Monday, June 01, 2009

Response to xkcd 588

I'm not really sure about all this discussion going about this comic on at the forum. Like almost everyone there, when I was in high school, I saw pep rallies as a colossal waste of time. But I never found them as particularly offensive either, which seems to be a minority viewpoint among the xkcd fans.

In the comic, Randall suggests that pep rallies are actually a vehicle of hatred, and at least a plurality of xkcd fans enthusiastically support this notion, with the argument culminating in one poster describing pep rallies as an "Orwellian channeling" of hatred. But I think anyone who thinks that the point of a pep rally is to encourage "hating the other school" is missing the point of the pep rally. Opposition to the "other" school is merely the most convenient commonality shared by all the students of the "one" school.

So if the pep rally isn't designed to foster hate of the other school, what is the point of the pep rally? I'd say it's much more about having pride in your own school. It's about community and finding common ground. That's something a sociologist might describe as a "solidarity ritual". What happens in the "ritual" (ie, the apparent hatred of another school) isn't nearly as important as what happens to the participants of the "ritual". In a pep rally, that effect is to achieve some sort of unity with their peers.

The comic itself raises the issue that school district assignment is not by choice, that it's essentially an arbitrary grouping based on where you live. An earlier poster expanded on that argument, saying that having pride in one's high school might make more sense if you'd chosen your high school based on some distinguishing characteristic. It's true that high schools, unlike colleges and corporations and nations, do not--and cannot--distinguish themselves from peer institutions through philosophical or operational differences. But that is not a reason that you shouldn't be able, and encouraged, to take pride in your school.

This comic, and the discussion it's spawned, touches on two important points about the American educational system. The first is that primary and secondary (and to a lesser extent, post-secondary) education is designed not only to educate, but also to socialize. It's an important mission of the school system that much of the fact-oriented, left-brainy xkcd community either doesn't recognize or has chosen to ignore. Once you do reach an organization that you want to have pride in--be that a college or corporation or anything else--these pep rallies have given you a social education that has enabled you to have that pride.

The second issue is the often-fractious nature of high school social grouping. Virtually everyone in our society has been in high school at some point, and yet there are wildly diverging opinions about whether the "Saved By The Bell" depiction of high school social structure is accurate or not. Many of the comments on this comic were not actually comments on pep rallies. Instead, they were used to dovetail into complaints about the high school social order, for example, "these cheerleaders would in real life never talk to me since I was a huge nerd, why should I listen to these people who treat me and the majority of the rest of the students poorly?" These complaints are worth hearing and probably valid, but here they only serve to confuse the issue.

What about those jocks, though? Aren't they the most likely people to develop a genuine hatred of another school through a pep rally? Maybe they are, and I'd argue that they're missing the point of the pep rally as well. But pep rallies are not--nor are they designed to be--"Orwellian". They're not "tribalism", nor a conspiracy to divert discontent away from your own school's administration. They're certainly neither "creepy" nor "fascist". They're a legitimate and necessary function of secondary education. And for students who actually try to get something out of them, they can be valuable ways to build some connections with peers and pride in the local community.

Besides, who didn't like getting out of class for an hour?

Currently listening: "The Next Episode", Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!