Learning their places the hard way

By Joe Rector

Teenagers are a funny bunch, and freshman are always the most comical. Over my lifetime, I’ve been one and have watched many classes of them during 30 years as a teacher. They arrive at high school “wet behind the ears” but act as if they are seasoned veterans. It doesn’t take long before those new high school students learn the truth.

Always in a new class are at least a couple of goofballs. They draw attention to themselves by trying to be funny. Any laughter that their antics or comments generate comes as snickers about how moronic those goofballs are acting. Still, these attention seekers believe that even negative reinforcement is better than none at all.

Other new-to-high school males or females try to survive by acting tough. They strut and smirk and sneer. Little do they know that persons tougher than they are also walk the halls of the school. I vividly recall a freshman in my class all those years ago who brought his mean act and tough attitude to school. He displayed them one day in the smoking pit that was located in a corner next to the gym and in front of the shop class windows. He smarted off one to many times. With lightning quickness, a senior put a halt to the freshman’s cockiness as he punched him squarely in the eye. The impact sounds like two cinder blocks slamming together. The younger boy’s face became a grotesque combination of swelling and blood. He retrieved his bent glasses and struggled to put them on his bruised face. From that time on, he exhibited a bit more humility in the smoke hole and didn’t try to tangle with seniors who were much bigger and stronger than he was.

Only a handful of freshmen boys dare to approach female upperclassmen. Doing so is considered an affront to the girl, something that senior boys are not about to let happen without consequences. The older males step up to become the girl’s champions and meet head-on the offending party. A group of senior boys swoop down on the freshman and escort him to some terrible fate. Sometimes it might entail the pushing of a penny with the nose down a long hallway. I’ve also heard of incidents where the ninth grader received a “swirly.” That’s when seniors hold him upside down, dunk his head in a toilet, and flush. At the old Karns High School, an especially egregious act lead to the boy being escorted to the banks of the creek. There he experienced the “Beaver Creek Plunge.” The seniors grabbed his arms and legs, began swinging him, and on the count of “3” let him go so that he splashed into the water. That dunking into the creek cooled the passionate heart and underscored to the underclassmen the limits he faced.

I was in yet another group. Like too many freshmen, I traded in studying habits that I’d developed in elementary school for a life of laziness that ignored classwork. Grades tumbled quickly, and I scrambled to come up with a good explanation on grade day. Too many other activities demanded my attention, and they were much more entertaining than studying algebra or science. Soon enough, reckoning day arrived, and a summer spent in school to erase failing grades replaced the freedom that loafers like me craved so much.

By the time midyear arrived, most freshman settled into the high school experience. They learned the unwritten rules of conduct in the large social setting and consequences for violating them. Freshmen began feeling comfortable in their own skins and with their own groups. They knew that in just a few months the harassment by upperclassmen would cease as a new class of “fresh meat” arrived for a new school year.  In the blink of an eye, they became the seniors who enforce those rules by which first year students must abide. It’s all part of new students learning their places high school during those tough teenage years.

 

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