The day after our local graduation made me pause and consider high school for the first time in a long while, an interesting article arrived in the June 20 issue of Time. In “Life After High School,” Annie Murphy Paul says, “We’re obsessed with those four years. But new research shows we’re not defined by them.”
“Obsessed” will seem an appropriate word if you follow and enjoy popular media as I do. Think of Rebel Without a Cause, Grease, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club, and any number of recent TV shows, some of which I really enjoyed, like Buffy and Joan of Arcadia. Think of all the new authors piling into young adult fiction. Think of Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” or “Married With Children’s” Al Bundy, whose life has been downhill since the day when he caught three touchdown passes (or was it four?).
At the core of Annie Paul’s article are a number of studies, now yielding results, on high school experience as a predictor of futures. The longest running study, sponsored by the National Institute of Aging, followed 10,000 members of the class of 1957 in Wisconsin for 50 years. There seem to be correlations, but they are not all that clear cut. “Coveted as they are in high school, brains and popularity get you only so far in the real world,” says Paul.
Author Alexandra Robbins coined the term, “quirk theory,” to explain the fact that, “Many of the differences that cause a student to be excluded in school are the identical traits or real-world skills that others will value, love and respect…in adulthood and outside the school setting.” In her recent book, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth, Robbins says, “I’m still a dork,” but believes that helps her connect with those she was interviewing and her readers.
Nothing is fixed, the various researchers seem to be saying, except the ideas we may hold of ourselves. Such considerations may have motivated a University of Virginia psychologies to say, “Our work shows that popularity isn’t all that important. The key is finding a group of people with whom you can feel at ease being yourself.”
In that respect, nothing much has changed.