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Some Things Haven’t Changed

I’ve been reading Tom French’s South of Heaven, a story of Largo High School in Largo, Fla., during the 1989-90 school year. French spent a year at the school to report on what it was like to be “an American teenager at the end of the century,” “to be growing up when AIDS is spreading and the ozone layer is disappearing and institutions such as bank and savings and loans are teetering on the edge.”

French described the project as “disturbing.”

“It was hard not to be shaken by the realities that the students carried with them onto campus every morning,” he wrote. “Of the hundreds of kids I met, a surprising number were dealing with problems so gut-wrenching that it was hard to understand how they made it out of bed in the morning, much less came to school.”

As I read his words – published in 1993 – I’m continually startled by how much of it could have been written today. 

Has anything really changed since 1989? While the hole in the ozone may have repaired itself, environmental ‘alterations’ (e.g. global warming) still ‘threaten’ our future.

French’s comment about banks is eerily parallel to today, although we might now use ‘toppled’ instead of ‘teetering.’

And then there are high schools and their students. While I don’t think I’d describe what I see at Hidden Lake as ‘disturbing’ some of the stories I hear certainly are. 

And I do sometimes wonder how the kids at Hidden Lake make it out of the bed in the morning. Maybe that’s how little I know about true resilience.

But there is more in common between Largo and Hidden than the dramatic stories.

Take the following from French’s book:

There is Mike Broome, the continual problem kid, whose mother doesn’t know what to do with him. “‘Do you want to dig ditches all your life?’ she asks him. ‘Do you want to be a bum and live on skid row?'” 

At Hidden Lake, there is Zoe Driver who tells her students they are heading for more than that. 

“You’re incredibly hard workers … You’re not going to work at Taco Bell,” she said once. 


French writes,  “Back out in the hall, it’s another morning stuck on fast forward. A crush of bodies, fighting to make it to the next class. Slamming lockers, passing flirtations. Whoops and insults and high-pitched cries.”

I’m always amazed at the complete disregard teenagers who make-out in public have. ‘Passing flirtations’ seems like a mild way of stating it. I think more along the lines of magnets and suction cups – things that are drawn together easily but need extra strength to be broken apart. 

I went to a boarding school in high school so I didn’t need the school hallways for such activities – there were dorm rooms for that. 

But at Hidden Lake, there has been more than one occasion where I’ve nearly run over a kissing or fondling couple in the halls who sometimes pause what they’re doing to say hello.

 ‘Oh, that was nice of them,’ I think.

I guess regardless of the year or the high school, teenagers will be teenagers.


I know that when I was in high school my parents – especially my mother – used to make comparison comments. “Oh, high school is so different now than when I went,” she would say.

Everything was always, in her words,  ‘so different’ –  what she meant by that was ‘harder.’

She saw my high school era through filtered lenses – she saw more work, more peer pressure, more time commitments, more to lose.

But does high school really change that much over time?

There seem to be the same groups of kids, the same teenage angst, the same important school dances and the same successes – ultimately graduation.

I suppose the circumstances, the settings and the gradients for comparison change but maybe the students are actually a costant variable in the culture of education.

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