Every weekend, Longform.org shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For a daily selection of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform.org or follow @longformorg on Twitter.
As a journalistic topic, high school is easy to generalize about and tough to actually cover. While these stories range from the iconic ("Fast Times at Ridgemont High") to the distressing ("What Happened to Phoebe Prince?"), each one avoids the clichés that typically plague articles about teenagers. Which means they might actually remind you of what it was like to be in high school. Brace yourself. Friday Night Lights Buzz Bissinger • Sports Illustrated • September 1990 Before the show, before the movie, there was this (true) story about the 1988 Permian Panther football team and the small West Texas city of Odessa:
"The faithful sat on little stools of orange and blue under the merciless lights of the high school cafeteria, but the spartan setting didn't bother them a bit. Had the booster club's Watermelon Feed been held inside the county jail, or on a sinking ship, or on the side of a craggy mountain, these fans still would have flocked there.
Outside, the August night was cool and serene, with just a wisp of West Texas wind. Inside, there was a sense of excitement and also relief, for the waiting was basically over—no more sighs of longing, no more awkward groping to fill up the empty spaces of time with golf games and thoroughly unsatisfying talk about baseball. Tonight the boys of Permian High School in Odessa would come before the crowd, one by one, to be introduced. And in less than two weeks, on the first Friday night in September, the march to state—to the Texas high school championship finals—would begin with the first game of the season."
What Really Happened to Phoebe Prince? Emily Bazelon • Slate • July 2010 Her suicide made headlines around the world after classmates were indicted on felony charges related to bullying, but the real story wasn't that simple:
"My investigation into the events that gave rise to Phoebe's death, based on extensive interviews and review of law enforcement records, reveals the uncomfortable fact that Phoebe helped set in motion the conflicts with other students that ended in them turning on her. Her death was tragic, and she shouldn't have been bullied. But she was deeply troubled long before she ever met the six defendants. And her own behavior made other students understandably upset.
I've wrestled with how much of this information to publish. Phoebe's family has suffered terribly. But when the D.A. charged kids with causing Phoebe's death and threatened them with prison, she invited an inquiry into other potential causes. The whole story is a lot more complicated than anyone has publicly allowed for. The events that led to Phoebe's death show how hard it is for kids, parents, and schools to cope with bullying, especially when the victim is psychologically vulnerable. The charges against the students show how strong the impulse is to point fingers after a suicide, how hard it is to assess blame fairly, and how ill-suited police and prosecutors can be to punishing bullies."
Fast Times at Ridgemont High Cameron Crowe • Playboy • September 1981 At age 22, the author went undercover at his old high school. An excerpt of the book that became the film:
"The strange saga of Mr. Hand had been passed down to Stacy Hamilton by her older brother Brad. Arnold Hand, Ridgemont's U.S. history instructor, was one of those teachers. His was a special brand of eccentricity, the kind preserved only through California state seniority laws. Mr. Hand had been at Ridgemont High for years, waging his highly theatrical battle against what he saw as the greatest threat to the youth of this land–truancy.
Mr. Hand's other favorite activity was hailing the virtues of the three-bell system. At Ridgemont, the short first bell meant a student had three minutes to prepare for the end of the class. The long second bell dismissed the class. Then there were exactly seven minutes—and Mr. Hand claimed that he personally fought the Education Center for those seven minutes—before the third and last attendance bell. If you did not have the ability to obey the three-bell system, Mr. Hand would say, then it was aloha time for you. You simply would not function in life.
'And functioning in life,' Mr. Hand said grandly on that first morning, 'is the hidden postulate of education.' "
My Favorite Teacher Robert Kurson • Esquire • March 2000 Mr. Lindwall was the only high school teacher who understood him. Then Mr. Lindwall went to jail, and it was his turn to try to understand:
"A few weeks after Mr. Lindwall shielded me and told me that I was 'better than them,' he was charged with the kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder of Jefferson Wesley. He also was being investigated, newspapers said, for the kidnappings and sexual assaults of two other young men nearby. Rumors swirled about more possible victims, ten of them even, about foster children he'd molested and maybe other dead Lindwall bodies out there. 'Mr. Lindwall has a toothache,' teachers and administrators told students who showed up for his class the morning after his arrest. Then, eventually, they assured the dumbfounded kids that Mr. Lindwall was not anything like what he appeared. He was nothing like us."
The Unbearable Awkwardness of Being Devin Friedman • GQ • November 2006 Sixteen years after graduating, an alumnus heads back to his old stomping grounds in Cleveland:
"All the things you expect to happen when you go back to your high school, they really do happen. The school feels small. The smell (minty ﬂoor polish and starch-a-fry) drops old memories and sensations back into your body. On my ﬁrst day, I see Mr. Quinones, the old hard-ass gym teacher, checking his mailbox, apparently not having ceased to exist. I kind of expect him to feel the same way: Holy shit, Devin Friedman! But Quinones looks right through me as he ambles out the door in his Bike shorts and makes for the gymnasium. Even though you ought to know better, you still sort of think everyone's been charting your progress and thinking about you. They haven't."
The Killer Cadets Skip Hollandsworth • Texas Monthly • December 1996 How two love-struck, type-A high school students almost got away with murder:
"David Graham might have seemed tailor-made for the military—when he and others in the ROTC squadron presented the colors before the football games, he stood so perfectly still that people tended to watch him instead of the flag—but he never came across as one of those overly aggressive GI Joe types. He quit the football team after his freshman year because, it was said, he didn't have the necessary ferocity to make it in Texas high school football. What's more, girls liked him for his courtly manners. Angel Lockhardt, who was on the girls' cross-country team, said David gave her rides home a few times after cross-country practice, 'and he always acted like a gentleman.'
Plenty of girls would have dated David—'He was one of the last cool guys on earth,' a girl who served with David in the Mansfield High ROTC would later tell a reporter—but what few of them knew was that he already had a girlfriend. Her name was Diane Zamora, and she was a high school senior in the nearby town of Crowley. She was just as smart as David, and she was equally determined to get into one of the U.S. military academies. She was a member of the student council, the Key Club, the National Honor Society, and the Masters of the Universe, a science organization. She played flute in the marching band, and like David, she ran on her high school's cross-country team. 'When you looked at the two of them together,' one of Diane's relatives said, 'you just knew that a great future lay before them.' "