Life can be hell for teenagers. They aren’t children anymore; and neither are they adults. It is interesting that the very term, teenager, is of very late invention. Before the onset of the Industrial Age, under an agricultural or traditional economy, children “came of age.” Boys entered into their craft or estate and girls became marriageable. This coming of age was usually marked with some kind of cultural event. In fact, in Mexico, they still have the quincenero: the party for a 15-year old girl, setting her out as of marriageable age. But in our day, in our urbanized, technological, post-industrial society, the delay of marriage for the purpose of lengthened schooling is the norm.
The body wants a wife or husband long before school is out, in the early to mid 20s! And, with the state of public schooling is such disrepair, much of the discipline needed to sustain this delayed gratification has fallen down. Teens get a bum rap out of all this. When I was a high-school teacher, one student told me, “high school is a warehouse for teenagers until we (society) can figure out what to do with them.” You say that is cynical? Of course it is. But I didn’t say it; a high schooler did, to many an “amen!”
I started high school in a fine Jesuit preparatory school, after having completed K-8 at St Cassian Elementary School, where I was schooled by Dominican nuns. Sr Mary Joseph was the principal. Few applicants were accepted at St Peter’s where I went. There was a sense of being select, special, elite. The 9th grade curriculum was 1st year Latin, Western Civilization, English, Advanced Algebra, Religion. Since the school was located in Jersey City, I had to ride a train and a bus every day, starting very early and coming home just before 5 PM. The stink of the Secaucus meadows and the air heavy with raw pollution from burning garbage piles prefaced every school day, as the train crossed the delta of the Passaic River. St Peter’s Prep was located near the west bank of the Hudson River, just a couple of blocks from the Colgate-Palmolive factory. Imagine learning the 1st conjugation to the overwhelming odor of toothpaste in the making! Laudo, laudas, laudat, laudamus, laudatis, laudant; did I brush my teeth this morning?
Life at St Peter’s was old-school jesuit discipline. The Jesuit fathers trace their roots back to the outbreak of the Lutheran revolt, in the early 16th century. There, in Germany, especially the southern portions: Bavaria, the Rhineland, these “the Pope’s shock troops” took back many areas from Luther and restored them to Rome. The Jesuits, members of “the Society of Jesus,” found their strength in intellectual achievements. They would practice the Counter-Reformation by out-smarting their Protestant rivals. We teens at St Peter’s would certainly be marked by that spirit. So, our teachers were dead set on showing us just who was in charge. There was a rule that frosh (freshmen, 9th graders) could not cross the street to the corner store during lunch or breaks. That was for upper-classmen only. A few of us put that to the test. We entered the store and purchased orange sodas. There, standing on the corner and swilling our orangeades and enjoying the sun, all seemed promising. We would finish our sodas and return to classes. All this fear-mongering by the upper-classmen was of no account. Until the black robe appeared. The father crossed the street, and without a word, seized our drinks from us and poured their contents into the sewer by the curb. We were duly detained after school for discipline. Yep, they meant what they said. Tow the line, or else. I took a late train that night…