What happened to high school?

I graduated from high school in 1983. It was a pretty good high school, and I learned a lot there. This was partly because of the accidental presence of some unusually good teachers and partly because California schools were well-funded at the time.

Every day I dragged my ass out of bed and got to school for morning classes. With lunch and a couple breaks I did school stuff until 3something. This was an iron rule. Some kids with more money left campus during lunch to go to a restaurant or something, but most of us just didn’t leave campus at all. When there was a hole in the schedule in senior year, I got stuffed into “study hall”, where I read.

We had a lot to do. There was homework every day, and assigned reading and exercises from our textbooks, which we took home. There were frequent tests and projects. At the end of junior senior year, too, there were a few Advanced Placement tests. Since I was doing pretty well academically I took AP classes and passed I think three of these tests. I worked harder and learned more in my senior year in high school than I did in my first quarter at UCLA.

If you left campus, it was likely someone would notice and you’d get in trouble. We had a legendary vice principal, Jack “Bring ’em Back” King, who would drive down to the beach and haul surfer truants out of the water, stuff them in his Chevy, and put them , dripping and sullen, in class complete with wetsuits. School was pretty serious business.

There were the requisite number of hack teachers and administrators, some classes that were worse than useless, a fair amount of wastes of time, and the other things one expects from that level of education, but mostly a student went there all day, learned all day, and went home and did homework for a few hours daily.

My friends from around here who are 30 or younger went to a different kind of high school, and I’m not sure why.

First of all, attendance is optional now. The kids may be in class, or they may be at home, or on vacation with their parents, or doing some project or other, or just… not around. Kids can barely attend some class the whole semester and pass it. I see high school kids shopping at some mall at 11 am on a Tuesday. If their parents are going to Maui for a few days in February, they just pull the kids out and go. One high school here instituted a “ski week” because everyone disappeared that week every year anyway, and tried to tack the days on the end of the year. There was no decrease in days lost.

Since Proposition 13 (please see my screed here from a while back if you don’t know what that is), there’s been less and less money for education. Quite often there aren’t enough textbooks for the students, and more often than not there aren’t enough for students to take them home. I don’t understand how you do math homework in that situation. The non-sports extracurricular activities, especially music, are gone, so those are off campus. There seem to be less classes generally, so junior and seniors have these big gaps in their days, and no one locks them up in the study hall. It’s easier to take classes in college simultaneously (this is a good thing!), so many students go back and forth between two campuses. And finally the enforced extracurricular activities like D.A.R.E., required “community service”, kareer kounseling krap, and whatever latest Young Pioneers thing is they’re being forced to do takes hours out of the school day.

It doesnt seem like there’s that much homework, either. Kids cram for the AP tests (which give them higher than perfect GPAs, another bizarro new thing), but their own classes and homework they view with scorn.

From my outsider’s eye it looks like kids from 14-18 are just doing less school overall, and not doing so in any structured way. Some of this is good news. Study Hall was a horrible waste of time, and going to college classes instead of high school ones must be awesome if you’re academically interested.

With all the blather about how our children is not being educatated, though, it’s weird to see the kids spending less time in school total, less of that time being taught, less homework, less resources to actually learn (hello, books?), and less supervision of any kind.

And the teachers just suck. Horribly. This whole train of thought was started by a high-school age friend telling me that her English teacher borrowed her Spark Notes for Samuel Beckett because she didn’t know that stuff.

Annals of Education: The Spit Monster

I had an uneventful education. As a good student in a well-funded suburban district, I spent my primary school years dutifully studying and excelling without many distractions. Problems with other kids were limited to schoolyard bullying which in retrospect was very mild.

Kindergarten started easily. I’d been to preschool and didn’t have the adjustment issues some other kids did; it was just another school. I was no good at cut and paste and had a hell of a time getting all the numbers up to 20 in a row, but otherwise it was fun and easy. It was the time, however, that I faced my worst adversary in 12 years of education…

The Spit Monster.

I forget the kid’s name; let’s call him Greg. He was a round kid with a round face and a bowl cut. He always wore horizontally striped shirts and looked like one of the Peanuts kids, probably Linus. He was as they said then “hyperactive” and was always getting into trouble. Once when a girl fell off the monkey bars and broke her arm, it was suspected that he’d pushed her.

One day Greg decided that he was a new supervillain: The Spit Monster. The Spit Monster ran around the playground playing a one-way game of tag in which he spit on people. He tried to spit in the face but would settle for the back or side of the head. His reign of terror began at morning break one day and lasted approximately 5 minutes. After spitting on five or six kids, the Spit Monster found me cowering behind the merry go round and cornered me in perfect position. I didn’t get my hands up in time and he got me full in the face.

I nearly barfed. Not sure why I didn’t; I have a notoriously quick gag reflex. Gathering my composure a bit, I ran into the classroom and complained to a teacher.

The Spit Monster was immediately arrested. He was unrepentant, saying only “I’m the SPIT MONSTER!” when asked what he was doing. Due to the seriousness of the crime and lack of remorse of the criminal, he was told to go to the principal’s office, no doubt for summary execution. He marched off in style, head held high.

That was the end of the story for me, but for the Monster himself it was only the beginning. Because the Spit Monster was not going to any punk-ass principal’s office. He knew that he needed to appeal to a higher authority: his mother.

The trouble here is that his mother was not at home. He knew where she worked, though, at the mall. There was only one thing to do. Like Frodo Baggins, he had the burden of a quest, and he rose to the challenge. Stopping by his house down the street, he got on his tricycle and headed across town.

For an idea of the scale of the Monster’s journey, here’s the Google Maps directions. Five miles is a long way on a tricycle, and there are hills involved. Leaving at maybe 10:30 a.m., he arrived in mid afternoon at his mother’s job and announced himself and his mission; he required justice.

Needless to say there was a huge shitstorm. A new policy was instituted in which children being sent to the principal were accompanied, and more attention was paid to entry and exit from the school. The question of how many people must have seen him pedaling furiously down sidewalks for five miles and let it slide was worrying, too.

But the Spit Monster never returned. We just got Greg, and as far as I can remember he never bugged anyone again after that. He didn’t have to. We all knew that he was a Luciferian antihero, a bandit rebel, and the best playground supervillain ever. Today I salute the Spit Monster again, despite nearly barfing. Ride on!

Academic stories from all over

Well, just from my father. He taught English, comparative literature, translation, and fiction writing. Most of his later career was spent helping MFA students write first novels, so he had a low idiot ratio. He taught undergrads too, though, and there were moments. I now present two: one goofy final exam quote, and one what the FUCK story.

Dante was a traditional figure. He had one foot firmly planted in the medieval world, while with the other he waved a triumphant greeting to the dawn of the Renaissance.

At one point he taught an upper division short story writing class. This was mostly English majors but not mostly people serious about fiction, so generally nice kids who wanted to learn the basics of writing stories. Along with the outlining and exercises and other Writing 101 stuff, there was required reading from an anthology of classic short stories.

On reading the final story for one student Dad found a bad problem. He called her in.

“I have something very serious to tell you,” he said. “This story is plagiarized, almost completely. You could be dismissed from the University.” The girl burst into tears immediately. After she regained her composure, he went on.

“Actually, it’s a bit worse than that. You’ve plagiarized a story from the required reading. This means that not only did you steal a story as your own, but you stole one from a well-known author, and one that you should have read in the second week of class if you were participating.” Again she collapsed in tears.

“It’s even worse!” she wailed.


“I didn’t read the book anywhere, not even in the reading for the class. I stole it all from a Twilight Zone episode I saw in the Thanksgiving marathon!”

He gave her an incomplete in the class so she could take it over with a different teacher, on the condition that she never take another fiction class at that university again. Clearly she had no idea what she was doing on any level.

Then he came home and had a really big drink.

Blowing Stuff Up With Mr. Science

If you’re about my age, you grew up with an endless series of school science movies, narrated by soporific baritones, with muzak/porn 70s soundtracks, introduced by professorial types in their studies. Disney did them, everyone else did.

In a wonderful homage to this, Sega has made an ad site for their game “Full Auto” called Sega Labs.

They have the whole thing down, even the slightly out of sync sound and bad cuts. Plus, explosions. What’s not to like?

A place for fiends

From : the 18-year-old PA murder/kidnap suspect is a myspace kid, as is the 14-year-old girl he kidnapped/fled with after offing her parents.

One of a number of tragicomic punchlines to this story is that not only did the star-crossed couple not meet on Myspace, they didn’t even meet at a school or some local teen danger hangout. They met through the homeschooling group in which her religiously conservative parents had placed her. Good thing we avoided the public schools with all that secular situational ethics that corrupts the morals.

The wild ride of the Stag God at 10 mph towards the BBQ

The local Christian college has one of those events where prospective students come and get a tour, etc, like most colleges.

For some reason, they use this as the banner for it on their home page:


I’m not sure why the high school outreach admissions event for a Bible college should be represented by a figure with the body of an Office Casual man in chinos and buttondown shirt, and the head of a stag. It puts one in mind of Herne the Hunter or Cernunnos rather than Our Lord. And why the hell is he on a SEGWAY?