Sunday, May 07, 2017

[Rant] My Old School

A year after it happened, word dribbled down to me that my high school -- Southfield-Lathrup High -- was closing. Although the building will still house a high school it won't be the one I went to. It is being replaced by what appears to be a some sort of "college prep" track school. Time for more reminiscing.

When I was a teen, there were two public high schools in Southfield, Michigan: Southfield High, and Southfield-Lathrup High. 1) Southfield High was older and pretty damn close to the Detroit border. It was not a nice place and kept an on-site police presence (a rarity in the suburbs in those days). 2) Southfield-Lathrup High (my alma mater), was newer, cleaner, further from Detroit and therefore more safe. It was a standard issue late 70s high school. Freaks and Geeks featured a mid-Michigan suburban high school of that era and got it pretty much correct.

Southfield-Lathrup is now University High School and claims a "rigorous and differentiated college preparatory curriculum" making it the spot for anyone with promise. Southfield High is now Southfield High School for Arts and Technology whose mission is "To prepare all students with the knowledge and skills necessary to become life-long learners and contributing members of a global society" so it's the place for average joes. And there is now a third option, Southfield Regional Academic Campus which "houses two programs designed to graduate students on-time with their class," meaning this is not where you want to be.

Perhaps apropos of nothing, despite the use of multi-racial stock footage on their websites, all three schools are effectively entirely black. As is Southfield itself. It is in fact, often cited as a prime example of a successful, predominantly black, middle-class suburb.

When I was in high school, everything was about inclusiveness and diversity. We had various programs to force kids of all stripes to interact in the hopes of increasing empathy. As far as I remember there was no effort to differentiate kids academically in any way as that would have been -- elitist? divisive? I don't know, but the supposition was that by forcing you to interact with kids who were not of your ethnicity, economic class, or academic level, you would learn tolerance and understanding. (Mind you this was 1974-1978, a time which popular culture today would have you believe was only marginally better than slavery.) We believed doing such things made us good people, even though forcing kids into those situations probably caused more resentment and hostility than tolerance. It was akin to forcing bully and victim together in the hopes they would come to respect and appreciate each other. It's not how life works, but that wasn't what counted. We were being good. It was all very well intentioned, as most counterproductive public policies are. Happily, I don't think anyone sees much value in that sort of thing anymore. But we still have to believe everyone just needs time together to understand each other to achieve harmony or we are no longer good. How do we reconcile this? How do we stop strong-arming kids into bitter inclusiveness but not abandon the principle we value so much?

The answer is through words. If we can no longer separate kids based on ethnicity or social class or intellect, we can on the basis of their goals. It's pretty clear that if you are an ambitious, capable child with engaged parents who is headed for college you are going to shoot for University High School. If your future amounts to some classes at the community college before you end up working in a mediocre public works job, meanwhile you're just happy to play on the basketball team and hang with your friends, you'll end up at Southfield Arts and Tech. If you're measurably dysfunctional or an outright criminal, you'll end up at the Academic Campus where, unless you are one of the unlikely few who straightens up, you will be looked after for a few hours a day to keep you out of trouble until your eighteenth birthday at which point you'll likely end up in and out of jail for the rest of your life.

In other words, we have successfully segregated the students (a practical need) and we have done it without referring to their social status or native intelligence (so we can still be good). If you think the spectrum of students at the three schools won't accurately track IQ and socioeconomic status, you're fooling yourself, but since the differentiation is based on academic goals -- college prep or fair-to-middlin' or avoid-arrest -- we're covered, we can still be good in our own eyes. Aren't we clever these days? I mean that sincerely. I think is good and positive and frankly I wish we had something like this back when I was in there. The plain reason being that troubled students will drag the good students down, but good students do not elevate bad students -- either academically in the realm of socialization -- as everybody hopes and dreams will happen.

That is, I think, one of the very important lessons I learned in high school: On equal terms, bad destroys good. The barbarians are always at the gate.

The fact that the school district is mono-racial makes this a lot easier. If the college track was mostly Asian, the standard track mostly White, and the remedial track mostly Black, all Hell would break loose. Had this been tried during my years there, the college track would have been majority Jewish and wealthier Gentiles, the standard track solidly middle class Gentile, and the remedial track split between the poorer Gentiles and Chaldeans (there were never more than one or two Asians or Blacks in my day). Had we let that happen we would not have been good people, would we?

Theoretically, as you get older, your memories are supposed to mellow. If anything, my feelings about high school have gotten worse. I have zero good memories from high school. Not a single one. Not a friendship or a teacher stands out as a valued memory. To me, it was nothing but a frothing pit of delusion, dysfunction, and sociopathy as described above. The only thing of value I got from my time there was the strength that comes from something that doesn't kill you. I never returned after I graduated and am glad it's gone now. Good riddance, Southfield-Lathrup High School.