophomore year of high school (i.e. 10th grade) out of my mind. Drinking heavily doesn’t do it, I’ll just let you know that because I’ve tried and it just makes things worse.

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. I did meet my best friend then, and we’re still friends 44 years later. (Hi Mark!) And it was an interesting experience for a number of reasons.

Sophomore year was my first year at New Trier West (see above). I had spent the previous year at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, and the previous nine years (K-8) at St. Ignatius Grammar School. In other words, after ten years in Catholic schools (Jesuit Catholic schools, no less), Mom decided to buy a house in the suburbs and send us to public schools.

This was a huge difference for us. It would be nice to wear what we wanted to school, and for me, after having gone to an all-boys school the year before, it would be nice to see girls at school again. (St. Ignatius has since gone coed.) It would also mean dealing with a lot more diversity than we had. Not all the kids would be Irish and Catholic (or Polish and Catholic, etc.)

It was not an easy transition for me. I seemed to stick my foot in my mouth every time I opened it, I spent the year feeling out of place and out of my element, and by April I hated school and wanted to drop out. I was sixteen, and that used to be the point at which a kid could say “screw this noise, I’m outta here.” That, of course, wasn’t going to happen. I’m from a family of educators, and my mother was adamant about finishing high school. Besides, it was eighteen, not sixteen.

One night, I woke up and it came to me: This is a game. They’re not going to let us do anything meaningful until we’re eighteen, and they can’t just let us run wild or we’ll get in trouble, so they need to put us somewhere we can’t hurt ourselves too badly. So, they invented high school and made it look like more fun than a barrel of monkeys (e.g. Dobie Gillis, Wally Cleaver, Frankie and Annette, Richie and the Fonz, the Sweathogs, Saved by the Bell, etc. – pardon the anachronisms). Then promise us that if we do well we can spend the next four years after that in college, supposedly getting the skills we need to get decent jobs. The trick was to play along. Humor them. Find yourself a place in the High School Hierarchy (Jocks, Brains, Dopeheads, Greasers, Socially Responsible, Theater People, and Everyone Else) and do what you can to survive. In just over two years, you’re out of here, and off to college to play a diferent game.

Realizing that helped me get back to sleep that night, and helped me get through the next two years.

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Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

7 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Surviving High School”

  1. Stopping by from Mama Kat’s. What a neat perspective on high school! In the hierarchy, I was a nerd. A few years ago I had lunch with one of the guys who was a jock in high school and I asked him about his experience of those years. He said something to the effect of, “Everyone in high school is so busy trying to be whatever it is they think they’re supposed to be that no one actually enjoys those years.” I guess in some way it is all a game…

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  2. This is hilarious! You certainly inherited your father and mother’s sense of humor. —You are joking aren’t you?

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  3. It’s definitely true in the sense that we’ve created this box to send kids to that not all kids fit in. And we expect them to complete the song and dance within a certain window, but I do think there is a lot of necessary learning that happens in there whether we like it or not. And sometimes that learning has nothing to do with our classes.

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    1. I’d say 90% was learned outside the classroom. There were a few subjects that taught new concepts, but on the whole I found a lot was repeated from grammar school. So much, in fact, that I relied on it to get me through my classes.

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