Gone Suburban No. 6

In the words (as close as I can recall) of that venerable if short-lived TV series “My So-Called Life:”

People are always asking how school was today. It’s like asking ‘How was that drive-by shooting today?’ You don’t ask how it was; you’re lucky to get out alive.

Today’s Suburban Life announced that area high schools will be instituting new security measures, in the wake of Columbine, 9/11, and funding. (Funding rarely seems to follow quickly in the wake of events–just ask the people who run homeless shelters these days). Schools will now boast off-duty police officers (both uniformed and plainclothes), drug-sniffing dogs, locked doors, lockdowns (in which the whole school is held in place and the drug-sniffing dogs are released), color-coded ID cards that tell what floors a student is entitled to be on at any given time, and, in some cases, metal detectors (some signs left that this is the ‘burbs and not the ghetto, I guess).

Plusses listed in the article: increased security, safety, and control.
Minuses listed in article: cost.

The reporter apparently felt it unnecessary, or unimportant, to consider other possible points of view. Color-coded IDs?!? Telling students they can only be in designated places at designated times, and enforcing this not merely with a few announcements at the start of the semester, but with a digitally-equipped ID-checking system? It sounds like prison, except, of course, that prison is a lot worse.

I was fearful for most of my years in high school. Terrified would be a good description of my primary attitude at school, when not bored out of my mind. But the threats I feared were internal, not external. I was terrified of the attendance office. Because my mother worked for a living (God forbid), she had a tendency to forget to call the attendance office when I had a doctor’s appointment or something. I was (it seemed to me, though in retrospect it was perhaps not that often) continually getting called down to explain my unexcused absences. I was so frightened of this that I would generally come back immediately from any appointment, even if my excused absence lasted several more hours. I was terrified of not having my homework done properly (except in English, where I held a contest freshman year to see who could write his paper closest to the time of class–I beat the boys [hence the “his”] the day I got full credit for an essay I’d written in algebra class, the period before English).

But mostly I was terrified of my fellow students. I was terrified because my freshman year, a girl had been Saran-wrapped naked to a tree by a group of her “friends.” I was terrified because people always seemed to be disappearing, rumor had it to rehab. I was terrified because the president of Students Against Drunk Driving carried a case of beer around in his car, and boasted about it. I was terrified because I was against the Gulf War (the “first” Gulf War) and most people were at least nominally for it, and some of them were virulently for it. I was terrified because grown-ups had so little understanding of the real prevelance of drugs and violence, and because their actions to prevent it, like those of the suburbs here, were so wrong-headed. I was terrified, in short, because I felt I was living in 1984. Students here, it seems, now actually will be.

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