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Small-Scale Question Sunday for May 5, 2024

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

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Can anyone here who had an overall happy experience during their primary and secondary schooling comment as to what your experience was like? What type of schools did you attend? How were your relationships with your teachers and peers? How involved were your parents in your schooling?

I attended public schools in wealthy districts, then a magnet school whose admissions policies are occasionally a matter of public controversy (yes, that one). My high school classmates were without a doubt the smartest people I've ever met, and I say this after having spent years around STEM graduates of elite universities. There was no shortage of advanced coursework to keep us nerds from getting bored, and we were given more freedom than we would have had at a typical school e.g. we could eat lunch anywhere, including off-campus, free periods were provided during the day for clubs and activities, and an independent research project was expected of all students. The teachers were generally competent and reasonable, and a decent fraction of them had PhD's in scientific disciplines.

When I was there the demographics were about 50/50 white/Jewish and south/east Asian, with every other group a rounding error. There was a clear divide between kids with tiger parents who had been pressured into attending and those like me who wanted to be there and whose parents were comparatively uninvolved, with the former having an overall negative experience and the latter loving it. I did not witness a single fight throughout my schooling, which I think would come as a shock to older generations or people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Some kids drank or did drugs (weed and LSD, mostly) but my friends and I were squares even by that school's standards, so I don't know the details. Everyone in my graduating class went to college, so even kids whose parents weren't able to help much with the application process obtained the requisite knowledge from their teachers or peers.

Are you saying it is typical in the US to restrict where students can eat lunch?

So typical that reading this comment made me go "wait, it's not like that in Europe?" For a country whose selling point has supposedly always been freedom, I had so little that, when that technically changed after high school, it was like one of those wild animals bred in captivity with no concept of how to live in the wild. The most freedom I got was on that one high school band trip to Universal Studios Orlando, in which I was the goody two-shoes stopping my 16-17 year-old companions from trying to order alcohol from a restaurant that seemed more than willing to believe that the tall guy in the group was actually 21.

... Wait, what freedoms do I have that Europeans lack? I guess I could get a weapon if I wanted?

I'm Canadian and grew up in the central part of a mid-sized city. Only my high school had a cafeteria and I was far enough that I while I walked to school, I didn't have enough time to walk home, eat lunch, and walk back. So I would either eat a packed lunch or go somewhere else for lunch. Some people took the bus, but I think the vast majority walked, especially in elementary and junior high when people lived a closer on average. There were probably some cases, but I don't remember anyone being driven to school by their parents.

I'm having trouble wrapping my head around the concept of not being allowed to leave at lunchtime. Did this apply to the students who lived near the school? How do they even stop you or know what you're doing? What is even the point of this? Why do they care where you eat lunch?

I think the best freedom you have that I lack as a Canadian is the freedom to live in any climate. Our choices are between cold and extremely cold.

Not only is the idea of students leaving for lunch unheard of, but using devices was strictly limited until I got to high school. It was a revelation actually being able to use my iPod at lunchtime when I entered high school. Maybe it's different now.

And once you were old enough to drive, you could technically schedule your classes with free periods at least in my area and leave during those, although it's strongly discouraged to leave gaps in the schedule. In my senior year of high school I had a free period in the morning and got to sleep in part of the week, which was heaven for a night owl like me.

Public schools are incredibly liability-averse and letting kids loose just isn't in their vocabulary. The US values freedom, but is terrified about children's safety to the point of neurosis. To some extent this reflects the safety profile of the US being different than Europe, to some extent it reflects the lower density and car-dependence of the US, to some extent it reflects our tortious legal system, but to a great extent I think it just reflects the neurotic substrate within American society.

How do they even stop you or know what you're doing?

Once the school day starts, almost no one is allowed in or out except in specific circumstances and those who are allowed have to be screened. In that way, schools are kind of run like airports.

Why do they care where you eat lunch?

They care because between the hours of 7am and 3pm, they're responsible for your welfare and if they let you leave and something happens to you, there might be civil or criminal liability. Parents would also be pissed, because the primary function of public schooling isn't education but daycare.

There's also the fact that if they let you out they'd also have to let you back in, and that opens a whole can of worms about random people strolling into the school or setting up a huge infrastructure to screen students returning from lunch.

Canada is a less litigious country than the US, and awards for successful lawsuits are much smaller and often capped by law. But there are still a lot of rules due to people being afraid of liability. But my high school's solution to that was that you were not allowed to hang around the school when you weren't in class. You were free to leave the property though and once you did, they were not responsible for anything that happened.

By the way, 7am? Wtf? Our school started at around 8:30 (in high school) or 9?

What do you mean when you say they screened people going in like an airport? Is there some kind of security or someone watching the door? We had nothing like that in high school. You could come and go freely and no one was tracking who was in the building. In elementary school, it was a little different, in that you'd line up once the bell rang and the teacher would escort you in, and then once inside, they'd take attendance.