After fourteen years I had only one uncomfortable moment, one feeling of small panic. It came halfway through the advanced English class I was monitoring as an observer. Maybe it was because the class was period two, home room — and since graduating from Crawford High School in East San Diego in the spring of 1969 I had forgotten all about the fact that we used to have home rooms. Or maybe it was that the day’s lesson on Greek drama was just the sort of thing that used to put a glaze over my eyes. Whatever it was, the teacher’s voice faded, and I became acutely aware of the clock on the wall, with its minute hand creeping upward one loud “click!” at a time. I heard the boy next to me ask his friend, “Did you find your homework yet?” and heard his friend answer, “I didn’t do it, so how could I find it?” And suddenly I felt lightheaded, as if I hadn't graduated at all, as if the teacher were going to call on me and I didn’t know the answer to the question.
I had come back to Crawford looking for a lot more than a feeling of deja vu. I wanted to find out what the students’ concerns and perceptions are, and how they differ from what ours were back in the days when the Rolling Stones were still young and the newspapers daily reported the latest total of American soldiers who had died in Vietnam. In a way, I suppose, I wanted to stash the school under my shirt, run off with it, pull it out once I got home, and leaf through it page by pungent page. Because you hear a lot of things about high school these days. You hear that students graduate without knowing the difference between words like “their” and “there.” You hear that sex is as common and meaningful as exchanging business cards, and that kids show up for class so saturated with drugs they can barely put pen to paper.
I had heard a few disturbing things specifically about Crawford, too. There were rumors of students threatening teachers for giving them bad grades, and of fights stemming from racial hostilities and gang rivalries. Some of the incidents were said to involve knives or guns. “I guess you’d need a gun to get by at Crawford now,” some of my old high-school chums would say, half jokingly, whenever the subject of Crawford came up. It sounded a bit different from the prim, strict high school I remembered, run like a cross between boot camp and a coed summer camp, where the most defiant act imaginable was to smoke (tobacco) in the bathrooms.
So I decided to go back and find out if all they can’t wear today “is a bathing suit or something,” joked Kelvin Ross, currently a senior at Crawford and a standout linebacker on its football team. Handsome and almost lanky, Ross carries 220 pounds on his huge frame and on the football field is the embodiment of the old saw, “For a man of his size, he has amazing quickness.” He was one of several students I talked to at length during a recent visit to the campus, and I found his mental quickness above average, too. But when I tried to explain to him how administrators used to measure girls’ skirts to see if they were inappropriately short, Ross simply shook his head incredulously and said, “Oh, wow.” (“We resisted liberalizing the dress code, but once you get away from the emotion of the issue, you have to analyze whether something like dress really has any impact on a student’s academic performance,” one district official told me not long ago. Apparently no relation between the two was found.)
Another striking change is the relationship between teachers and students. I saw a lot of students stop to banter with teachers in the halls between classes. At lunchtime the students are free to wander off the campus — and no one quizzes them when they return to see if they’ve been playing pool, guzzling beer, or smoking pot.
Near the lunch quad is a spacious drop-in counseling center and students are in it all hours of the day, talking with counselors or researching some career opportunity on their own. In the classrooms, many of the teachers wear casual shirts and jeans; they are no longer simply distant authority figures, and most of them seem to be having a genuinely good time with their students. “They treat you not as a student, but as a student and a friend,” explained Ross. “Plus, they seem to really care about what happens to you.”
It is a relationship we did not even hope for in 1969. We were a half dozen studious but restless individuals; we shared a grotesque sense of humor and a profound disdain for the educators who ran our school. In our view, they were unimaginative and hypocritical, and they gave us no measure of respect. They insulted us by saying we should attend proms and join the student government; what could have been more “irrelevant” (irrelevant was a key word that soon became a cliche) to the social and political turmoil engulfing the country? We thought the role of school should be to prepare us for life in the real world — and it was a world where people were getting drafted and sent to Vietnam to die for no clear reason at all. It was a world where college students were protesting the government’s policies in increasingly harsh terms; within eighteen months some of those students would be tear-gassed, beaten, and even shot while they were protesting. Blacks had rioted in the ghettos of Detroit and Los Angeles after 200 years of unequal opportunity. Elected officials were plotting coups and undermining foreign governments while publicly maintaining they were doing nothing at all — lying through their teeth, some of them. And in the midst of all this we were told that what was truly important was to keep our hair short and wear red, white, and blue to school each week on Spirit Day.
Our convictions were uncluttered by any real understanding of human nature. And they were definitely not shared by the vast majority of students at Crawford, who were caught up in the usual high-school concerns of dates, cars, and money. Those students accepted the role conceived for them by administrators, but we rebelled. We listened to the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane instead of our teachers. We started a group called the Student Action Corps, modeled on the radical college group Students for a Democratic Society, and circulated a petition with a list of demands that would give us a lot more influence in school matters. Along with such things as an open campus, no dress code, and better food in the cafeteria, we slipped in a few bombshells: true decision-making power for the students, politically significant movies in the auditorium. Two thousand students signed the petition in three days, although surely most of them were more concerned about the food than the movies. Teachers and administrators instantly grew apprehensive. “They want to take over the school!” one friend of mine heard a teacher say.
But abruptly, we gave up the whole fight. We were cynical enough to believe that the school “Establishment” would never give in to us, and a true revolution was doomed (even if we had advocated the use of weapons, we didn’t have any). The demands in the petition crumbled. I had written many of them myself, and I’ve always regretted giving up the fight for them so quickly, because we had the right people on the defensive, and for all the right reasons.
Most of the changes we asked for became realities within a few years after we graduated. We happened to be the beginning of a huge wave of student unrest and rebellion that swept through the area’s high schools in the early 1970s. But changes take time, and tensions at Crawford continued throughout the Vietnam War, according to Marion McAnear. McAnear was a German teacher at Crawford when I was there; I was a student of his for three successive years. He is still at Crawford, still teaches German, and has become the school’s soccer coach, too. A burly man whose hair is now going gray, he was and is an excellent teacher and a thoughtful man. “When I first came here in the Sixties we were a lot more straight-laced than we are today,” McAnear told me when I looked him up on the Crawford campus. “Teachers wore ties and jackets; classrooms were a lot more formal. There was a gap between the students and the teachers, and that was the way it was supposed to be.
“But during the Vietnam War, the whole atmosphere here was one of tension. There were so many kids . . . and they were rebelling. Cherry bombs were being blown up in trash cans almost every day at lunch. The battle lines were drawn,” McAnear said.
“When I was going through high school, it was sort of us versus the teachers,” agreed Chris Miller. At thirty-three. Miller is one year older than I am, and he encountered many of the same rules and frustrations at his high school in Phoenix, Arizona. He currently teaches U.S. history at Crawford and is the head football coach, and his rapid-fire style of talking is full of a coach’s enthusiasm. “We had a strict dress code, and our student government was a body that had no power at all,” Miller continued. “The teachers were sort of detached. They didn't try to get to know students.
“Today, we’re still authoritarian figures, but we listen to the student government. We treat the students with respect.” Or, as another teacher at Crawford, Don Mayfield, puts it, “The students don’t see the administration as the ‘Establishment’ anymore. They see the individuals.” It isn't utopia, but from what I saw, the relationship between students and teachers beats the hell out of the one that existed fourteen years ago, and that’s a fundamental change.
But it is a curious kind of change. It has been accompanied at Crawford by a resurgence of the old bromide, “school spirit.” In the last few years, such things as taking fierce pride in the school’s football team, currently ranked sixth in the county, have become increasingly popular. As I talked with Miller he told me I should wear red, white, and blue to school the following day, Spirit Day — a lot of the students and teachers would be wearing those colors, he said. The Crawford team would be playing arch-rival Lincoln High School that Friday afternoon in a game that could decide the Central League championship, and Miller and a lot of other teachers and administrators at Crawford encouraged me to go. “The football games are a big part of the overall scene here,” explained Bill Fox, Crawford’s current principal.
I wound up driving out to the game at Lincoln the next day with Fox, a boyish-looking man of forty-five. He has been principal at the school since 1981, and he told me that the re-involvement with school activities such as dances and football games comes after a long period when such activities received little student support at all. “I think you’ll find that [in that sense] students today are more like the majority of students were when you were in high school,” Fox commented. The resurgence of interest is due in part to the encouragement of top school district officials, who are hoping that an increase in “school spirit” will lead to a decrease in vandalism, drug use, and other problems that have plagued high schools throughout the county in recent years. Fox himself vigorously supports the idea, partly, he told me, because he thinks it is important for students to be exposed to various high-school social activities. He also believes successful events raise funds that can be used to lower the cost of student activities, enabling less wealthy students to attend.
Increasingly, the students seem to be buying the idea. Margie McDonald, Crawford’s current Associated Student Body president, told me that the number of people who attend A.S.B. activities has increased noticeably in the last three years. Many more students are doing things such as wearing school colors on Spirit Day and showing more enthusiasm at pep rallies, she said. (Mayfield told me that a few years ago it wasn’t uncommon for some of his brighter students to show their disdain for “school spirit” by coming to class on Spirit Day dressed in black.) “It sounds trivial, but attendance at the football games is up, too,” said McDonald, an attractive young woman who has the precocious, oddly disconcerting poise that high school A.S.B. officers traditionally seem to possess. She admitted with a laugh that the renewed support of student activities may be due to the fact that “we have a good football team. But I think [such support) is important, I definitely do, because getting into supporting the school creates positive feelings, positive activities. If you’re hating school, not getting involved in anything, it creates negative activities — like hanging out more, maybe getting into drugs.”
Fox and I parked in Lincoln’s parking lot and walked down to the athletic field, where the two football teams were warming up. The Crawford players looked awfully big in their white helmets, white jerseys, and blue pants, and the faces had changed from exclusively white when I was a senior to a more balanced mixture of black and white. (Crawford now has a black student population of 17.5 percent, nearly double the 9.9 percent average for city junior high and high schools, and far more than the 2.9 percent it had in 1969. White students currently constitute just under half the total student population, and the balance is made up principally of blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.) The Colts were favored to win the game, but Lincoln, a high school located on South Forty-ninth Street in Southeast San Diego, has a long history of upsetting favored Crawford teams. I got the feeling that as far as the Lincoln players were concerned, the Colts were just upstarts from uptown. After the opening kickoff Crawford’s team moved methodically down the Field to score. Then a Lincoln player ran back the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, and from then on it was a dogfight.
It was a hot day, but the stands on the eastern side of the field were jammed with Crawford supporters: teachers and parents as well as students. The students were wearing “Classy Colts’’ sweatshirts, “Go Colts’’ ribbons, and buttons that said, “Face it, Colts are Great,” exactly as their predecessors did fourteen years ago. The cheerleaders all had great legs, and they still had names like Andi and Buffy and Melinda. But you could occasionally smell marijuana smoke in the stands, and the cheers were a lot more soulful than the plaintive “Hey, hey, whad-dya say” stuff I remembered. They included things like “Boogie ’cross that line” and “Crawford don’t take no jive,” and more than once the crowd exhorted the team to “get down.” There was, in fact, a lot more cheering than game watching. The score at half time was 13-7 Lincoln, but in the second half, as the smog drifted in and the sun turned brown, the Crawford players finally put together another long drive. On a critical third-down play a tall Crawford receiver went up for a pass and managed to catch it despite the Lincoln player who tackled him instantly (he juggled the ball momentarily, but crashed to the ground clutching it firmly to his chest), and a few minutes later a muscular young player made a nice over-the-shoulder catch to give Crawford a 14-13 lead. The crowd screamed even louder, if that was technically possible, and I remembered that when I was in high school, I thought all this “school spirit” business was kind of dumb. I’m not certain I’ve changed my mind. If successful school activities somehow enable economically disadvantaged students to attend proms they might not otherwise be able to afford, I guess that’s great. What I object to is the small view that things like “school spirit” can engender. Shouldn’t we teach high-school students that compassion for your rivals is of far greater consequence than glee at having rubbed their noses in the dirt? And more than that, should we really be encouraging students to think that things like homecoming and pep rallies are important? It seems to me our time and money would be far better spent encouraging students to explore ways of bringing about nuclear disarmament, or easing world hunger, or putting an end to acid rain. Attitudes are important, and they’re certainly forming at the high-school level; why bother with “school spirit” when you can bring about changes that might save the human race from complete annihilation?
I suppose it’s part of our neurotic modem consciousness to be required by circumstances to face such questions, and to be simply unable to do it most of the time. I know I can’t. Hell, when Crawford scored that go-ahead touchdown, I felt a shiver of emotion, and I realized something: I wanted the Colts to win. It looked as if they were going to, too, right down to the point where only two minutes were left in the game. Then the Colts’ quarterback threw a low, flat pass that was intercepted by a Lincoln defender. Two plays later Lincoln’s quarterback scampered around left end, made a couple of neat zigzags, and was tackled at the two-yard line. The Crawford fans grew morose, and with thirteen seconds left, Lincoln scored to put the game away, 19-14. I felt kind of let down as I made my way out of the stands, but I noticed the girl next to me was crying. Down on the field some of the Crawford players were, too.
The changes in the ethnic makeup of Crawford’s students would be immediately obvious to anyone who attended the school in my era. We were a school that consisted of ninety percent white kids, nearly all of us middle class, and racial concerns and tensions were things that happened elsewhere. Today Crawford has achieved what school district planners like to refer to as racial parity; the remarkable thing is that the school has gone through this transition without having to resort to busing. Only about fifty students are bused to Crawford from other parts of the city, and they come to take advantage of special courses the school offers as a regional “magnet” school for business and accounting. “It’s very unusual to be balanced ethnically without a lot of busing,” noted principal Bill Fox. “Most schools are out of balance one way or the other” — that is, top-heavy with either minorities or whites. The reason Crawford is not seems to be coincidental; the school’s district, located smack dab between Southeast San Diego and the burgeoning suburbs north and east of San Diego State University, is a sort of melting pot of various ethnic groups. Housing in the district varies from run-down apartments to sprawling tract homes, and this is probably what has brought about the racial mix.
As Fox pointed out, one advantage of the district’s racial balance is that students of various ethnic groups tend to encounter each other as they are growing up, mingling in activities such as Little League. Their parents tend to see each other year after year at PTA meetings. By the time most of the students reach high school they are accustomed to mixing with people from other ethnic groups who are, after all, simply people from the same community. One teacher at Crawford, who formerly taught at Lincoln High School, told me that if I were to go to Lincoln I’d “probably find a lot of bused-in white kids sitting around in groups and hoping the black kids won’t beat up on them.’’ At Crawford most of the blacks and whites seem to get along fine. I saw them sitting together on the quad at lunch and joking together in classrooms when teachers were temporarily absent. Nevertheless, there is racial uneasiness at Crawford. “No, it’s not a cloud hanging over the campus, but yes, there are racial tensions,’’ as football coach Chris Miller sums it up. Nearly all of those tensions involve a new ethnic group in the area — the Indochinese.
The Indochinese, or Asians, as they are called in the school district’s official lingo, arrived in large numbers almost overnight at Crawford in the fall of 1981. Culturally and socially it was a shock wave the school is still struggling to absorb. The new students were Indochinese refugees, many of them “boat people’’ recently departed from refugee camps in Southeast Asia and resettled in the sea of stucco apartments and aging houses along University and Orange Avenues between La Mesa and North Park. “Within a matter of three months our population of Asian students skyrocketed from less than five percent to fifteen or eighteen percent,’’ said Fox (it is now about twenty percent, some 300 students in all). “It kind of rocked us.’’ With the influx of Indochinese refugees, Crawford became eligible for additional funds from the school district and the state, and administrators were given a week to prepare special classes and hire teachers and aides who can speak the native languages of the incoming students.
Many of the new students did not speak English, of course; some were illiterate even in their own language. It was not uncommon for sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds from Cambodia or Laos to show up for their first day of school at Crawford having never before attended a school of any kind. In the ensuing confusion, some of the new students were simply issued biology and history textbooks and told to start studying.
Things have become quite a bit more organized since then. The Asian students are now interviewed when they first enroll at Crawford to determine their educational level and knowledge of English. Some have performed extremely well academically from the start, and the list of students on the principal's honor roll now includes names like Pheuak Phanthao, Son Do, and Dao Hong Thi Tran. Most of the Asian students, however, are assigned to special classes designed to teach subjects such as biology, math, and U.S. history to students who are not fluent in English. The classes make use of simplified vocabularies, and material is covered more slowly. At the same time, the Asian students take special English courses to learn the language, moving up into increasingly advanced levels until they are fluent enough to transfer into the regular curriculum. But by that time, most of the Asians are already on the verge of graduating. There does not appear to be any immediate alternative to this method of educating the Asian students, but it is clear that most of them are graduating from high school far less proficient in almost every subject than their American classmates. The special classes (which many of the Asian students attend four out of six class periods a day) also tend to isolate the Asians from the rest of the student population — that is, even more than they already are.
Before school, the Asian students tend to hang out in clusters, often near the back of the cafeteria. During lunch hour they seem to disappear; there are small numbers of them on the quad, but almost none anywhere else on campus. There are no Asian students on the varsity football team (there is one, a halfback, on the junior varsity), and they are conspicuously absent from pep rallies and dances. Many Crawford students resent the Asian’s habit of hanging out in groups, but Ken Watson, a senior who works as an aide in one of the many English classes for Asians, explains that “they’ve just come over from Asia, so they want to stick together. There’s power in numbers. They can be intimidating if you let them, if you think of them as a dominant group. But I can see they might think of us that way.”
Watson said it is simply the language barrier that prevents many of the Asian students from mingling with others and taking part in school activities, a view shared by Katy Chang. Chang, a Laotian with coal-dark eyes and an eager, pretty smile, is currently a senior at Crawford. She has been in the United States for more than five years and speaks fluent English. “I try to go to things like, let’s see, homecoming?” Chang told me. “I should know about it. 1 like to have American friends so I can learn what they do and what they have. I’m going to graduate from high school and I don't know much about it.
“But it’s a problem. I think it might be an English problem. You have to study really hard [so you don’t have as much free time in the first place). And Asian custom is so different from American custom. [Americans’] personality is so different. They put on make-up, smoke ... I don't do those things, or go out with a boyfriend.” Nearly everyone agrees the friction between the Asians and other students reached its peak last year, and most of the incidents that took place involved black students and Asian students. Several teachers told me that the outgoing, high-energy personalities of many black students contrast mightily with the reserved, cautious personalities of most Asian students. But the differences go deeper than that; some of the black students also seem to resent the attention and money being spent on the Asians — an understandable if not exactly admirable reaction, considering the years of discrimination blacks have suffered. “From my viewpoint, [the Asians] are getting special classes and special teachers, and they’re taking away a lot of good teachers that could be teaching us,” one female black student pointed out recently. “Why don’t we have something like that? We need help, too. I’m not prejudiced or anything. But there is a lot of money involved ...” Whatever the differences between the two groups, fights between them broke out last year. One black student badly beat up an Asian whose locker was next to his, and not long afterward, five Asian students jumped a tall black student in one of the school’s bathrooms. Several other incidents were narrowly avoided. “More than one time I had to break up something because of what people thought was being said,” Fox noted. “Students would hear the Indochinese talking in their own language, and for some reason they’d assume [the Indochinese] were talking about them.”
Most teachers and students at Crawford say the tensions appear to have eased so far this year. But the school security officer, Don Donati, said he has been called to the scene of four near fights between black and Asian students in the last few weeks. One Asian student also told me that “just one week ago I was talking to a girlfriend, and this black guy came up and touched my head. I don’t like people touching my head. I tell him, and he started yelling. Not joking. I can tell he doesn’t like Asians or something.
“Some dark people are my friends. But many dark people, I don’t like their personality. They tease you, even though you didn’t say anything. They call you Nips. I try to get along with everybody, but sometimes I get depressed, and really mad.”
Some of the black and Asian students claim allegiance to bona fide street gangs, the blacks to the Crips and Playboy International, and the Asians to the Stray Cats. But Crawford is not considered a problem school in terms of gang activity by either the school district or the San Diego Police Department’s street-gang detail, and there has not been an incident involving known gangs reported from the school for more than six years.
Fox and other administrators insist the racial tensions at the school have not been that serious, and that they will fade in the coming years as the Indochinese refugees become more integrated into the cultural life of San Diego. Some teachers predict that the need for special classes will disappear in two or three years, too, partly because the Asian students come from a “success-oriented” culture and work hard to achieve what is expected of them. “It will take time,’’ said McAnear, the German teacher and soccer coach, “but I really believe that the Indochinese are going to put a shot in the arm of America. They’re polite, disciplined, relatively easy to teach . . .’’ He paused, and grinned. “And besides, some of them are damn good soccer players.”
One April night five years ago, an adult-school teacher was showing slides to a Spanish class on the Crawford campus when two sixteen-year-old boys sped up on a motorbike. One of the youths entered the classroom with a gun and got everyone’s attention by firing a shot into the blackboard in the front of the room. After that he robbed the students (mostly middle-age men and women) as well as the teacher, netting a grand total of about seventy dollars. He and his partner then fled on the motorbike, but were arrested two days later when an anonymous informant phoned police. Although McAnear was not present during the robbery, it took place in his classroom, and he told me with a shake of his head that his blackboard still bears a bullet hole from the incident.
The attempted robbery was a dramatic example of the trend toward violent behavior that occurred on many of the city’s junior high and high school campuses in the last decade. In that time, incidents of students threatening and assaulting teachers rose citywide, as did acts of vandalism such as breaking windows and looting lockers. Students sometimes walked out of classrooms en masse, and in at least one instance, a police car was burned at Lincoln High School. “For ten years violence was a big factor here,” McAnear said. At many schools, it still is. Although incidents such as burglaries and threats of injury declined throughout the district from the 1981-82 school year to the 1982-83 school year, incidents of battery and assault with a deadly weapon jumped sixteen and fifty percent, respectively, during that same time period. A spokesman for the board of education’s police services department also noted that throughout the district, violent incidents in October of this year have increased fourfold over the same month last year.
The police services department does not keep crime statistics for individual schools, but McAnear and other teachers and administrators insist that violence is currently decreasing on the Crawford campus. Still, the legacies of the past are everywhere. Crawford, like many high schools in San Diego, now has a security officer whose main function is to help prevent criminal acts from taking place on or near the campus. Most high school football games are played in the afternoons rather than at night, due to the number of fights that were breaking out after night games a few years ago. And a new law enacted by the state legislature last April has made a five-day suspension mandatory for any student caught fighting or possessing weapons or controlled substances on school grounds.
Fox thinks the increased violence stemmed from student frustrations with the slowness that characterized the response of school officials to the cultural changes of the ’70s. McAnear agrees; the violence was often a way of challenging authority, he points out, and challenging authority was a widespread phenomenon in all facets of society at the time. The school district finally adjusted to new concepts of behavior, appearance, and “relevant" curriculum, but McAnear isn't so sure those adjustments were always the right ones. “Discipline went out the window. We loosened up on too many things — homework requirements, for instance. Standards fell, and teachers got frustrated because a lot of kids wouldn’t do their homework. Eventually you were supposed to leave time to do the homework in class, but you can't do that, especially with thirty-five students” and the special attention that many of them require, McAnear complained. Attendance also became a problem as the school district placed less emphasis on being in class regularly. Fox explained that by attending summer school, some students at Crawford would complete twenty-four of the forty class credits needed to graduate by the end of their sophomore year. That meant they would have to attend an average of only four classes a semester (rather than the standard six) for the next four semesters, and many of these students would spend the two free periods a day wandering around the school or the nearby community. Simultaneously, the scores seniors were getting on standard tests such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test declined steadily. The average SAT score on combined verbal and math tests for a senior at Crawford in 1969 was 1015. In 1982 it was 871.
Today, echoing the swing back to more student involvement in school activities, there is increasing emphasis on the value of homework and attendance. Beginning this year, high-school students in San Diego are required to do two hours’ worth of homework each night, and attending six class periods a day is mandatory. At Crawford, teachers no longer greet students who are tardy to class with a shrug of the shoulders; they stand in the hallways between classes, exhorting the students to be on time and occasionally yelling at them when they are not. New districtwide guidelines for achieving minimum proficiency in English and math are being introduced, and next year, if seniors cannot demonstrate that they have attained these levels, they will not be allowed to graduate. Some of the students I talked to at Crawford are already grumbling about the homework and attendance requirements. “I’m a little offended by it,” A.S.B. president McDonald said. “It seems like they’re talking down to us.’’
But nothing ever comes full circle. Students have to attend six classes a day just as we did in 1969, but now they’re studying subjects such as computer programming and race relations. They still go to physical education classes, but now the girls’ and boys’ gyms are known as the male and female gyms. There has not been a single student cited for smoking marijuana on the Crawford campus so far this year, but drug use is still much more widespread than it was fourteen years ago. “It’s not the way it used to be,’’ McDonald told me emphatically. “There’s not a party without drinking. There are very few students who haven’t tried drinking or smoking pot]. There’s even a trend toward cocaine these days.’’
But administrators and teachers at Crawford insist that even though students are exposed to more information and experiences at a younger age, most of them still tend to make responsible decisions. They say students have, in effect, responded favorably to the increased independence they have gained since 1969. “The brighter kids don’t seem to get involved with drugs that much,” said Don Mayfield. “But they are, certainly, exposed to a lot more things [than high-school students used to be). They know a lot more. They know about homosexual bars, and the prostitutes along El Cajon Boulevard. But the kids are more open . . . and seem to be stronger.” Even Mayfield, however, conceded that high-school students “still have a lot of difficulty sorting it all out.”
“We’re taking a lot of steps [these days], but many of them are immature steps, like getting stoned or beating up other students,” senior Ken Watson agreed. “People are doing things like that just because they feel they can do them and no one will stop them. That’s kind of immature.
“Compared to Wally and Beaver, yeah, I guess I’m growing up pretty fast. I think it has gotten a little out of hand. Parents let their kids go out and get drunk. Some parents are even growing marijuana in their back yards. Maybe if they’d set some rules and regulations instead, [the current situation] wouldn’t have happened. But I don’t think we’ll ever return to the days when you come home from school and have cookies and milk. It’d be great if everyone could be like the Cleavers, but remember, this is the Eighties.”
And so it is. In the late 1960s Crawford administrators struggled to keep the controversy of the Vietnam War out of high school; today they struggle with the influx of Vietnamese students. We experimented almost daintily with drugs; today’s students seem either to worship them or consider them passe. We had to go to therapy groups to learn how to be “up front” and “get in touch with our feelings” (we even had to invent the terminology); students today are open and honest almost as a matter of course. They don’t talk about sex much — at least, not to reporters — but they do say it is a big part of the high school scene, another indication that things have loosened up considerably.
I did, however, discover one constant. During my recent visit to Crawford I made it a point to buy lunch at the outdoor window. We called it the cold lunch line back in 1969, and it was a place where you could exchange a few quarters for dry, stale sandwiches, grainy malts, and chocolate “cake squares” loaded with sugar and oil. On this visit I was surprised to discover for sale such “healthy” items as yogurt and pita-bread sandwiches. But my mission was comparison; I wasn’t interested in the contemporary stuff. I bought a piece of chocolate cake and a tuna sandwich. The cake was larger and fresher than the old “cake squares” we used to gobble up, and lighter in texture, too. But the tuna sandwich could have been left over from the last time I ate at Crawford: tuna-flavored paste compressed between two slices of doughy, alleged wheat bread, and decorated with a piece of aging lettuce. Some things never change.