The strange world of the American suburban high school, an incubator in which it is a marvel that any graduates hatch, snappily chronicled by Miami Herald journalist Burkett (The Right Women, 1998, etc.).
Burkett spent the 1999–2000 school year at the Prior Lake High School in Minnesota. She wanted to move beyond the Columbine half-truths regurgitated by pundits, and get a real sense of what goes on inside suburban schools. Is there dignity in the experience? Does it offer hope to its students? Burkett appreciates that she won't be able to experience school like a student would, but she gets right in with the “Jocks and Wiggers, Preps, Punks, Burnouts, Rednecks, Sluts and Goths,” and does her best. What she finds is that high schools are the same as they’ve been for the last 30 years: a welter of angst, hormones, confused purpose, social divides, scapegoating, and often contradictory and hypocritical messages sent by teachers and parents. It’s an environment that confines and restricts—essentially canceling the Bill of Rights until graduation—while urging independent thinking; that infantilizes while demanding maturity; that regiments and practices indiscriminate zero tolerance. Nor is it late-breaking news that students continue to raise flakiness to a high art; that they are wracked by ennui and are “unwilling to be reasoned with or shamed into obedience.” But Burkett brings the gavel down square on the heads of administration and parents for their haywire priorities, and for demanding that students strive for excellence, avoid caving to social pressures, and express themselves, while throwing up as many obstacles to these already difficult goals as possible.
Crackling with energy, Burkett's report is a good dose of high school for those who have been away for a while—turbulent, unstable, and unpredictable, with a company of survivors cast as graduates.