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Another Planet: A Year in the Life of a Suburban High School
     

Another Planet: A Year in the Life of a Suburban High School

by Elinor Burkett
 

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With a novelist's eye, Elinor Burkett takes readers behind the school system's closed doors, revealing a world of mixed messages, manufactured myths, and political hype.

In the wake of school shootings across the country, one question haunted America: What is going wrong inside our nation's schools? To find out, award-winning journalist Elinor Burkett spent

Overview

With a novelist's eye, Elinor Burkett takes readers behind the school system's closed doors, revealing a world of mixed messages, manufactured myths, and political hype.

In the wake of school shootings across the country, one question haunted America: What is going wrong inside our nation's schools? To find out, award-winning journalist Elinor Burkett spent nine months — from the opening pep rally to graduation day — in a suburban Minneapolis high school. She attended classes, hung out with students, listened to parents, and joined teachers on the front lines.

She soon discovered that, post-Columbine, fears about loners and misfits, "Smoker's New Year" (a pot holiday), "Zero Tolerance" policies, and school lockdowns have become as much a part of a teen's high school experience as dating and Clearasil. But Burkett goes even deeper and makes some startling conclusions in this poignant exposé of the real problems facing educators, parents, and the children they try to teach.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the wake of Columbine, journalist Burkett (The Baby Boon) attempts to plumb the mysteries of suburban high school by spending the 2001-2000 school year at Prior Lake High School in Prior Lake, Minn., near Minneapolis. In expanding what could have been a two- or three-part magazine article into a full-length book, she adds little to the national debates on school safety or education. Each chapter not only has a date, but a time, and each also focuses on a different aspect of school life, from Friday night sports to segregation in the school cafeteria. While many of the phenomena Burkett describes have been written about before, she does deal sensitively with administrative and parental fears as the first anniversary of the Columbine shootings draws near. She shows that the students are not brave for overcoming their anxieties and coming to school on April 20, but foolhardy for driving stoned; the date was also Smokers' New Year, the international pot holiday. An accomplished writer, Burkett occasionally loses her way when she tries to take readers inside the minds of teachers and students. Similarly, footnotes or endnotes to support blanket statements such as schools with "zero tolerance" rules are less safe than those without, or teenagers are not looking forward to freedom and independence as their parents' generation did would have been a helped. Still, this snapshot of one community's struggles to educate its kids will dispel preconceptions of suburban high schoolers as violent and ill-prepared. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Noted journalist/author Burkett (The Baby Boon) recently returned to high school but not for a class reunion. To help us get a better handle on today's teenagers, she tracked a year in the life of a high school class in Minnesota. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The strange world of the American suburban high school, an incubator in which it is a marvel that any graduates hatch, snappily chronicled by Miami Herald journalist Burkett (The Right Women, 1998, etc.). Burkett spent the 1999-2000 school year at the Prior Lake High School in Minnesota. She wanted to move beyond the Columbine half-truths regurgitated by pundits, and get a real sense of what goes on inside suburban schools. Is there dignity in the experience? Does it offer hope to its students? Burkett appreciates that she won't be able to experience school like a student would, but she gets right in with the "Jocks and Wiggers, Preps, Punks, Burnouts, Rednecks, Sluts and Goths," and does her best. What she finds is that high schools are the same as they've been for the last 30 years: a welter of angst, hormones, confused purpose, social divides, scapegoating, and often contradictory and hypocritical messages sent by teachers and parents. It's an environment that confines and restricts-essentially canceling the Bill of Rights until graduation-while urging independent thinking; that infantilizes while demanding maturity; that regiments and practices indiscriminate zero tolerance. Nor is it late-breaking news that students continue to raise flakiness to a high art; that they are wracked by ennui and are "unwilling to be reasoned with or shamed into obedience." But Burkett brings the gavel down square on the heads of administration and parents for their haywire priorities, and for demanding that students strive for excellence, avoid caving to social pressures, and express themselves, while throwing up as many obstacles to these already difficult goals as possible. Crackling withenergy, Burkett's report is a good dose of high school for those who have been away for a while-turbulent, unstable, and unpredictable, with a company of survivors cast as graduates.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060505851
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/28/2002
Series:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
508,822
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Noon, Monday,
August 2, 1999

More than three months had passed since the bullets ricocheted off the walls of the library at Columbine High School, striking terror into the nation, and since Littleton, Colorado entered the pantheon of public horrors — alongside the World Trade Center, the Challenger disaster, and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Americans staggered in confusion at the latest assault on their innocence.

Scores of journalists had descended on the once complacent suburb, holding out the tantalizing prospect of healing insight. They emerged with details about...trenchcoats. Pundits had transmogrified old-fashioned schoolyard bullies into well-scrubbed parodies of the Crips and the Bloods and converted Goth, the latest teen fashion statement, into a satanic cult. When they decamped for a fresher story, they left us hanging with shards of half-truths about music and style and adolescent angst.

You didn't have to be a seventeen-year-old to know that that cruel parody of high school life was an empty promise. But perhaps you had to be a seventeen-year-old to make sense out of those jumbled images.

I wasn't seventeen years old, and I was under no illusions that I could unravel the unfathomable, that I could divine a single crisp explanation to a seemingly inexplicable reality. Obsession, however, is the occupational hazard of journalists, so that afternoon I flew to Minneapolis to go back to high school, to linger for a year in the halls and malls where America's Dylan Kleboldsand Eric Harrises spend their days.

A member of the national chorus that was speaking in a single, almost desperate voice, I was driven by a single question: "What's going on in our suburban high schools?"

Inside the walls of Prior Lake High School — a typical suburban high school remarkably like Columbine — I hoped to glean at least the beginnings of an answer.

Another Planet. Copyright © by Elinor Burkett. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Elinor Burkett has worked as a newspaper reporter, university professor, and magazine writer. A Pulitzer Prize—nominated journalist and the author of eight previous books, she divides her time between the Catskill Mountains of New York and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

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