Paradoxical school culture shapes character


As seen in the Nov. 26 issue
Zoe Kenealy, staff writer
Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 6.09.16 PM
When I moved to Beverly Hills the summer before my freshman year, I was blissfully unaware of what I was getting myself into. The next four years of my life would be challenging on a level that I would have never expected.
It was the first day of school, and my older brother and I were walking across the front lawn up to Beverly’s two front doors. When we reached the doors my brother asked me the expected, “Are you nervous?”
I had been itching for him to ask me this. I knew that he was worried about the big day being too much for ninth-grade Zoe to handle, and I wanted to convince him otherwise. Because in actuality, even though I was unaware of what lay ahead, I was confident in my ability to take on high school without struggle. In fact, for him to question if I was nervous was somewhat of a criticism of me. How could he think so little of me as to even consider that I could be nervous for my first day? Before he could finish his sentence I answered with a snicker and a “no” and walked into the first day of the next four years of my life. Had I known what the four years were going to be like when he asked me, labeling me as nervous would have been quite the understatement.
High school is one big whirlpool that spits every one of its victims out a different person, and my brother, a junior at the time, was aware of that. The cliché of high school being one’s formative stage is entirely valid, and the effect that experiencing high school culture has on people is, in fact, not overstated. This, of course, would have gone against the notion I had going into high school of the cliché existing simply because of its appearance in the movies. But what is it about high school’s cruel culture that changes teenagers so considerably by the end of their senior year, and leaves 12th-grade Zoe knowing that ninth-grade Zoe had been completely mislead?
The culture that exists in the cliché of the high-school experience is in fact a paradox — or at least very hypocritical. High school is known to be a time to make mistakes, find out whom you want to surround yourself with, express whoever you think you are and find out what makes you different from the rest; in other words, the formative years. While this is accepted, however, the culture of high school is also one of the most judgmental and selective you will ever encounter. While it is important to be different, you can’t dare to be too different without experiencing some form of ridicule. While being yourself is commended, you should not be too much of yourself if that self is too different from the rest. Whether it is your taste in music, your style or the goals that you set for yourself, if you want to play it safe in high school and receive minimal criticism, “fitting in” seems to be the answer.
It is this desperate need to fit in and receive minimal judgment from others that forces many people into large cliques in which they can feel safe in, giving them the false confidence to mock the ones who choose not to join, or are simply not allowed to. Although it may come as a surprise, it is this hypercritical nature, or culture, of high school that curiously does teenagers a favor. The favor is that of allowing teenagers the self-revelation that they hope to have at some point between their first day of school and graduation day. Because when you are criticized, you either realize the fault in your doing or regard the judgmental comments as merely pitiful. Out of this comes the “formative process” — the time when life forces you to learn that, “it is a tough world out there,” and that, despite the ensured snide remarks and dirty looks, some qualities are not going anywhere because you actually do not want them to.
At times, high school culture can be unpleasant and threatening, but at other times captivating and rewarding. The peaks and valleys of experiencing the culture is what teaches teenagers both what they want and do not want to see in themselves. It carves the chunks of clay that teenagers are when entering high school, so that by the end of the experience their work-in-progress selves can have at least the slightest idea of what each of their finished-masterpiece selves are supposed to look like.
This is not to say that bullying and judging are good things to do, but rather to give valid reason as to why the brutal culture of high school can be looked at in a not-so-brutal way. To speak of another cliché, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and this can also be said for the criticism that high school culture is likely to throw in your face. Because although the reality of high school would have made a ninth-grade Zoe too afraid to show up to her first day, the extremely lambasted, senior Zoe has learned to appreciate even the harshest, non-constructive criticism as something to laugh at. However, that quality is acquired, and a part of senior culture — a completely different topic.