Last night we toured my son’s high school. It’s a big place, took over two hours. It occurred to me as I heard yet another teacher explain why “we don’t teach that anymore” how much high school has changed. I don’t just mean technology, (that alone is a serious line of demarcation between then (before internet) and now), but the whole psychology of high school.
I went to high school in the 1980’s, back when the Breakfast Club mentality of geeks, jocks, and druggies reigned supreme. Beneath the labels though, high school carried a certain gravity because a lot of students didn’t plan for college and understood it was the last stop on the education journey. So while their peers planned to pay to do more of the same for several years after graduation, the non-college bound wrestled with different issues: where to live, how to make a living, and in some cases which branch of service to join. It’s as if the brick and mortar cocooned the hearts and minds of young decision makers, and in so doing became more than just a building. It became a place of weight and substance because of the weight and substance of the decisions, and life-events, made there.
Lockers, water fountains, the pay phone, and the cafeteria were all important to the comfort of the day. Whether college or life bound, high school was a destination; a place to learn, a time to grow, a place to be and enjoy (or not) the company of your peers. We moved in. And like owning a home, tended the experience with allegiance, support, and time.
The dust covered trophy cases in my son’s high school give silent testimony to the changing times. The lumbering behemoths house the pivotal victory of every team and player as far back as the early 1950’s. The photographs accompanying the awards are filled to over-flowing with team members, coaches, and more fans than the stands can hold.
Beginning in the 1990’s the trophies begin to diminish. So too do the photographs of fan packed bleachers. Until, after much searching, I found a small case with all the trophies for the last ten years. It is a pitiful little thing and I am sure some might say the “athletic department has declined” and blame the coaches.
But I don’t think that’s it.
In this world of instant communication and techno distraction, high school is simply no longer a destination. It’s a transition, a rental, a place to spin the metaphorical wheels before real life begins. And as with most rentals, the people occupying it don’t care as much as if they owned it.
My son doesn’t use a locker, a backpack suffices. The cafeteria is more café than mass food production. Water bottles and vending machines usurped drinking fountains. And don’t even think about calling the school to speak with a teacher. Email is the only encouraged form of communication.
Is this change good? Bad? Or more, obsolete?
Time will tell I guess.
Until then though, I imagine in the dead of night, when the building is truly alone…..echoes of weeping shuffle down the long dark halls.