Monday, May 26, 2008

High School: Is Junior Year the Hardest? (HSM won't say)


Is Junior Year the “hardest year” in high school? I remember an episode on TheWB’s Everwood where piano prodigy Ephram (Gregory Smith) says that, in a year when he gets a D in Spanish (the “easiest” foreign language) and Bright flunks trigonometry. In my own case, at Washington-Lee High School in 1960, I had that “hard” Va. and U.S. History teacher whose tests were almost all essay. I also had physics that year, which is hard at first, but you get used to it.

The Weekend Wall Street Journal (May 24, p A1) featured a story by Jonathan Kaufman “High School’s Worst Year: For Ambitious Teens, 11th Grade Becomes a Marathon of Tests, Stress and Sleepless Nights,” link here. I had to write a term paper in English that year, and the topic was James Fenimore Cooper’s treatment of women in his Leatherstocking Tales. I remember taking the bus downtown Saturdays to the DC library (now a museum) to find good enough material for research, that was kept on index cards; and the term paper was actually handwritten in penmanship (it was easier to do footnotes that way), long before the days of Word Perfect or Microsoft Word (and turnitin.com). But I was introduced to final exams in 10th Grade, two three-hour finals each day in a period in June, and I remember writing an analysis of Mark Antony’s motives in Julius Caesar on the English exam.

But now, with high school usually starting in ninth grade, educators are saying repeatedly that ninth grade is the hardest, and has the most failures. I had ninth grade in “Junior High School” when we were the oldest kids in the block, but age 14 was the worst of all in my own teenage angst. It got better in high school for me, but not for a lot of people.

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