High School Hierarchies Suck
Ah skepticism. How else would we prevent ourselves from falling victim to quacks and charlatans, astrologers and psychics, hoaxers and scammers?
But there are other things the virtues of criticially questioning things can be applied to. For example, long-held traditions considered to be socially acceptable. I speak of something pertinent, it seems, to all teenagers: freshmen hostility.
I am now a sophomore in high school, and I’ve moved up only slightly on the hierarchy that is the high school caste system. As is to be expected I get a lot of rubbish from other students just because they feel like being rude, but it’s nothing like the hostility I was given last year as a freshman.
I was tall at the time so I wasn’t recognized as a lowly ninth grader most of the time and could avoid most of the verbal and physical flogging, but if I wore the “freshmen T-shirt” which has my graduation year of 2011 on it, things would change.
“Oh, hello freshman” I’d be greeted with a snooty snear.
“It’s almost like the freshmen want to be beat up” somebody said to their friend, loud enough so I could hear.
Seniors still threaten to “beat you down” if you don’t respect their “coolness”.
At football games “go home freshmen” is still chanted, and freshmen aren’t allowed to (or at least supposed to) sit with the upper classmen.
There’s even a tradition, disturbingly, of throwing plastic forks and knives at the freshmen.
It is thankfully quite clear that not all upperclassmen behave in this way to freshmen. I had loads of upperclassmen friends who didn’t care what grade-level I was. It would be absurd for me to say “all upperclassmen are arrogant bullies” and then say that upperclassmen shouldn’t say “all freshmen are stupid fools”. When I say refer to upperclassmen in this post, I mean the actions of some upperclassmen, not all.
Though not all upperclassmen are jerks, however, a lot of them do participate in anti-freshmen hostility and you know who you are. I’m sorry to say that there has even been a touch of anti-freshmenism on this blog, and I really hate to point a finger at a fellow ‘lil skepchick, but it has happened. I’m concerned with the action, not pointing fingers, so if you don’t commit the actions I’m writing about don’t feel like I’m talking at you directly.
Of course the best thing you can do if you’re a freshman is to not let it get to you, to ignore it, unless it’s a physical threat in which case you should tell your dean. For the most part, this doesn’t do much damage… but there is still no justification to act like elitist¹ jerks to somebody just for being at a lower grade level.
Just because somebody’s older and has been in high school longer doesn’t make them better than the younglings. It definitely does not mean that you have accomplished more.
When I ask upperclassmen why they’re jerks to freshmen I usually hear something along the lines of:
Freshmen are annoying, they’re stupid, (insert anecdote here about a freshman), blah blah blah blah blah.
Racism in this country used to be many times more rampant than it is today. Blacks were addressed with degrading terms like “boy” and a lot of other nasty words and racial slurs that I won’t repeat here. They weren’t allowed to sit with whites on a bus or train. They were lynched (hung) just for being a black.
Ask a racist person why they don’t like blacks and they’ll probably give you a reason similar to:
“They’re uppity, they’re annoying, they’re stupid, (insert anecdote here about a black person), blah blah blah.”
Anti-freshmenism doesn’t go as extreme (at least I have yet to hear about seniors hanging freshmen students) but there are a lot of similarities here which I don’t think should be ignored. It comes down to stereotypes, grouping people together and passing judgment based on some irrelevant trait.
Undoubtedly there are some annoying black people, and undoubtedly there are just as many annoying white people. Undoubtedly there are some annoying freshmen, and undoubtedly there are some brilliant freshmen. You judge people based on their actions², not their grade level.
To throw in my own little anecdote of how not all freshmen are stereotypically dumb and annoying, when I was a freshman I first started blogging. I had dinner with Richard Dawkins and bowled him over. I had my fifteen minutes of fame on Phil Plait’s blog. If half of those upperclassmen who were being slug-faced bullies could testify to impressing two of their intellectual heroes… wait. The majority of them can’t. They’re being elitists just because they’ve gone through three more years of high school, not necessarily because they’ve accomplished more.
One last thing…
“But it’s traditional! And we went through the same thing! It’s just an initiation…”
Even more rubbish. It’s traditional³ in certain parts of the world to perform female circumcision, a bloody, painful proceedure that forever takes away the girl’s ability to enjoy sex.
So you went through the same thing. So did I. But what have the new freshmen done to you? Even if they had done something to you Jesus taught us to forgive. I’m not a Christian, but it’s a good lesson we need to pay more attention to.
And as for it being an initiation, can somebody please show me a good peer-reviewed research study that included a control showing that freshmen who got beat up did better academically somehow? For all I know, it might, but until you prove it don’t let the burden of proof you have failed to meet squish you under its weight.
There is nothing whatsoever justified about this sort of behaviour. But look, I seriously doubt the problem could be erradicated forever but at least some of us might get our awareness raised to this sort of thing and stop doing it. When something’s the norm it’s hard to realize that it might not be right, but once we realize it somebody has to put their foot down and say “I’m not going to do this anymore.”
Why can’t we just get along?