I haven’t been a schoolmarm in a long time, but more and more often my teen students’ lemming-like tendencies are showing up in my peers. If you’re an adult member of any sort of regular group gathering, maybe you’ll agree we haven’t come much farther in reasoning it out on our own than when we were in high school.
Teens huddle in whispering clumps when they have issues with whatever it is the faculty doesn’t know about yet. They remain in those whispering clumps until they either lose interest in the issue — in which case the faculty blessedly won’t have to deal with it — or they align themselves with differing, rock-solid advocates on either side of the issue and the battle is on.
They don’t generally lose interest, so we’ve got opposing factions such as the “oilies” versus the cowboys; the preppies versus the nerds; alcohol versus drugs, versus sobriety; athletes versus members of the band, chorus, drama, art, 4-H, FFA, etcetera. They’re all at each other’s throats and reasoning prevails.
That means there is no reasoning at all, though each faction does have a leader. Allegiance among the warring categories is paid to the biggest and/or loudest kid but rarely the brightest, and sometimes to the kid with the richest dad. The rest follow in lockstep, aching to be unique but afraid to voice an original opinion. For underlings to be openly different would be socially lethal.
I wouldn’t want to have spent those 30 years in any other profession, but quelling student uprisings was never among my favorite duties. Teen uprisings are unpredictable and sometimes volatile, but they do present teachable moments.
So you assign The Oxbow Incident and organize the class into debate teams in order to examine the roots of mob violence. Their reasoning skills are showing a glimmer of hope by Tuesday, but by Friday they’ve all changed their allegiance to the faction led by the kid whose rich dad is throwing a keg party for them down by the creek.
There goes your lesson plan. At this point you’d be tempted to join them if the school board hadn’t hired you to remain a bastion in defense of parliamentary procedure against forces bent on buying your vote with a keg.
Fast forward a couple of decades beyond that scene at the bend of the creek where we left 30 or more theretofore feuding teens participating in a group hug and swearing fraternity forever, united at last for the price of a keg. So much for civilized reasoning and parliamentary procedure.
Those particular kids wouldn’t commit to a political party for some time, but if you’re an adult member of any sort of regular group gathering of your peers, you might recognize some of those grown up kids in your own middle age midst even today.
MARJORIE ANDERSON is an Edmond resident.