Yesterday I watched Mean Girls, and the week before that Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion. Of course I’ve watched a whoooooole buncha movies in which a central theme is how vicious and traumatising highschool can be. There are dozens of them out there. It’s a popular idea.
Further, quite a few of my current friends report that they had miserable highschool experiences. People who grew up in Brisbane invariably agree with the highschool as hell trope. I consider myself really lucky in my own highschool experiences; they seemed to have come together in a process that spared me almost all that.
I started in Melbourne, at an all girls’ Catholic college, and with a number of girls from my Catholic primary school – a ready made protective entourage. I had a really positive experience for the 1.3 years I was there, before going to a Lutheran school in Darwin for a year (there was no Catholic highschool in Darwin in those days). Since Darwin is backwards-hicksville I was comparitively way advanced (& I mean social-wise as well as study-wise), which I think helped.
From there I went to Cairns High, for year 9. The first half of this year was really my only poor highschool experience. I was placed in a class in which all the girls had already formed a closed-in clique to which I was not welcome. I wandered the grounds at lunchtime until I fell in with a group of girls from another class; and the next semester we went to a more traditional format in which we all had different classes for each subject. I made friends way easily after that.
Cairns High was completely different to any representation of school in the movies I mentioned above, and also to the descriptions of my friends’. I don’t recall a single instance of bullying or meanness. We had our friendship groups but we were also all friendly with each other. There wasn’t a single person I couldn’t or didn’t have fun experiences with. The sportos and the geeks and the art nerds and the super intelligent people all hung out in complete amicableness.
I didn’t realise this wasn’t totes norms until I moved to Brisbane for 6 months of year 10. My experiences at a Brisbane (Catholic) highschool slot in perfectly with the misery described by my Brisbane friends. Somehow, again, I was lucky and had several strong friendship groups – but I witnessed bullying. I remember it distinctly because it shocked me so completely. It kind of killed some of my idealism to see one of my close girlfriends (Jo) come sauntering up with two other girls, and all proceed to verbally smash another of my close girlfriends (Kath), because she had crooked teeth, until she cried. They stopped teasing her when I started to cry too, purely out of empathy. I couldn’t get it. I’d seen Jo and Kath hang out before! WTF, Jo? Because you wanted to seem cool to the other two girls?
So glad I got to go back to Cairns High for years 11 and 12.
There ends my unscheduled highscool recap, and now I get back to my point. After watching the two above-mentioned highschool movies I came in to work today thinking about highschool horror. We had a big all-staff meeting day and I sat in the back, looking out at all all the people I work with; about fifty men and women with ages ranging from the students on placement (mid-twenties) to hella old (60s). I found myself picking out the ones who probably had miserable Vs great experiences in highschool… and there were a whole lot more of the miserable category. I mean, I was only guessing, but I think you can kinda tell. The people who aren’t gorgeous or witty or confident in all likelihood were probably even less so as adolescents. I suppose I’m also making an assumption that only gorgeous/witty/confident people have a generally great highschool experience but according to the movies I’d just saturated my brain with: Valid.
That’s when I started thinking that counsellors and psychologists and social workers possibly have an over-representation of miserable-highschool-goers. I mean, there’s the “I want to understand/better myself” aspect that you get over and over when doing first year social science introduction sessions, meaning those people have a self concept of either complication or flaw, which could mean (or result from) a bad highschool experience… unless it stems from narcissicm which could mean confidence which could mean a great highschool experience but I think that’s less likely.
Wow that paragraph got really complicated. I guess, if I were going to write a thesis, my hypothesis would be: It is thought that counsellors will be more likely to report having a negative experience of high school. It is possible that low confidence and self worth could lead to bullying and ostracism, and that following these experiences people seek to explore and understand these factors by studying human behaviour and psychology, and that further they perhaps possess a stronger desire than usual to improve social justice (i.e. so that the poor bullied suckers they identify with don’t have to go through the shit that they did).
Nope, still complicated. Whevs I’m not writing a thesis anyway.