Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Today's lesson: honesty, satire not wanted

Students at a "visual and performing arts magnet" high school in St. Louis produced a yearbook full of "offensive" and outré references, so officials recalled the publication, even offering a $15 bounty for copies. The yearbook had kids making hand gestures associated with street gangs and photo captions describing students as most likely to become a stripper, a porn star, or a bum.

I'm of two minds. It sounds to me like the project was rife with parody on the one hand, and showed students' true lives and/or what they desire or fear, on the other. As such, it is probably a valuable document of the student body's subconscious. But even taken at face value, it sounds like they threw themselves into it and had fun -- but now the adults are saying, oops, you had too much fun, you aren't supposed to show what you really think and feel, must abort, abort, abort.

On the other hand, the project may also have instances of -- I'm just guessing, but having taught high school I have a pretty good idea -- mocking the weak, fag-baiting, and so forth -- people who can't really defend themselves. And those students don't deserve to have their high school careers summed up in such negative terms.

Adolescents -- you can't control them. For better or worse, they can be stunningly brilliant, or shockingly cruel and horrid. Sometimes in the same breath.

I've often thought that the modern high school is one of the worst ideas ever. It works for, maybe, 15% of the students. The other 85% is made up of loners, losers, geeks and dweebs, latent criminals, kids who would be terrorists if they grew up in another country, but also kids who could be fantastic artists, dancers, writers, sculptors, farmers, builders and so on, and they don't need to sit around in classrooms for years on end, they need to start now on their life's work.

But what happens is that all these kids are thrown together in what we call "high school," half factory and half minimum-security prison, and expected to learn "the basics." Is it any wonder they produce a satirical yearbook? We're lucky they didn't burn the whole place down.

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