Hello! I'm Natasha and I've been living in the US since I was 22 — aka a (kinda) fully formed adult, who never got to experience the highs and lows of the American educational system.
So, because everything I hear about US high schools seems fairly baffling, I enlisted the help of my coworker and cultural guide Hannah to help answer some of my biggest questions. Here we go!
1.Question: Are your history classes super US-focused? Do you learn about any other countries in the world?
Answer: Yes, our classes are super US-focused. We spend a TON of time on the discovery of the Americas, the American Revolution, and the Civil War, as well as the civil rights movement.
However, we also studied ancient civilizations and a lot of European history, like the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
World War I and II were also huge, but we didn't really talk about things like Vietnam until high school — and how it was taught was verrrrrry dependent on the teacher you had.
2.Question: Standardized testing seems to suck ass and not really indicate anything. Why is it such a big thing?
Answer: LOL. I don't know. Obviously the theory is that it makes sure everyone at a certain grade level has reached a certain level of knowledge or intelligence, but we all know it's very faulty.
Still, standardized education in general prevails in US society, so I guess it makes sense that standardized testing is still around.
3.Question: Why isn't geography a class?
Answer: OK, this actually is a class. History, geography, and culture are usually combined into a subject called social studies.
4.Do you really have those big cafeterias where everyone drinks cartons of milk?
Answer: HAHAHA, yes? I'm pretty sure I remember those who bought lunch in elementary school literally being required to buy milk, or it came with the meal, or something. We grew up during a BIG push for kids to drink milk.
Cafeterias are basically all the same — giant rooms with a ton of long, rectangular tables. And now I'm really confused about where else you would eat, and what's so wrong with milk.
5.Question: Is the food as burger/pizza-y as it seems?
Answer: You're forgetting about nacho day. But, yes. Lots of pizza. And at least in my experience, it was all pretty nasty. I always brought lunch (shoutout to my mom).
6.Question: Is sex education as awful as it's portrayed? Thinking "Don't have sex or you will get pregnant and die" here.
Answer: It's actually worse! Well, not where I lived — suburban Massachusetts — but in the South and certain rural areas, it can be REALLY bad.
Where I lived, it wasn't abstinence-only education. BUT, I will say, we spent most of our classes talking about STDs and pregnancy. We did also learn about a LOT of forms of birth control, most of which I haven't heard of since.
Also, the class wasn't called sex ed. It was called health, and sex was only one small part of what we talked about.
7.Question: Do you actually have to say the Pledge of Allegiance?
Answer: Yes, but again, this is really regional. I didn't always do it, and I was never yelled at. A lot of kids kind of phoned it in and stood up with their hands on their hearts and didn't say anything. Some teachers would be strict about it, though, and I imagine in other areas of the US, it's enforced more.
8.Question: Do people actually get shoved in lockers?
Answer: Not at my school. That's just a movies thing, as far as I know. I feel like it might have happened in the '80s — hang on, texting my parents.
...OK, they said it's just a movies thing. But you did get wedgies, according to my dad.
9.Question: Pretty much everyone in my country wears a uniform — do kids actually dress up as much to go to school in the US? Seems like every other person in Pretty Little Liars wore heels.
Answer: I'm the wrong person to ask for this, because I was obsessed with PLL and tried to dress like them, so I wore heels and colorful tights and dresses every day.
A lot of kids just wore sweatpants, leggings, or jeans (and for guys, basketball shorts). Some people definitely dressed up a bit, but mostly I would say no, girls did not wear heels to school, though dresses and skirts weren't out of the ordinary.
10.Question: Do drama clubs actually have a big budget? Like I'm not expecting High School Musical or Glee levels, but I'm pretty sure my school musicals were just some kids in face paint.
Answer: I'm not sure how big our theater company's budget was, but our plays were pretty cool. We had a huge store of old costumes and a bunch of kids who worked on the sets. I would say it was on the level of community theater at least. I really think this varies school to school, though — some schools have no drama/theater at all, which is really sad.
11.Question: What is a PTA? Why do they exist? From what I can tell on Desperate Housewives, it's just a vehicle for women to be mean to each other.
Answer: LOL. This is a good one, 'cause my mom was the PTO (Parent-Teacher Organization, sometimes called the PTA, or Parent-Teacher Association) president. She says PTO was just for fundraising for special programs and supplies for the staff, beautification efforts on school grounds (like adding benches and planting flowers), and organizing the after-prom and after-grad parties.*
This could be because my mom's too nice to call anyone catty, but she says everyone was really nice in PTO! She did say that there were a lot of big personalities and that the people who joined were people who wanted to have some degree of power and be in the know for what was going on in the school. She also wants people to know there were plenty of dads in PTO too!
12.And finally, question: Why do colleges ask you for personal essays as part of your application? Like, why should a university care if I once spent my summer sail boating (one I heard about) or not?
Answer: I think it's just a way to distinguish your application from all the other ones and get a feel for you as a person, which is a nice idea. I don't think they care if you went boating, LOL — it's more to get a feel for your writing style and what you're passionate about. Most prompts are about overcoming adversity, so they can get an idea about your tenacity and problem-solving skills.
Got any more questions for us, either about the American or British school system? Or were things different in your American school? Let us know in the comments below!
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