high school confidential: secrets of an undercover student, by jeremy iversen.
jeremy iversen grew up in mahatten, attended an exclusive prep school (a boarding school, no less), then was at the top of his class at stanford, double-majoring in something like biology and economics. he was on what he calls “the track” — with an assumed after-graduation 6-figure salary from a consulting firm. but at a job fair just before college graduation, he balked. he decided he wasn’t interested in “the track”. moving to hollywood, he considered his next step. sitting one day in a mall, watching teenagers, it dawned on him that cameron crowe had, 25 years prior to the exact month he was living, posed as a high school student to do research for ‘fast times at ridgemont high’. jeremy thought it would be interesting to see what was really going on in the lives of today’s high school students. he narrowed his search down to 270-something high schools in southern california that fit his description of average (not elite or in a highly weathly area, not urban, no monocultural), and starting asking if he (by then a 25 year-old) could attend school as an undercover transfer senior. school after school rejected his idea; but when he was down to only two more possibilities, one said yes.
only the principal and the district superindentant knew his true identity and plan. for six months, iversen fully entered into the life of a high school student, making his way into the popular group of seniors.
he takes an interesting approach to writing the book, due to his agreement with the school that he would keep the school and all its students and teachers (and administrators) completely confidential. he explains this using the metaphor of cartography. when cartographers create a map, they have to decide which things to hold constant or true, and which things to bend. when we look at the most-common views of a world map, for instance, greenland is looming ridiculously huge over the atlantic. of course, we know it’s not actually that large. but the map-makers chose other things constant, and had to forfeit relative size, especially toward the poles. iversen chooses to keep actual dialogue as his constant. so the quotes from students and teachers and administrators (which make up a sizeable portion of the book) are word-for-word, or very close to it. but the characters themselves (including the school) are fictionalized to mask their identity.
the book is fascinating and horrifying. really. certainly, i wasn’t in the popular group in my high school. but i have worked with teenagers for 25 years, and this book is probably the most cage-rattling inside look i’ve ever experienced. this is clearly because there was zero attempt on the part of the students to mask or spin. as a youth worker, it will break your heart. if you’re a parent, it’ll scare the crap out of you and drive you to your knees.
parents should probably read this book — but it’s not for the faint-of-heart. and this book should become part of the library of every youth worker. now, i wish someone could pull off the same thing in the world of middle schoolers.
whatever you think, think the opposite, by paul arden.
i heard about this little book on jonny baker’s blog and ordered it. it’s a quick read, as most of the pages are lite on text and heavy on design. not really a “book” in the traditional sense, it’s more a collection of ideas and thoughts (and a few stories) to get you thinking in different ways. i didn’t agree with everything in the book; but i still found it really worth reading, and will likely be one i take a second pass through.