Honors English, Boys and Girls

Yesterday I had the pleasure of observing an honors English class at one of our local high schools: it’s a class that is cross listed with one of our college classes (for students who choose to pay for college credit), so as with instructors on campus, instructors at the high school get “peer mentors” who observe their classes and review syllabi, assignments, etc. I am the dedicated peer mentor to the few high school instructors who have been approved to teach these cross-listed classes (called College Now at many schools across the country).

The instructor for this class is one who moonlights for the college in the evenings, so I had little doubt of his abilities as an instructor, but I am always curious to observe how a high school instructor negotiates the needs of 11th grade honors English with the expectations of a college-level literature survey class. 

I arrived with a bit of anticipatory dread: I wasn’t particularly fond of my own high school experiences, though they were no worse than most people’s. But even in a building that was built 50 years after my own high school, the horrid feelings still returned as soon as I walked down the hallway: insecurity, fear, hunger, anxiety, need, desire. And I could see the same feelings reflected in the faces of nearly every student I passed.

The class began promptly at the “bell” (which sounds more like chimes at this school) and the instructor immediately quieted the 30+ students, reviewed the last class discussion, and got them focused on continuing a discussion of postmodernism and John Berger.  The level of discourse was impressive, the students were engaged, applying critical thinking, with their newfound knowledge of postmodernism, to the actual words in the text.  So I had no complaints about the quality and level of the classroom instruction and interaction with the ideas and texts.

What interested me most, though, was that all of the girls, about 20 of them, were crammed on one side of the room, except for about 3 of them who had no choice but to move to the other side of the room where the 9 or so boys were sitting.  I have never seen such  severe self segregation before. The instructor had to remind me when I remarked on it: these boys are the smart, nerdy boys, not necessarily as good at or as interested in the social interactions with girls as say, the jocks might be (or the one outwardly gay young man who DID sit on the girls side, nestled between them like a mascot). 

Ok, that does make sense. But these boys just didn’t LOOK nerdy or overtly intellectual to me, so I didn’t see it, and still don’t. It seems I have truly lost that radar that allows me to see the various cliques–these boys looked perfectly normal, even cute and popular-looking, to me. But then, I suppose they did when I was in high school, too.

2 responses to “Honors English, Boys and Girls

  1. The instructor’s comment strikes me as more than a little odd because wouldn’t the girls in the class be “nerdy” too? And if they aren’t then, well, where ARE the nerdy girls? Back when I was a nerdy girl, the nerdy boys were our friends.

    If the level of discourse is really that high in the class, it might be interesting for the instructor to bring up the way the class is divided and see what the students have to say about it.

  2. Excellent points, EK.

    Interestingly, the girls included many jocks and cheerleaders (they left class 5 minutes early because the “big game” was about to begin)–none of the boys left early. Perhaps because the instructor is male, he didn’t recognize the “nerdiness” of the girls (and, since they were all dressed nearly exactly alike in tight jeans, and 2 thin shirts, the one on bottom sticking out over their butts, and either Uggs or ballet slippers, long straight hair in pony tales or hanging loose, it was hard to pinpoint visually any girl who was particularly “nerdy”).

    I love your idea though: I’ll challenge the instructor to bring it up in class and let you know what happens. Thanks for posting.

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