11/09/07 - high school

In today's excerpt - high school. By the 1890s, the core of the modern high school has been formed—complete with football and cheerleaders—and with educators working to take over guidance of all aspects of students lives, with a goal of socialization and conformity:

"High schools ... were increasingly attempting not merely to instruct their students, but also to offer competitive sports, extracurricular activities and dances, and other social events. By making the high school into a self-contained world, they were attempting to counter the allure of outside sports clubs and commercial amusements dominated by the working class. Increasingly, clubs and teams organized by young people were supplanted by organizations run by adults, often operating on a national or even international scale. The overall effect was to make people in their teens into a distinctive group that was less often relied upon—even by itself—to take responsibility and make its own decisions.

"Team sports, for example, began as voluntary informal organizations. They occasionally had a loose affiliation with a school. ... The schools were spurred to take control of team sports by the growing popularity—and brutality—of football. ... Already, parents and educators were criticizing 'win at all cost' attitudes that, some said, were leading some young men to drink whiskey during the games to kill the pain and allow them to keep playing. ...

"Defenders of high school sports promoted another innovation during the 1890s. They decided to encourage young women to attend as spectators, and later as cheerleaders, in the belief that they would exercise a refining influence. 'The presence of the fair sex has without a question a telling effect upon the character and result of every game played', the Somerville, Massachusetts, High School Radiator reported. Before the end of the decade, female students at many high schools had created a role for themselves at the games: leading the crowds in cheers. That quintessential teen couple—the football player and his cheerleader girlfriend—was on hand to greet the twentieth century.

"Increasingly, educators believed their role was not solely, or even primarily, to impart knowledge. The high school, they said, served the community by taking substantial responsibility for every aspect of the student's life, in and out of the classroom. ... Many schoolmen said that what the school ought to do is to develop character, but what they meant by character was itself undergoing a rapid transformation. It was less a matter of personal integrity than of being a good team player. The purpose of schooling, said Newark, New Jersey, superintendent Addison Poland in 1913, is 'not individuality but social unity ... unity which results in efficiency and is rarely, or never, obtained except by and through uniformity of some kind.' He added, 'Children must be taught to live and work together cooperatively; to submit their individual wills to the will of the majority; and to conform to social requirements whether they approve of them or not.' "


Thomas Hine


The Rise & Fall of the American Teenager


Bard an imprint of Avon Books


Copyright 1999 by Thomas Hine


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