Why You Truly Never Leave High School

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by IMFTrader, Jan 24, 2013.

  1. One of the interesting parts of the article was when the author mentioned Mitt Romney. I couldn't help but think of President Obama. It seems like he was an outsider in High School and is pretty much an outsider today. Don't want to chit chat with the old Washington pols, I can sympathize, but I suspect he didn't do much chit chatting in High School either.

    The interesting thing about Obama is that he wasn't a leader in any of his social cliques. His friends looked upon him as a cool guy, but not somebody you'd turn to when you needed to get anything done.

    Why You Truly Never Leave High School
    New science on its corrosive, traumatizing effects.

    Throughout high school, my friend Kenji had never once spoken to the Glassmans. They were a popular, football-_playing, preposterously handsome set of identical twins (every high school must have its Winklevii). Kenji was a closeted, half-Japanese orchestra nerd who kept mainly to himself and graduated first in our class. Yet last fall, as our 25th high-school reunion was winding down, Kenji grabbed Josh Glassman by his triceps—still Popeye spinach cans, and the subject of much Facebook discussion afterward—and asked where the after-party was. He was only half-joking.

    Psychologically speaking, Kenji carries a passport to pretty much anywhere now. He’s handsome, charming, a software engineer at an Amazon subsidiary; he radiates the kind of self-possession that earns instant respect. Josh seemed to intuit this. He said there was an after-party a few blocks away, at the home of another former football player. And when Kenji wavered, Josh wouldn’t take no for an answer. “I could see there was no going back,” Kenji explained the next morning, over brunch. “It was sort of like the dog who catches the car and doesn’t know what to do with it.”

    The party was fine. For a while, Kenji wondered if he’d been brought along as a stunt guest—a suspicion hardly allayed by Josh’s announcement “I brought the valedictorian!” as they were descending the stairs to their host’s living room—though Kenji’s attendance was in the same spirit, really, just in reverse. (“This is the party I never got invited to in high school,” he told Josh at one point, who didn’t disagree.) At any rate, Kenji didn’t care. His curiosities were anthropological: He had no idea what it was like “to be a football player or a cheerleader, get out of high school, marry someone from your local area, and settle in the same area.” And his conclusion, by the end of the night, was: Nothing special. “It was just an ordinary party, one that might have been a little uncomfortable if we all hadn’t been a little drunk.”

    You’d think Kenji’s underwhelmed reaction would have been reassuring. But another classmate of ours, also at that brunch, didn’t take it that way. Like Kenji, Larry was brilliant, musically gifted, and hidden behind awkward glasses during most of his adolescence; like Kenji, he too is attractive and successful today. He received a Tony nomination for the score of Legally Blonde, he has a new baby, he married a great woman who just happens to be his collaborator. Yet his reaction was visceral and instantaneous. “Literally?” he said. “Your saying this makes me feel I wish I’d been invited to that.”

    “Well, right,” said Kenji. “Because that’s the way high school is.”

    “And maybe the way life is, still, sometimes,” said Larry. “About wanting to be invited to things.” He’s now working on a musical adaptation of Heathers, the eighties classic that culminates, famously, in Christian Slater nearly blowing up a high school.

    Not everyone feels the sustained, melancholic presence of a high-school shadow self. There are some people who simply put in their four years, graduate, and that’s that. But for most of us adults, the adolescent years occupy a privileged place in our memories, which to some degree is even quantifiable: Give a grown adult a series of random prompts and cues, and odds are he or she will recall a disproportionate number of memories from adolescence. This phenomenon even has a name—the “reminiscence bump”—and it’s been found over and over in large population samples, with most studies suggesting that memories from the ages of 15 to 25 are most vividly retained. (Which perhaps explains Ralph Keyes’s observation in his 1976 classic, Is There Life After High School?: “Somehow those three or four years can in retrospect feel like 30.”)

    To most human beings, the significance of the adolescent years is pretty intuitive. Writers from Shakespeare to Salinger have done their most iconic work about them; and Hollywood, certainly, has long understood the operatic potential of proms, first dates, and the malfeasance of the cafeteria goon squad. “I feel like most of the stuff I draw on, even today, is based on stuff that happened back then,” says Paul Feig, the creator of Freaks and Geeks, which had about ten glorious minutes on NBC’s 1999–2000 lineup before the network canceled it. “Inside, I still feel like I’m 15 to 18 years old, and I feel like I still cope with losing control of the world around me in the same ways.” (By being funny, mainly.)

    Yet there’s one class of professionals who seem, rather oddly, to have underrated the significance of those years, and it just happens to be the group that studies how we change over the course of our lives: developmental neuroscientists and psychologists. “I cannot emphasize enough the amount of skewing there is,” says Pat Levitt, the scientific director for the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, “in terms of the number of studies that focus on the early years as opposed to adolescence. For years, we had almost a religious belief that all systems developed in the same way, which meant that what happened from zero to 3 really mattered, but whatever happened thereafter was merely tweaking.”

    Zero to 3. For ages, this window dominated the field, and it still does today, in part for reasons of convenience: Birth is the easiest time to capture a large population to study, and, as Levitt points out, “it’s easier to understand something as it’s being put together”—meaning the brain—“than something that’s complex but already formed.” There are good scientific reasons to focus on this time period, too: The sensory systems, like hearing and eyesight, develop very early on. “But the error we made,” says Levitt, “was to say, ‘Oh, that’s how all functions develop, even those that are very complex. Executive function, emotional regulation—all of it must develop in the same way.’ ” That is not turning out to be the case. “If you’re interested in making sure kids learn a lot in school, yes, intervening in early childhood is the time to do it,” says Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist at Temple University and perhaps the country’s foremost researcher on adolescence. “But if you’re interested in how people become who they are, so much is going on in the adolescent years.”

    In the past couple of decades, studies across the social sciences have been designed around this new orientation. It has long been known, for instance, that male earning potential correlates rather bluntly with height. But it was only in 2004 that a trio of economists thought to burrow a little deeper and discovered, based on a sample of thousands of white men in the U.S. and Britain, that it wasn’t adult height that seemed to affect their subjects’ wages; it was their height at 16. (In other words, two white men measuring five-foot-eleven can have very different earning potential in the same profession, all other demographic markers being equal, just because one of them was shorter at 16.) Eight years later, Deborah Carr, a sociologist at Rutgers, observed something similar about adults of a normal weight: They are far more likely to have higher self-esteem if they were a normal weight, rather than overweight or obese, in late adolescence (Carr was using sample data that tracked weight at age 21, but she notes that heavy 21-year-olds were also likely to be heavy in high school). Robert Crosnoe, a University of Texas sociologist, will be publishing a monograph with a colleague this year that shows attractiveness in high school has lingering effects, too, even fifteen years later. “It predicted a greater likelihood of marrying,” says Crosnoe, “better earning potential, better mental health.” This finding reminds me of something a friend was told years ago by Frances Lear, head of the eponymous, now defunct magazine for women: “The difference between you and me is that I knew in high school I was beautiful.”

    Our self-image from those years, in other words, is especially adhesive. So, too, are our preferences. “There’s no reason why, at the age of 60, I should still be listening to the Allman Brothers,” Steinberg says. “Yet no matter how old you are, the music you listen to for the rest of your life is probably what you listened to when you were an adolescent.” Only extremely recent advances in neuroscience have begun to help explain why.

    It turns out that just before adolescence, the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that governs our ability to reason, grasp abstractions, control impulses, and self-_reflect—undergoes a huge flurry of activity, giving young adults the intellectual capacity to form an identity, to develop the notion of a self. Any cultural stimuli we are exposed to during puberty can, therefore, make more of an impression, because we’re now perceiving them discerningly and metacognitively as things to sweep into our self-concepts or reject (I am the kind of person who likes the Allman Brothers). “During times when your identity is in transition,” says Steinberg, “it’s possible you store memories better than you do in times of stability.”

    Continued: http://nymag.com/news/features/high-school-2013-1/index2.html