What's Your Vision of High School?

 When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school

It’s a wonder I can think at all

--Paul Simon, Kodachrome

The early 1970s was a time of societal foment, with the Vietnam War and antiwar protests still raging, the Black Power movement, the new feminist movement, and the post-Stonewall nascent LGBTQ movement.

But for a teenage kid in Queens—a mere 15 miles from Greenwich Village–most of that, except the war, was far away and unknown.  What’s clear to me now is how little I knew back then, about myself and about the world.

                                            The best picture of have of me (age 16) in high school.

I had some sense that I was needing to live a less traditional life than that of my parents and just about everyone around me. I remember reading Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure in AP English and realizing that there might be more than just marriage that could be an option in one’s romantic relationships.

                                            My high school.

I knew that I needed to leave Queens and my parents’ house to become the person I needed to be, even if I had no idea what that might be. But that urge and desire to break free even made its way into my college application essay.

Certainly my high school years were marked by the war. One of the male teachers acted as a draft counselor for the boys. I attended protests and still have my Stop the War buttons from that time. But otherwise my world was not very counter-cultural.  When I ran for student government, it was understood that as a girl I could only rise as high as Vice President because the President had to be a boy. No one even questioned that.  It just was.

In the current trilogy I’ve written, I’ve created two visions of high school. In one, a private, religious school in the God Fear States, girls and boys go to separate schools where tradition, structure and punishment rule. In the other, a public high school in the United Progressive Regions, students of all genders learn together in project groups and by themselves online. Their teachers are called “coaches” and their curriculum is self-designed and self-directed. Disputes are settled by restorative justice panels.

The juxtaposed visions of high school in my books exist as a backdrop to what we are currently seeing occur in places like Florida and Texas, where curricula are being monitored for ideological compliance, school board members are under attack, teachers can no longer keep students’ confidences about their gender or sexuality, and books are being banned. These actions are designed to erase progress made over the last few decades, make teachers afraid to act on behalf of their students, keep students unsafe, and, in the end, undermine the system of public education.

How we respond to these actions will determine whether high school evolves into what I’ve described it to be in the God Fearing States or whether it can continue to evolve into a system that is student-centered, safe, and educationally sound.

What's your vision of high school? Are we headed in that direction or do we need make sure that our vision isn't slipping away?

Cindy Rizzo is a NYC-based author. The first two books of The Split Trilogy are The Papercutter and The Border Crosser, both available where books are sold.


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