This came in last night from a reader, responding to the Murder By Text post. It got to me. I publish it with his permission:
I am a 24-year-old with an M.A. in political philosophy and a B.A. (summa cum laude) in history from a top private liberal arts college, plus a list of academic honors that, if it isn’t quite as long as my arm, at least surpasses several of my fingers. I have a supremely academic temperament, and spend my free time reading lengthy histories of the Mexican-American war, and doing “research” on populism in the Reconstruction-era South that I keep telling myself I’ll someday turn into a scholarly magnum opus.
For all that, I work as a shipping clerk in a hotel.
Whenever I talk to people about my background, their first question is: “Why aren’t you a teacher?” Truth be told, I’d rather do almost anything else with my life than be a teacher, precisely because my own memories of school are so poisonous that I don’t think I could handle more than a few months without either utterly losing control of the classroom or falling into a catatonic depression. I’ve had a very hard time communicating this. Even with all the coverage of “cyberbullying” and hostile school environments that has been floating around recently, I hadn’t seen much in the media that communicates the all-pervasive toxicity of modern adolescence quite like your article did, though I can’t put my finger on any one sentence or quote that did it. The dominant media tone always seems to carry either a whiff of astonishment that the sepia-toned set of the columnist’s “best years of your life” has gone so wrong, or a nanny-ish, righteous certitude that if only we could get rid of a few neanderthalic brutes and simpering queen bees, all the other kids would somehow live in idyllic peace and harmony.
It’s much more complicated, as I’m sure you recognize. The popular kids pick on the losers and the losers fight back, just like in some doo-wop-y 50’s sitcom. Unfortunately, “popularity” is a bad catch-all for huge numbers of cliques, interest groups, extra-curricular programs, and so on and so forth, and through it all each group is busy warring against other groups and cannibalizing their own. It was high school, more than anything, that turned me into something of a Hobbesian, and you couldn’t pay me to go back.
At any rate, this is a long-winded and unnecessarily-autobiographical way of telling you that your short little post moved me deeply. Thanks for writing it.