Sunday, May 06, 2007

High School, a Poll

Please answer this question in the comments:

How did your high school experience affect you?

You can choose, as you wish, to name your high school or refrain from doing so. It would be really helpful if you could tell me the state/ city you were in as well, but if that would be problematic, don't. I'm curious to know about the following things (in addition to anything else that you find relevant).
  • Hashkafa/ Value System (Your high school's hashkafa versus yours)
  • Administration (What were they like? What did you think of the rules?)
  • Affiliation (Orthodox/ Modern Orthodox/ Conservative/ Reform/ Independant/ Public/ etc)
How did high school affect your belief in God?

What did you love best about your high school?
If you could change any one thing about your high school, what would it be?


haKiruv said...

Terre Haute South Vigo High School
public school

How did your high school experience affect you?

It allowed me to grow personally and explore myself, since no one expected much. I read extracurricular material during class, or just day-dreamed. It also left me with a lack of purpose in life and left me to be nihilistic. This is probably typically of adolescence though, but could potentially be dangerous. B"H I found answers.

Hashkafa/ Value System (Your high school's hashkafa versus yours)Administration (What were they like?

It was a public school, so it was very pluralistic. Since there was no underlying single idealistic structure (like say in a private religious school), one had to fend for themselves. I was raised Roman Catholic but left it at an early age. In high school, I was agnostic and somewhat of a loner. I spent a lot of time reading physics and cosmology books...looking for G-d...etc, but I also loved to play basketball, play bass, go fishing...

What did you think of the rules?

Since there were no rules really, I was left to find out life's rules on my own. I never broke any of the school's policies except being tardy. I wasn't a trouble maker.

How did high school affect your belief in God?

It allowed me to explore G-d on my own. It's dangerous when you don't have someone to help you...teacher's to answer your questions, etc. High School gave me the time I needed to annihilate my previous views of G-d that others indoctrinated in me, along with giving me more of a sense of self. It basically ripened me to a personal knowledge of G-d, by first eliminating my previous notions of G-d. I've always been iconoclastic. I think getting to know yourself better, and knowing G-d go hand-in-hand.

What did you love best about your high school?

Laughing with friends and making jokes in class. Some teachers I really got along well with and some had problems with me. I could be disrespectful if I thought the teacher was full of it.

If you could change any one thing about your high school, what would it be?

Smaller class sizes and something that helps build a sense of humanity and togetherness between students; breaking down the petty abstractions, like cliques, drama, etc. and rather, sharing the part of oneself that every human can relate to. High School, and school in general can be too socially structured (cliquish) and can scar people for life. It's one reason why we have all these school shootings and problems. Some kind of mentor system would be good.

Ok, I'm spending too much time on this and need to go to bed, but this is so thought provoking.

Anonymous said...

This study was already done and is well presented in this book:

Chana said...


Thank you so much.


I know the study was done before and I've read that book. I'm more curious to know about people on the blogosphere's highschool experiences. Some people have posted about it (Wolfish Musings, Ben Avuyah) and it's fascinating to read. It's more meaningful for me...

Irina Tsukerman said...

Went to Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn. It's a reaaaally big public high school. Actually, it was a pretty calm time in my life as opposed to my junior high school experience... I didn't have any particular conflicts, and though I often wished that school was much less populated I very much enjoyed many of my classes and learned a lot from many of my teachers, Social Studies teachers in particular.

However, there were several issues that did influence some of my thinking:

1) Extremely unpleasant incidents involving Palestinian students. It was an eye-opening experience in terms of seeing myself as a Jew even in such a cosmopolitan city as New York.

2) Many ridiculous rules and regs. I felt that as a high school student, and a very responsible one at that, it was kind of humiliating for me to be treated like a five year old . Unfortunately the vast majority of the population behaved exactly like that and the rules were created for them. I was really annoyed that public school standards measure down to the lowest common denominator, instead of challenging people to behave as adults. I understood that teenagers aren't as experienced or formed as older people, but hearing about my parents' experiences in schools, knew that there was a much better way towards motivating people than what is exercised in public schools today.

Some of the rules included a ban on wearing headbands (which, IMHO, are in NO way equivalent to hats!!!), a ban on having soft binders (another absurd rule with no real rhyme or reason), a later rule (which, didn't actually apply to me), which made Latin a mandatory class for all Honors students (I have nothing against Latin, but forcing PUBLIC school students to learn a dead language when they already have a tremendous load in other areas, including a modern foreign language, is not a good idea... as I said, something like that works much better in small high schools and/or private ones).

I felt there was no real value system... the values imposed on us weren't really values at all, but hypocritical slogans promoted by the city system. I felt that had high school student been actually taking ethics/etiquette classes since elementary schools, they would have been much better off, than with the ridiculous mottos, there only to promote the high school profile and get more money out of the system. Then there was the mandatory "health" class. The dumbest thing ever, not because it doesn't have its uses but because I feel it's way too late in high school to make a real difference. "Health/Sex Ed" has its real uses in junior high school... by 12th grade in a PUBLIC school, it's absurd and a waste of everyone's time. The projects some of the classes (not mine) had to do were also ridiculous. Having to carry a doll around for a week without ever putting it down, was supposed to teach how hard it is to be a parent, so you wouldn't get pregnant as a teenager. I mean, if ite ever did anything for anyone was to make people HATE kids. Honestly (I'm Haaretz PhD has an excellent post on that subject, by the way). We had several high school pregnancies notwithstanding.

The ridiculous mandatory volunteering project in AP Gov't for Honors Students. Don't get me wrong, community service is very important - as a VOLUNTEER experience. When you're forced to do it, you have every minute of it on principle. And you don't learn anything from having to help random strangers you care nothing about. I felt that my college and law school (which are very much into humanitarian causes) has brought a much more success in that area, by encouraging people to volunteer and teaching people about very interesting projects with a lot of choices for everyone - but never forcing anyone to do anything. As a result, our university is well known for the alumni dedicated to its service, while the public school system in New York City is rightfully deplored even by good students from generally good high schools.

Sorry for the rant, once I started remembering what I didn't like I couldn't really stop.

My experience, although not an altogether negative one, made me decide that there's no way I'm sending my children to public schools. As for my own belief in G-d, I felt the high school environment wasn't very conducive to faith at all, because everything was... I'm not even sure how to describe it, but it was extremely heterogeneous, and it was hard to believe in anything in that kind of environment. I was an agnostic, much closer to atheism than theism or even TRUE agnosticism, until I started Fordham, ironically a Jesuit university.

What would I change... what wouldn't I? I'd encourage the building of more schools in Brooklyn to create smaller/magnet classes. They have money to do it in the Bronx for political reasons, but not elsewhere, though it's just as needed!

I'd allow the teachers to exercise much more discretion in terms of conducting the class and in terms of education.

I'd stop dumbing down the material. I would encourage higher standards of class level for everyone, not just honor students (we did have one very positive aspect - and that's a huge choice of AP level courses, which would give us college credit and were much more challenging than what the average student was getting).

As for religion, obviously there's the separation of church and state issue, so I don't think there's anything really to be done in a huge heterogeneous school in New York in NYC in terms of that. But I would include classes in the HISTORY of various religions and philosophy, which they used to teach before I came in (at least philosophy), but stopped for whatever reasons. I would also teach ethics classes, since we do need SOME common values to function as a society, no matter where we are.

To end on the positive note, many of my teachers were wonderful, and open-minded, and went far and beyond in terms of devoting their time to explain the material and talk in depth about issues of interest and not just what was mandated by the city. They also had wonderful creative projects in the humanities program I participated in, which was an incredibly fun and useful learning experience for someone like me. I just wish I had even more of that. In terms of academic standards, I think that public high school was much stronger than most non-specialized schools in the city.

Thomas Forsyth said...

Hello, I discovered your blog through Irina and the poll makes me nostalgic.

I myself went to De La Salle High School in New Orleans, Louisiana.

How did your high school experience affect you?

It was the highlight of my youth, a perfect transition from a miserable to childhood to a fairly happy adolescence. It was vastly better than grade school and I had a chance to excel. It also inspired me to pick a Univeristy run by the same order as my HS.

Hashkafa/ Value System (Your high school's hashkafa versus yours)Administration (What were they like?

My HS was Catholic and run by the Christian Brothers. There was a strong emphasis on education and educating the whole person, but the Principal Br. Jeffrey was very anti-competition so he wanted to de-emphaisze promotion of competiion, which I as a conservative naturally opposed :)

The values were softened a bit from teh stories i heard a decade earleir where the Brothers would use corporal punishment, plus my HS went coed my Freshman year changing the very identity of the school, but in a positive way.

One very positive aspect was that many faculty would challenge us to do the right thing, as if daring us to prove we can acomplish goals.

What did you think of the rules?

Rules were better than my grade school. For my eighth grade year, I had no uniform, but a dress code. The highlight was that I got to wear dark socks. In grade school I wore a khaki uniform and white socks, so I was ecstatic I got to wear dark socks. My frehsman year went to uniforms because we went coed and teh uniform was a kind of Office casual with a white oxford cloth shirt and gray slacks, or a gray skirt for females.

Other ruels were against not only fighting but inciting them. While Br. Jeffrey was pretty liberal, he was tough on enforcing standards and turned the shool around, especially with a drug problem in the late 80s where my HS was called Deal and Sell as well as Deal a Drug.

How did high school affect your belief in God?
My own beliefs were there and I grew more devout and traditional, but that was independent of High School and was more tied to my increasingly conservative views at the time.

A lot has changed in my views of G-d especially with my Catholic beliefs falling apart and my eventualy decision to become Jewish (still in progress). It was more College and later the Army that effected these changes than HS.

What did you love best about your high school?
It was a refuge from home. My parents were seperated and later divorced my sophomore year, so I was happy tso aty lonegr in HS where I participated in extra carriculars and went home at night after doing homework. I also loved that I could take the streetcar to HS and I only needed to rely on myself to get there. It was my first tatste of independence and responsibility, and I did well.

If you could change any one thing about your high school, what would it be?

Well, the teachers were underpaid and I know that was necessary so my tuition could be affordable, but too many good teachers had to leave for better jobs paywise, unless they were trust funders....I can't think of any.

I wish that optiosn liek AP were available in my tiem there, but they didn't come about until after I graduated. I can't think about too much else as I actually had fonder memories of HS than College (this was due to me transferring in the middle of my College career and issues with my mother, which are wholly unrelated).