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


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, ...

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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 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.

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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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060505851
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/28/2002
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 792,694
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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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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.
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2003

    Truthful, but not brilliant

    while i appreciate this book for its honest look at public high schools, i wasn't incredibly impressed with it. i read in these pages descriptions that fit my own high school and graduating class. i graduated at the same time in a school only 600 miles away from Prior Lake. we're not all that different really. bottom line, not a 'must read' for me, but it was interesting to see how she described the community. i moved to Prior Lake less than 3 months after Elinor left the high school. her descriptions of the community attitude are very correct.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2002

    An Eye-opener

    Typical book about high school? Yes. Overdone? Maybe. Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed this book. I currently suffering through the experience of going to a public high school and saw myself and everyone I know in these people. It's very informative, definitely worth the read. The fact that it is non-fiction makes it that much more appealing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2002

    Reality at It's Best

    When life begins to plummet into the unknown, it seems like Eleanor Burkett is there with a flashlight guiding us across the page. This book is the closest thing to reality. Coming from Prior Lake, the conservative town where the story was based, I know that anyone that reviews this book poorly- is just one of the haters/bigots that Eleanor Burkett descibes in her book just slightly. I realized, through this book, that alot of the frustrations and fears that I had were not because of my family- as I thought- but because of the way the education system was built. I encourage all to read it- especially because I am quoted within it./ -Katie's Brother

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2001

    An okay book that could have been great.

    'Another Planet' by Elinor Burkett is bound to ruffle some feathers in the teaching community but it should be required reading regardless. While it is apparent that the author has a definite bias there is much to be learned by reading this book. I've taught in public and private schools but came into the teaching profession via industry and much of what the author details about our profession is all too true. The cliques in the departments are very similar to those of the students and just as destructive. Sadly, I think that the author has hurt her cause by allowing her bias to have so much free rein. Had she been able to be more objective I think a lot of good would have come from her work. I was left feeling unsatisfied but I realize the author's goal was not to suggest remedies to our problems but to air them. It's up to us: parents, teachers, administrators, and students, to work out the solutions.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2001

    This Book Is The Honest Truth Of PLHS

    Elinor Burkett is a great Author and a kind and socialable person. I attended Prior Lake High while she was there and this book is as true as you will find. I am pleased to see the truth being told and no one could have expressed it better! I highly recommend this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2001

    Thank You Ms. Burkett...

    It was a great experience having Ms. Burkett at our high school during my senior year. While the things she wrote were very personal to those of us who shared a special year with her, I am sure this book could have been written in many high schools across the country. Every school has a power hungry 'little gestapo' just as I am sure you could find hard working dedicated teachers who teach for the joy of imparting knowledge to their students. It is too bad that the 'gestapos' who are in the teaching profession, don't retire and make room for new teachers who really care. Any names used in this book were used with written permission from individuals. This book was written by a person who came into our high school and really listened to all of us. She never looked down on any of our thoughts. She made my senior year a year I will always remember.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2001

    If I could give it negative stars, I would.

    This is a book written in the language of lies. What attempts to pass for a 'social criticism' of America's typical high schools rather focuses on criticizing specific adults and teenagers for their taken-out-of-context words and actions. The author's use of real names, first and last, is irresponsible and inexcusable. To say the book is only 'sensationalized' is a vast understatement. It rather seeks to emulate dramas such as Boston Public, or even Melrose Place. The book is a soap opera, a recipe of sex, drugs and binge drinking. While these things certainly do go on in the lives of teenagers (and teachers know this, by the way), they do not *make up* the lives of teenagers. This book serves only to discredit hard-working teachers and demoralize students who trusted and confided in the 'video camera view' the author provided. If you are interested in a serious book about American education today, look elsewhere. If you're interested in a hardcover tabloid that seeks to disrespect and destroy, you've found it here.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2001

    my high school

    This is high school as I saw it. I attended Prior Lake Senior High, the school that the author studied to get information for the book. The book is written as though a video camera captured the 'moves' of students and faculty throughout a single school year. It reads like a fiction novel about a sensational high school with students who lead extraordinary lives, but the fact is this is a non-fiction book. The characters are all real, and the stories factual. It shows high school life as the roller-coaster ride that it is. Some faculty in my high school view the book as a 'sensationalized version of what really goes on in high school' and that the author wouldn't have been able to sell a book if she wrote about what went on 90% of the time. Well, the truth is, the author had to hold much of went on in our school back. This is not a sensationalized version of high school....this is high school. It portrays the daily problems that students and faculty encounter, and doesn't pull any punches. The students portrayed are a diverse social group of students with mixed backgrounds and opinions. The author did an amazing job choosing who would represent each 'group' in high school, especially with the complicated social structure of American high schools. I think this book should be a wake-up call to school administrators accross the country. To those administrators who feel that this isn't an accurate portrayal of high school, you're fooling yourself. You're blind to what is going on under your nose, and too ignorant to see that change is needed. Those who feel that the majority of students 'show-up every day and try their hardest' are also fooling themselves. Every educator should read this book with an open mind and realize that this is the underground of high school life. Their school may not be as 'bad', but I can bet that most schools are worse. Aspiring educators should read this book to understand what they are getting themselves into, and those who teach the aspiring educators should reccommend that their students read this book so they don't make the same mistakes of some of their predecessors. Most teachers can't see that they're doing anything wrong, but this book shoves it right in their face. I highly recommend this book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2001

    from a student of prior lake

    I am a student at Prior Lake High & I feel that the author should not have used the real names of the students or teachers. I know that some of the teachers in the school are angry about it and I can see why. Some of the things she said about the students and staff made some of the students in the school talk about it for days after the book came out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2001

    'Another Planet' got that right

    Well she says it as it is. I went to Prior Lake Highschool when that book was written. I am the baby faced sophmore. She says it(Life in Highschool in suburbia Minnesota), as it is, and bashes the administration for what they are doing wrong. One of kind, and the BEST!

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