Literature Review

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Thea Youngs
Anthropology 275
02 May 2007
School Project Literature Review
            There is a large amount of anthropological literature centering on some aspect of schooling. Several books have been written about the social systems present within American High Schools. Most studies focus on a participant observation method within high schools themselves, rather than reconstruction of the past, but provide valuable material about the process of identity creation in high schools. However, there are also a number of studies which deal with some element of past school experiences, and contain some valuable analysis of memory and considerations involved in doing research on past experiences. To that end, this review is divided into two sections, the first of which deals with literature on the creation of social groups within the high school, and a second addressing some issues surrounding reconstruction of past high school experiences.

Social Groups Within the High School
Most studies make some attempt to map out social categories and how these are affected by factors such as individual personality or social classes. The most simplistic categories are found in Penelope Eckert’s 1989 work Jocks and Burnouts, Social Categories and Identity in the High School. This work focuses on two main categories within the high school, and argues that almost all students in the high school fit somewhere in a spectrum between these categories. According to Eckert, “Jock embodies an attitude- an acceptance of the school and its institutions as an all- encompassing social context, and an unflagging enthusiasm and energy for working within those institutions” (Eckert 1989:3). Burnouts, on the other hand are those that do not, who are, “ “Burned out” from long years of frustration encountered in an institution that rejects and stigmatizes them as it fails to recognize and meet their needs (Eckert 1989:3).” Students who do not clearly embody either of these traits are “In-betweens” falling somewhere in a spectrum between these two categories. Hervé Varenne, in American School Language, Culturally Patterned Conflicts in an American High School, notes the existence of a rhetoric of two categories- jocks and freaks, who were also known as lungs. However, his analysis of the situation paints a far more complicated picture of the realities of these categories in the school itself, and the existence of many smaller cliques, whose members may not neatly fit into either of the described categories. Sherry Ortner, in her book New Jersey Dreaming, Capital, Culture, the Class of ’58, divides people into social groups based roughly on two factors: capital (class) and personal qualities of attitude/style. Generally, wealthy and tame students corresponded to popular kids/class officers, wealthy and wild corresponded to jocks/cheerleaders, less wealthy and tame corresponded to ordinary citizens/nerds, and less wealthy and wild corresponded to hoods/sluts/smokers/burnouts (Ortner 2003:97).  Heewon Chang, in Adolescent Life and Ethos, however chooses not to highlight perceived divisions or cliques in the small rural high school that she studied, rather noting that the dominant ideology was one of trying to “get along with everyone,” although also noting that certain people, such as smokers were subject to being ostracized (Chang 1992:122). These very different categorizations highlight not only that there may be differences in interpretation of social patterns in an American High School setting, but also that high schools vary enormously in the social patterns found within them.

Memory and Past School Experience 
            Although the majority of work I have located details experiences within a high school that is current to the time period when the work is published, a number of works deal in some way with memories of past experiences of high school, such as Sherry Ortner’s book New Jersey Dreaming, Capital, Culture and the Class of ‘58 which uses oral histories to analyze the life histories of various members of the class of 1958 in a New Jersey high school, and A Room Full of Mirrors, High School Reunions in Middle America, by Keiko Ikeda which focuses on the cultural significance of High School Reunions, and also Barbara Shircliffe’s article “We Got the Best of that World”: A Case for the Study of Nostalgia in the Oral History of School Segregation, and Naomi Norquay’s Identity and Forgetting, both of which deal with oral history studies specific to memories of educational experience, and bring to light elements of oral history that are potentially significant for the analysis of the South Hadley High School oral history interviews.
            Shircliffe’s article centers on nostalgic memories of two Florida High Schools that, under policies of segregation operated as Blacks-only high schools. Shircliffe notes that despite an extreme lack of resources delegated to the school, many students remember their experiences there very fondly, and emphasize the supportive community that was found there, a community that was at once strict and disciplined but also caring about individual students.  Shircliffe argues in this article that overly nostalgic histories that are perhaps not historically accurate should not be dismissed out of hand by historians, but rather that, “Our nostalgia for the past in a sense is an informal way we comment and make sense of history, revealing our responses to and desires for social change” (Shircliffe 2001). So, in the case of her study, nostalgia among Black Americans for the segregated schools in her study, Shircliffe argues that this nostalgia may be as much a commentary about the racism that continued after de-segregation up to the present day, with the busing system that followed disproportionably sending black students to other neighborhoods, and other changes to the neighborhood where the schools were found such as the building of a freeway which physically divided the community, rather than a desire to return to a system of segregation.
            Norquay’s article, Memory and Forgetting, addresses the significance of which types of events are considered significant and remembered, and which are not, which would also have a great deal of applicability to the South Hadley High School project. In asking participants, several teachers in the Toronto area, about their memories of school and childhood, Norquay notes that certain types of memories are common, ones that are perceived to be extraordinary in some way, or elicit a powerful emotional response, rather than the more everyday aspects of going to school. For example, memories of school played a much smaller part of her interviews than did memories of families. When memories of schooling are mentioned, they are much more likely to be events that are perceived as extraordinary in some way rather than mundane routines of going to school. For example, students were more likely to remember events that were angering or humiliating in some way, or were special days such as first days of school or other events.
            Norquay emphasizes how what is forgotten is just as revealing as what is remembered in interviews, and can provide information on what people are conditioned to remember by parents, or society at large, and the role that interviewers themselves play in this by asking about certain events, or by avoiding subjects that appeared painful for the interviewee.
            Both Ortner and Ikeda’s works deal in some way with the legacy of the high school experience. Ikeda looks at the social phenomenon of High School Reunions, and Ortner examines the long term story of people in one particular graduating class in 1958, looking primarily at class mobility, and how the class of 1958 changed from it’s working class/lower middle class origins to become to a large extent part of what Ortner terms a “white overclass.”
            In Ortner’s work, reconstruction of the high school identities and classes is used as the starting point for her analysis of the changing class structure in the United States. As discussed above, Ortner goes into great depth about classes and groupings within the high school, created from data collected via questionnaires and interviews. This data about the high school and students’ background becomes the beginning of Ortner’s work in tracing individual lives during a period of American history with a large degree of class mobility.
            By contrast, Ikeda’s work goes much less into detail about the high school experience itself, instead concentrating on it’s legacy in the form of High School Reunions, using largely a participant-observation method in addition to interviews in order to explore the meaning of these reunions through different periods in people’s lives. Although less directly related to the high school experience itself, Ikeda’s work is significant for exploring the legacy of high school on people’s lives, and a detailed analysis of an event that in many ways may play a role in shaping people’s memories of high school, and the creation of a collective memory of a high school experience.

            The articles discussed in this lit review could have the potential to inform many aspects of the South Hadley high school study.  This study has the possibility to add to the existing analysis of social groups in the high school from a specifically historical perspective, in a manner similar to Ortner’s work. The information gathered could also be analyzed through approaches similar to either Shircliffe or Norquay, addressing the extent towards which nostalgia plays a role in these interviews and looking as well for patterns in what is often remembered about high school, and what is consistently overlooked. The data collected have the potential to be analyzed from many different angles and add new perspectives to existing work on anthropology within the High School.

Works Cited
Chang, Heewong. Adolescent Life and Ethos: An Ethnography of a US High School. London. The Falmer Press, 1992.

Eckert, Penelope. Jocks and Burnouts: Social Categories and Identity in the High School. New York. Teachers College Press, 1989.

Ikeda, Keiko. A Room Full of Mirrors High School Reunions in Middle America. Stanford. Stanford University Press, 1998.

Norquay, Naomi. “Identity and Forgetting,” Oral History Review. v.26 no. 1. Stanford, Stanford University Press. 1999.

Ortner, Sherry. New Jersey Dreaming, Capital, Culture, and the Class of ’58. Durham, Duke University Press, 2003.

Shircliffe, Barbara. “ “We Got the Best of that World”: A Case for the Study of Nostalgia in the Oral History of School Segregation.” Oral History Review. v.28 no. 2, University of California Press. 2001.

Varenne, Hervé. American School Language: Culturally Patterned Conflicts in a Suburban High School. New York. Irvington Publishers, 1983.




things were different then

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getting to and from school

girls and pearls and girls' basketball

dances for every occasion

what is poor?

you want it, you work for it

mason dixon line

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