Welcome back to Deep-Fried Friday and my High School Halls series. This fall as teenagers head back to school, we’re taking a look at high school then and now.
One of the things that has stayed consistent across the years are clubs and cliques. Teens are all about figuring out how they stand out from others and where they belong, and clubs and cliques help to answer that question. While we all claim to hate the parsing of students into groups, just about everyone does it in high school. Those groups can be more inclusive or exclusive depending on the people in them, and groups can be mean to others or simply keep to themselves. But regardless, high schoolers in part identify themselves as people based on who their people are.
That Was Then
The reason my generation adored The Breakfast Club (1985) is that we related to it so well–five stereotypes (jock, beauty, brain, rebel, and recluse) who represent the high school cliques and have difficulty crossing the invisible social barriers. Of course, not every high school had same cliques.
In my high school in Corpus Christi, Texas, we had the jocks, the preppies, the brainiacs, the rednecks, and the surfers. That doesn’t encompass everyone, nor are these strict lines. Some people were braniac rednecks or preppy jocks. But there were clear distinctions in dress, mannerisms, and priorities that distinguished a group.
Jocks of course were in sports clubs. Preppies ran Student Council and were often in choir (we had an amazing choir), yearbook club, and school spirit organizations. Brainiacs were often found in band, although we had our share of surfers there too. Surfers were more likely, however, to be found anywhere but school. The rednecks? Well, let’s just say that my school’s FFA and FHA (Future Farmers/Homemakers of America) clubs were so large that classes let out for three days for students to participate in our local livestock show and rodeo.
Where did I fit in? I got along with everyone, so far as I could tell. However, my friends were typically culled from Honors classes and band. So yeah, call me geek if you wish.
This Is Now
Looking at the high school in my district, there are 38 clubs listed–more options than I recall having in high school. Some clubs I recognized, such as the Drama Club, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), the National Honor Society (NHS), the Spanish Club, and Student Council.
But today’s teens also have the options of Anime Club, Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), Peer Assistance and Leadership (PALS), Technology Students Association (TSA), and both the Young Democrats and Young Republicans. Moreover, there are clubs for activities such as Books, Creative Writing, Photography, Recycling, Scrapbooking, and Video Games.
As I read through the list, I wondered what kind of students are attracted to these various clubs. What personalities are drawn to these groups? Do these clubs determine cliques in some way?
Or are the cliques pretty much the same in any generation — ranging from the popular to the midpointers to the outcasts? I hope not. I pray that greater options means that teens can find places of belonging and opportunities for friendship.
But I know these distinctions still exist. Cliques still thrive in today’s high school. There are still teen films and shows with cliques, like Mean Girls (2004) and Glee. Teens still identify others based on monikers such as “jocks” and “geeks.” A few others exist, of course. Hunting for a list of current cliques, I came across this example: Beauty Queens and Kings, Flirts, Dramatics, Jocks, Teacher’s Pets (aka suck-ups), Emos, Health Nuts, Nerds, Perfectionists, and Gossips. (For us older folks, “emos” are the emotional types; think modern-bay Beatnik.)
Do clubs and cliques hurt or help the average teen? I suspect the answer lies in how they exist. Quoting a teen, “Cliques arise out of the need or want to be accepted and make friends with people who have similar interests. It is when cliques are exclusive and hurtful that they become a bad thing” (Joan Hedrick, junior at Weaver Academy).
Clubs and cliques can help teens self-identify as long as they are inclusive, not exclusive; promote support not hierarchy in schools; and allow individuality rather than insist on complete conformity. When the bullying starts, of course, it’s no longer a positive thing. And all too often, cliques draw uncrossable lines between themselves and others and prejudge others based on their identification with a group.
One of my favorite classic rock groups, Rush, wrote a song about the dangers of dividing ourselves into cliques. From Subdivisions comes the line, “Conform or be cast out.”
What do you think? Are clubs and cliques good or bad for teens? What clubs or cliques did you belong to in high school? Did they help or hurt you in developing your identity?