Thursday, June 21, 2012

The "Greatest Class" Comes Unglued

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," and your host, Annie. I'm a school teacher off for the summer. Today I'm enjoying the luxury of having nothing to do but blog and laundry.

I have two daughters, The Heir and The Spare. I got the idea for their names from Princess Diana's two boys. Some Brits call Wills and Harry "The heir and the spare."

Both Heir and Spare graduated from the same high school, Snobville Memorial High. When Heir graduated four years ago, her class was hailed as "the greatest class" ever to come through the school.

(I had to wonder about that, because the Monkey Man went to that school. He graduated in 1960, which was probably a greater year.)

June 19 was Spare's turn to graduate, and once again her class was lauded as "the greatest class" ever to come out of the school. Well, you can make a compelling case. There's not a single Ivy League school that isn't getting at least one Snobville graduate. The valedictorian (a math whiz) will be going to Princeton and is so like "A Beautiful Mind" that it's freakin scary. The class president got a full scholarship to Rutgers, independent of financial need. Someone is going to West Point.

Trouble is, there's a dark underbelly to these high-performing schools in towns made up mostly of extremely wealthy families.

For the past five years, the local PTA has paid for a post-graduation party at the Snobville Country Club. (You can imagine how posh a country club in Snobville would be.) This post-graduation party costs the graduates nothing, not a penny. There's a DJ and great raffle items, like Xboxes and mini fridges and gift certificates. All paid for out of PTA money and donations.

The rationale behind this party is that it would keep the students from going out after graduation and getting drunk, high, or both, and having a tragic accident.

There were no breathalizers at the door of the party.

More than half the students arrived drunk and, by virtue of flasks, got drunker still at the party. Midway through the evening, students began to stagger and vomit. Someone puked on the dance floor. One student had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance when he aspirated his vomit. The policemen on duty were the same ones who had taught this class about drinking and drugs back in fifth grade.

Spare doesn't drink, and I don't think she had ever seen a true drunken party. She came home so dismayed that, after speaking about it for ten minutes, said she didn't want to talk about it any more. When I asked her to show me which kids were drinking by using her yearbook, she said it would take too long, because mostly everyone was drinking except her friends. (She runs with the Ivy League crowd.)

Snobville has an ugly history of teenage drinking. Heir lost two classmates to drinking/drug use, including a boy who jumped off the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

What is it that drives these kids to such extremes?

I imagine that part of it is biochemical, because, after all, alcohol is a drug, and many kids medicate depression and anxiety with alcohol. Every high school in the country has its drinkers and its stoners.

However, in the case of Snobville, I think there's an extra stress load. High-achieving parents are either not home much, or they demand excellence from their kids to maintain their financial status. It's like this: Where do you go but down if your parents are millionaires but not gazillionaires? We aren't talking one percent here, or if we are, it's the newly-minted and insecure one percenters. Students are pressured to keep the money flowing into the family bloodstream. The absentee parents are probably trying to haul in enough money to maintain the blood flow if Junior turns out to be average.

Spare has hosted more than six big parties here at our little Snobville house on the wrong side of town. Six parties in one year. When she finally asked me for a big graduation party, I was flabbergasted. I said, "Ten of these kids on this invite list live in mansions. Why are we throwing the parties?"

She said, "Mostly their parents don't give a shit, and the rest of the parents don't want kids in their houses."

Message to rich parents who don't give a shit: The sound of smart kids playing charades in a tiny back yard is priceless.  Too late, you missed that. And having a warm and caring relationship with your flesh-and-blood is absolutely priceless. Too late, you missed that too.

Would you rather struggle financially and have a close and loving relationship with your kids, or rake in the bucks and hardly see Junior from week to week?

I had a very hard-working student at my school this year, an African American kid with a caring mom. One day he stayed after school on Friday to finish an assignment. When he was done, I said, "What are you going to do on the weekend?"

He said, "My mom and I usually drive around and look at the big houses in C**** H**** and Snobville. She wants me to live in one some day."

I told him, "If you and she could walk inside one of those houses and see what really happens there, you would save a lot of gas."


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Rich or poor, kids can get totally effed up. Booze and drugs ruin so many lives. Glad both your girls have good heads on their shoulders!


that's just sad..proud of your girl for not being a drinker.

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling that drinking is a symptom of spiritual poverty. (Not religious, spiritual.)
I've read that no matter what, in all societies and at all times, 11% of the population has problems with drugs or drinking. I have no idea if that's true. I've also read that kids who drink are more inhibited than average and drink to adjust their inhibitions to normal level. I think that's true for some.

Anonymous said...

"Would you rather struggle financially and have a close and loving relationship with your kids, or rake in the bucks and hardly see Junior from week to week?"

Ye gods, thank you for saying this! I am someone raised by high achieving, wealth and status conscious parents who sent me to a private boarding school. The only time I saw my parents was holidays and the summer.

And guess what? I turned out to be a very average, minimum-wage earning person who is certainly not bringing in more wealth and status to the family. The pain of my failure stays with me and I have no self esteem.

There is no substitute for a close, loving family. The teachers at my boarding school were supposed to be substitute parents and come on, they didn't give a shit. Nor were they supposed to. I know many public schools are crap, but I still envy people who got to go home after a day of classes and eat dinner with their families instead of random strangers who only cared about themselves.

And oh yeah, HUGE drug and alcohol problem at my boarding school, which of course was ignored because narcissistic parents will not acknowledge anything that ruins their fantasy. For some reason, I never turned to drugs and alcohol, I guess because I saw them as dead ends that would not help the pain.

I don't have kids, probably never will, but if I did, I'd sure as shit would NOT send them to a boarding school.

Anne Johnson said...

Terrific comment, Anon! I've never really understood boarding schools. If you don't want to raise a kid, why have one? Your strength of character shows through. Blessings to you.

ladyimbrium said...

I don't comment very often, but this time I had to. I spend a lot of time in an ambulance running calls near a very small but very expensive college that I will refer to as Snob U, since it seems to be on the same wavelength as your own locale.

These kids are smart, don't misunderstand. Their parents are wealthy, the kids get handed more money than I would know what to do with, and we pick them up dangerously drunk all the freaking time.

I don't understand either, but I sure get tired of dealing with it.