The second report from A Study of High Schools, a series sponsored by public and private-school administrators. It covers the actual conditions in selected schools and gives us a history of social, educational and political forces that have made the schools what they are today. In case you haven't looked lately, the average high school presents a supermarket of courses, a dizzying variety of activities and has taken on most of the responsibilities of parents, society and even religion, in aiding the young through their rite of passage. The schools cater to pressure groups representing special interests of all kinds. The average students, who attend class and are not disruptive, are pretty much left alone to sort out their destinies. They can learn if they want to, or socialize, or hang out and certainly avoid any real challenge. This arrangement appears to agree with all concerned, who have seemingly conspired to set up what amounts to a soporific holding pen. The authors go into many reasons why the high schools are what they are--not always the same reasons given by the media. To a certain extent, a nation gets what it wants and what it pays for. The high schools provide an enormously complicated service which in some ways is quite good, but often worse than mediocre. This frequently disquieting book suggests many improvements, but its authors worry about the institutional and cultural rigidities that can frustrate change. In the ""shopping mall,"" the students are customers, often indifferent to the huckstering educators' menu of courses and games. Distressing as it is to some, to many the system is a paradigm of success. However, the abiding distrust of serious intellectual activity that permeates our schools indicates that the problems in education are more intractable than even the authors realize. Troubling, indeed.