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Chapter 4—My School Life—Abnormal, but Satisfa

(2008-08-20 11:37:00)


Confessions of an American Nerd

Chapter 4—My School Life—Abnormal, but Satisfactory

Kate Wang


       I don’t like school. Surprise! But, you say, why do I do well in it? Well, doing well in it and liking it are two different things. School institutionalizes, regulates and shapes knowledge according to “rules”. For me, the pursuit of knowledge should come through individual creativity and interest. I think certain aspects of school are interesting, but I don’t like it. In any case, although my high school is better than most, the very sight of the ugly, plasticky clock at the front of the school inspires a sickeningly depressing feeling in my stomach every morning. Okay, okay, I’m exaggerating, because actually, my school is not as bad as I’d like it to seem. It received a complete makeover a couple years ago, complete with babyish pastel paint that summons visions of elementary schools. We also got a cavernous auditorium/performance hall, 2 squeaky new gyms (plus a weight room), clean locker rooms with rust-free showers, and a swanky technology building with sky-high ceilings. Oh, and an elevator! Yes, you must be drooling with envy at these beautiful amenities, and you should. My school is extremely lucky to have such wonderful thing, but unfortunately, most people don’t appreciate them.

       The main complaint I have about my schoolmates is their infuriating lack of appreciation for our school and their overly disrespectful behavior towards our facilities, and sometimes, our teachers. Within a few months, the spotless bathrooms had nasty words written on the doors and the ground was littered with chunks of hardened gum. Stupid seniors twisted the drinking fountain faucets so water sprays would hit poor, unsuspecting freshmen in the face. Shamelessly smooching couples and giggling cliques clogged the hallways, which were already straining to support the increasing student population. Bored, immature boys picked fights, egged on by equally silly bystanders. However, my dispassionate eyes quickly became habituated, and regarded these events as ordinary. Hey, it was an all-American school! 

       So what makes my school all-American? We have assemblies, pep rallies, endearingly silly school traditions, late-night dances, huge football games, mini-skirted cheerleaders, bad cafeteria food, school spirit, popular people, nerds, skaters, punks, etc. At our school, which is considered an extremely good institution, it is not fashionable or popular to be smart, as opposed to at Chinese schools. While we don’t have many stereotypical ditzy, blond, big-chested cheerleaders and dumb, muscular jocks, nerds like me definitely aren’t “cool”. So you ask, what is “cool”? It’s vague concept, but I think it goes like this: wearing expensive, fashionable clothes; going by your own set of rules; having a swarm of friends; hitting up all the parties, and just having that aura about you that screams “Look at me, I’m so popular!” Of course, not every popular person is unintelligent, but most super-smart people (I don’t claim to be one of them), in our school at least, aren’t part of the “in” crowd, which may be more due to their own choice, although “cool” people may claim that it’s because they are excluded. True nerds aren’t envious of the cool crowd, because it’s a world they don’t care to join.

       All of this is very normal to me as a Chinese-American, but quite alien to Chinese students. The openness, the casualness, the intimacy of American high school students would amaze any Mainland Chinese visitor. Though I may disparage these characteristics, deep down, I appreciate them, because only here can you find such things. Sure I still feel like puking when I see a couple smooching loudly, and overhear girls complimenting each other in high falsettos, but it amuses me that this happens so blatantly only in American schools. This carefree atmosphere helped me greatly during my stressful junior year, with all those SATs and APs. It drew out some of the scorching hot stress and lightened my outlook on school. 

       I was also fortunate in my junior year to have the best teachers I’ve ever had, which helped alleviate the intense stress. It’s odd, but my favorite teachers have generally been men, and the three I had were extremely wonderful. My AP Biology teacher had also been my Biology teacher (and was later my Microbiology and Advanced Studies in Biology teacher in senior year); my English teacher was a quirky mix of imposing casualness; my history teacher was just...great. The three female teachers weren’t bad either—my AP Calculus BC teacher had been my Calculus AB teacher; my French teacher was still that same eccentric and quirky lady, and my Mentoring teacher was an inoffensively kind lady. But it was the people in my classes that made them really worthwhile.

       My class of 2003 is, statistically speaking, the smartest class my school has seen in a long time. So obviously, the many intelligent students create vibrant, exciting class interactions. Except, when you get smart kids together, fireworks go off. In my history class, Mr. Schaefer encouraged open discussions to facilitate learning and to spread our diverse perspectives. Unfortunately, we had a smelly Republican rat, Drew Stokesbary, who loved to stir up trouble with his incendiary arguments. Once, when he made a remark about how if immigrants wanted to keep their traditions alive, they shouldn’t have come to the US in the first place, my friends had to literally restrain me from knocking him over.  My fists were clenched so tight they were purple, and my face turned cherry-red. If this class had lasted longer than a year, I might be dead from a heart attack due to all those times he infuriated me. However, the other 90% of our class was more restrained, and it was delightful to hear a variety of rationally presented opinions. Those discussions nourished my understanding of US History, which I had disliked before, and provided an outlet for my views. My teacher teased me that I’d practically memorized the text, because I corrected him constantly based on what I’d read. Yet he was never resentful, for his mantra is to learn from all his students. Politics, economics, international affairs...all these things were dissected with a sensibility and simplicity I’d never known. I came out of that class not just spewing out facts, but knowing how America operated. 

      not completed 


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