Station 2: Thinking about High School Social Structures

Read the following newspaper story, then discuss the questions that follow.

Inside Quad-City high school cliques

By Ann McGlynn, QUAD-CITY TIMES (Iowa, 1999) 
On a rainy Wednesday morning, just before the school bell rang at 8 a.m., it started. 

One group of students, some with hair dyed black, clothes to match and earrings dotting lips, eyebrows and tongues, stood to the right of the school doors. Other students, some wearing jeans, jackets and with hair up in ponytails, gathered to the left. 

In between, teens from other groups passed by without notice on the way to meet friends near their lockers. 

This scene happened to play out at Bettendorf High School last week. But it is replayed at every high school every day: teens grouping with similarly dressed, like-minded teens in cliques. 

The jocks. The preppies. The Goths. The Mansonites. The skaters. The thespians. The musicians. The dirties. The computer geeks. 

The Quad-City Times recruited 12 high school journalists to get first-hand accounts of what unites and divides teenagers. In interviews with more than 35 high school students, the reporting team heard about different viewpoints. 

Despite those differences, the reporting effort showed one important point of agreement: everyone must work harder to show respect to others. 

"Weíre failing there. Weíre failing with respect. Weíre fixing the symptoms and not the cause," said Lyndsay Deckert, a senior at DeWitt (Iowa) Central High School. 

Cliques form in the junior high and high school years because teens are working to form their identity away from their family ó the first social group, said Linda Petersen, assistant professor of social work at Marycrest International University of Davenport. 

"Kids need to do that. They need to dye their hair purple of pierce their tongue. We want kids to experiment with different personalities," she said. 

Some kids go into a clique that is opposite of their familyís personality. Others join a clique that has the same characteristics as their parents and siblings, Petersen said. 

"Some cliques serve as almost another family, in which people hold different roles, and offer an alternative support group," said Meghan Smith, a student at United Township High School. 

Yet others cross the line between cliques and have friends who are cheerleaders and gang bangers. Some donít reach out to a group; they reach out to a teacher or pastor or another adult. 

Itís when teens canít reach out that many get into trouble, Petersen said. 

"Itís good to feel like you belong to something," Davenport North student Tania Derrick said. 

However, cliques can be damaging, too, Petersen cautions. 

"There is unneeded hatred among the cliques," said Kim Frizzell, a student at Pleasant Valley High School. "You donít even know each other, but you hate one another." 

Mark Vincent, a social psychologist at Augustana College in Rock Island, agrees. 

"You tend to like members of your own group and not like the members of other groups ... and think ëwe are better than themí," he said. 

Frizzell has been at the receiving end of comments about the "other group." 

"Some would say we are drug addicts, violent, racist, consumed with death and darkness. They say we donít shower. They say we are psychos and gay. They use very derogatory terms." 

Vincent explains humans do tend to believe that members of other groups are all the same. At the same time, they recognize the distinct differences among the people in their own group ó physically, mentally and emotionally, he adds. 

It takes a conscious attempt to break down that thought process, as well as an opportunity to do so, he said. And itís the opportunity that may be the hardest part. 

"People will tell me, ëI didnít like you before because of your friends. Now that I know you, youíre pretty cool,í" said Bambi Suits, a student at United Township High School. 

Vincent offered one suggestion for students: ask to designate a day at school to encourage students to talk to someone they have never spoken with before ó kind of like a dress up day for homecoming week. 

"You could start a whole new dialogue," he said. 

Questions for discussion:
  1. How well does this account of high school cliques resonate with your own experiences in high school?
  2. Did you feel that you were part of a clique in high school? How was your clique treated by others? How did your clique treat members of other groups?
  3. Does this article seem to validate, question, or resist the depiction of high school social structures in Stargirl? Explain your response.