Empty days.


William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

Related Post Roulette

17 Responses

  1. Avatar Plinko says:

    Great essay.

    I don’t think there are many ‘large rural schools’ in the US. Most children in rural communities attend either a very small, local school or attend a large regional school in the outer area of a smallish city. The latter (the type of school I went to) are generally not much different than suburban schools other than the inapplicability of the part about the community as a nursery – since you’ll have poor and rich kids from the city, kids from very rural areas whose parents might be farmers or who are wealthy folks living away from it all. I don’t think it changes the popularity dynamic all that much, though with a broader base of backgrounds, the possible outlets away from it as you mentioned might be broader with more possible groups/alliances sorting out among children from different class backgrounds.
    For me as a total nerd in school, I was saved by exactly the kind of mechanism you mention with forensics and drama club and an . Strangely for some reason those things were embraced by the popular kids in my school so they weren’t necessarily markers of being an outsider.Report

  2. Avatar Rufus says:

    I think you’ve nailed two things that make high school difficult- you’re locked up all day and herded around, and almost everything you’re doing seems pointless and tedious. It’s a lot like babysitting. For me, the real problem was the administrators- they emphasized conformity a lot more than the kids did, and they could make your life miserable as a result. Actually, it was the adults that pegged me as an outsider, even though the kids were fairly indifferent. I think what I most resented was being “monitored” all the time. Again, I really think it’s interesting how often the high schools here in Ontario let the kids off campus for entire periods as well as the lunch period. American high schools really acclimatize them to surveillance and social control.Report

    • Avatar Rufus in reply to Rufus says:

      @Rufus, Also, I really like the period in your post title!Report

    • Avatar johanna in reply to Rufus says:

      @Rufus, Sounds like socializing with people you don’t want to be around isn’t mandatory in Ontario schools. I imagine that has to make a huge (positive) difference. I know it would have for me.

      Which makes me wonder: is the authoritarian nature of the social life in US schools the inevitable result of having no penalty-free way of exiting that relationship? (I apologize if this was already brought up in Jason’s post — I didn’t read all the comments there.)

      I’ve known too many parents who think this kind of forced socialization is a good thing, a good experience for their kids to have, a way to build maturity, etc. , damn the fact that on any given day you can see some of the most vile and immature behavior going on in that milieu. Trusting them to take care of their own business when they are not in class seems like an infinitely better way to foster maturity.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    If one expects that one’s students will be predominantly in assembly line manufacturing, school makes perfect sense.

    An hour of a boring, pointless, tedious task, followed by a 10 minute break as you walk to a different boring, pointless, tedious task.

    If you’ve outsourced your manufacturing to a different country, school makes less sense.Report

  4. I attended a private high school here in Louisville that implemented a ‘house system’ (yes, sort of like Harry Potter) after I graduated. Here’s what they say about it:

    “In the Fall of 2001, Trinity High School became the only school in the region to offer a House System. Common in European schools, the system, “places students into smaller communities to increase opportunities for student leadership and adult mentoring,” said Dan Zoeller, Trinity’s Principal. There are 10 Houses of approximately 130-140 students who remain in the same House for their full four years. Named after famous Catholic saints, thinkers and writers, the Houses comprise freshmen through seniors. Throughout the year, Houses compete in a variety of contests and competitions to encourage unity and pride. Each House has its own motto, mascot, colors, banner and student-designed T-shirt.

    The House System also encompasses student government at Trinity. There are nine student representatives for each House – three seniors, and two each from the junior, sophomore and freshman classes. Together, they form a vibrant and responsive student government comprising 90 students who are elected by peers to serve each year.”

    The goal is to increase student interaction and to prevent kids from getting ‘lost’ in the student population. One story that was related to me was of a small, ‘geeky’ freshman who was walking down the hall at the start of the school year. An upper classmen knocked his books out of his hands and had a laugh about it as he continued down the hall. Suddenly he was grabbed by a big senior, who was also a standout on the football team and he was thrown against the wall. The senior told him to pick the freshman’s books up and to never bother him again. You see, the freshman who in my day would have never had any interaction with the popular senior, was in the same House and House members are supposed to look out for one another. When I heard that story the staff member who was telling it got a little choked up and added, “We believe that freshman’s time at this school will be radically different because someone looked out for him at a time when he needed it most.”Report

  5. Avatar MFarmer says:

    Public education, treating young people like slaves is a big part of the problem — forced association is awful. I hated public schools and everything they stood for. I leaned more on my own than in classes.

    As for bullying, hell, they force people in these prisons with roaming wolf packs, little vicious cliques, and no way to escape the state-ish emptiness of it all. I used to take up for the victims of bullies, not because I’m a hero but because I was bullied by a violent father and I couldn’t stand bullies- I was a good fighter, so I enjoyed playing the part. Then when the victims wanted to befriend me because I took up for them, I probably confused them even more by shluffing them off and saying “I just hate bullies”Report

  6. Avatar Trumwill says:

    That’s the thing about life after high school: you’re either not locked up with people you don’t want to be locked up with, and if you are stuck with people you don’t like at work, at least “how good she is at her job” and “how well he works with other people” are things you judge with reference to an overarching goal. There’s no such recognized purpose in most high schools.

    And for most of the type of people that read this blog, the truly dysfunctional individuals are weeded out of our workplace (or at least our section of it). It seems to increasingly be the case that it’s difficult or impossible to kick the dysfunctional out of public schools. This is an advantage of private schooling.

    This is kind of tangential, but I think that super-large schools get something of a bad rap round these parts. There are some serious advantages to attending a large school. A school becomes large enough (mine approached 4k) and social groups tend to break apart and the values of social groups become defined more on the merits of common interest. A school becomes large enough and you really don’t even need to worry about the jocks and the cheerleaders. You can find your own group that shares your priorities.

    This is harder to do in small schools. My wife and I have been discussing whether we want to settle down in the tiny town where we live. The small school here cuts both ways. Everybody knows everybody, but if our kid finds himself or herself on the wrong side of the social divide, there’s nowhere to escape to.Report

    • Avatar Mark in reply to Trumwill says:


      It seems to increasingly be the case that it’s difficult or impossible to kick the dysfunctional out of public schools. This is an advantage of private schooling.

      Heh. I can think of a number of guys with serious behavior problems whose parents took them out of my junior high school and put them in private school. Obviously these were rich kids, but private school is zero inoculation against a-holes!!!Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Mark says:

        @Mark, when I misbehaved, Mom used to threaten to send me to military school. I had (wrongly) assumed that the threat was that I would be my classmates because everyone I knew that had been sent to military school was a jerk or a bully. Of course, she was referring to the drill sergeants or whatever, but you get what I’m saying.

        So yeah, which private school your kids are sent to matters.Report

  7. Avatar JosephFM says:

    Not all large high schools are suburban. Mine was, you know, actually urban. (I believe the standard term is “inner city”, which is of course code for “non-white”). The main difference, as far as I could tell, was that there wasn’t really “popular” cliques, just gangs/crews. Which strikes me as being simply a more honest version of the same thing. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writings about his middle school experiences in Baltimore really rang true to me, though unlike him I was really into my studies rather than a space case. Certainly moreso than this piece does, which essentially writes me out of nerddom for being excessively concerned with my appearance, even if only to say fuck you to everyone around me.

    See, I was always fully aware what conformity meant. It meant listening to Usher and Ja Rule and Daddy Yankee and wearing big silk shirts, doo-rags, and tacky Tommys. It meant, above all, homophobic machismo. My problem wasn’t that I was a nerd, I wasn’t even really unpopular. It was that I was an “emo fag” with funny hair and pale skin who never grew taller than 5’5″. There was no way, even if I wanted to, that I could adopt the pose that would have saved me, I’d already learned that it was stupid.

    Incidentally, my high school experience is a huge part of why I am a school reform skeptic. It seems to me like just an effort to force kids to endure worse and worse, and to punish the only people (the actual teachers) who make it bearable. As I mentioned on of Erik’s old posts, reform meant given administrators and the state legislature more power over schools, which in turn meant firing and harassing good teachers who wouldn’t dumb down their classes for the sake of raising standardized test scores.Report

    • @JosephFM, OK, I did bad writing up there. I guess I suspect that there’s a relevant difference between suburban schools and urban ones based on what I know from the city I grew up in, but I know nothing at all about rural schools.

      Honestly, I can tell that I’m running up against the limits of my own experience pretty badly here. I certainly don’t mean to endorse any efforts to write any of our commenters or contributors out of nerddom.Report