Welcome back to high school. Is it different? In some schools the pecking order hasn't changed, only the names; in others ranking is gone, but clique boundaries are even more rigid. From the lunchroom to the prom, students are obsessed with who sits together, who goes together, what people are wearing and driving. But in addition new kinds of relationships, anxieties, and conflicts have emerged. Both these old and the new features of teen culture shape our children in ways that are more fundamental than the content of the curriculum. Murray Milner revisits the most character-shaping status system we ever encounter, showing how it works and why-and how it is also shaping our entire consumer society.
"Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids" argues that the teenage behaviors that annoy adults do not arise from "hormones," bad parenting, poor teaching, or "the media," but from adolescents' lack of power over the central features of their lives: they must attend school; they have no control over the curriculum; they can't choose who their classmates are. What teenagers do have is the power to create status systems and symbols that not only exasperate adults, but also impede learning and maturing. Ironically, parents, educators, and businesses are inadvertently major contributors to these outcomes.
An absorbing journey that stirs up a mixture of nostalgia and dismay, "Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids" shows how high school distills the worst features of American consumer society and shapes how we relate to our neighbors, partners, and coworkers. It also makes new proposals about how our schools and the lives of teenagers might be transformed.
Part 1. The puzzle and the tools -- Why do they behave like that? -- The tools for understanding -- Part 2. Explaining teens' behavior -- Fitting in, standing out, and keeping up -- Steering clear, hanging out, and hooking up -- Exchanges, labels, and put-downs -- Part 3. Why schools vary -- The pluralistic high school -- Other kinds of schools -- Part 4. Teen status systems and consumerism -- Creating consumers -- Consuming life -- Conclusions and implications.