U.S. Officially Trapped in High School

Electing Donald Trump verifies that the U.S. is officially trapped in high school.

The bravado and superficial qualities that made people popular in high school — but for most of us wore thin by early adulthood — are all that Trump has, but it earned him the White House because enough people in the U.S. suffer from arrested development, permanent adolescence.

As a nerdy, self-conscious, and insecure teen, I knew this process well. My brief stinks into the popular came from my bold profanities (stolen mostly from George Carlin and Richard Pryor) and beer guzzling at rates that outdid my friends.

All that cool was idiotic, embarrassing — and effective among my high school peers.

By the time most of us are well into our 20s, that “cool” becomes “adolescent” — in other words, a way of being we put well behind us.

Like my first-year writing students, you may think from the above comments that I dislike adolescence, but that isn’t true.

I loved teaching high school because I love adolescents; however, my affection for teens is that it is a phase, a transition from childhood to adulthood.

Teens live and view the world in a sort of constant hyperbole that is infectious — as long as it eventually evolves into a somewhat tempered joy grounded in reality. Too often, we swing from the wild idealism of youth to the fatalistic cynicism of adulthood without finding a healthy balance.

But the U.S., alas, is stuck in adolescence; we think the biggest and most hollow jerk in the country is cool.

Among the pundits, this adolescent thinking is being framed as post-truth, and it isn’t anything new as evidenced by the ways in which my first-year students write; for example, consider these passages:

Racism is a trending topic in America today. The topic makes many people uncomfortable, so it is not so much spoke about. Racism exists in numerous different type of environments in numerous places. Although there are many different places racism exists, the place that I believe racism should be eliminated the most is the business environment.

Growing up in today’s culture promotes a fascination with being skinny. Today there may be body positive movements and love yourself movements, but back the late 90’s early 2000’s, we, the people of my generation, learned that skinny was beautiful.

American history is filled with examples of pain and suffering as a result of drug usage. Arguments regarding the legalization of habit-forming substances are not new.

Adolescent thinking is often characterized by overstatement, a lack of evidence, and a paradoxical vagueness of thought that renders the ideas meaningless.

The adolescent is supremely egocentric, navel gazing at its extreme: the teen’s worldview consumed by Self as “most” and “only” but also paradoxically representative of everyone.

My high school students often felt deflated when I countered their Madonna with Madelyn Monroe, their Prince with Little Richard — although my point was not to discredit their pop stars but to ground them with a buffer against hyperbole.

The U.S., however, is blinded by an adolescent egocentrism that is mostly bluster and perennially post-truth.

Just as first-year writing students need help with overstatement and seeking out credible support for claims, the U.S. as a nation needs a first-year writing course that confronts how to navigate the world based on evidence and not bravado and nonsense.

For example, we could start here:

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While I don’t want to be a Luddite and blame technology and social media for all of our ills, I do think that the downside to instant access to information is that too many of us are ill-equipped for how to interact with that information.

Hot-take social media feed our basest biases and allow us to remain inside and even to create a bubble of our own ignorance.

For some of us, college is the needle that bursts that bubble of ignorance (it was for me, thank goodness). The great tragedy of the U.S. is that K-12 education is universal but inadequate in terms of critical literacy (too much time on standards and tests, too much focus on building a workforce) and that higher education is out of reach for far too many people.

With only about a month before the biggest jerk in the country becomes the leader of the free world, we have but little time to grow up, to realize the fool is not cool and that we all need to leave high school behind us because:

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Written by

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education. https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/

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