Millennials, Part 3: Based on a True Story

After covering theology and anthropology, I searched for other views of Millenials. Like the other posts, any view will be a vast overgeneralization, and I’m not claiming otherwise. Even a full page is a snapshot of my thoughts, and these are book reviews, not full pages. They’re immediate viewpoints, or as immediate as I get. 

Today’s look at Millenials comes from an embedded investigation, from a 24 year old Stanford grad. Jeremy Iversen managed to enroll as Jeremy Hughes, a second semester senior at what he calls Mirador High, in the Emerald Valley of Orange County, California. It’s really Claremont High. It’s 59 degrees F there right now, which sounds nice compared to the 18 degrees in Louisville. His account is contained in the book High School Confidential, available now in trade paperback.

Even before it was published, questions arose about the book’s honesty. The author admits that he changed names, made composite people, and chose guide stars. Since most of the characters are underage, and standard IRB consent would be impossible for anyone, it’s a necessary subtraction. When news came out, some people tried to pretend, as in this column, that the situation was creepy, but people knew all along and fed Mr. Iversen exaggerated rumors. That doesn’t seem true. While I suspect he listed only the most shocking events, the wildest parties and craziest teacher comments, I don’t think these events were false. From seeing what freshmen do, it doesn’t surprise me to see high school seniors doing the same thing. Notice that I said some students. It’s not everyone. Only a slim majority of high school students drink, and those are the ones who have wild parties. The other half, where I lived, has less debauchery, but that doesn’t make for good stories. One unfortunate point is that Mr. Iversen talks about the 50% statistic primarily in the endnotes.

Before I move on to the Millenials, I want to attack the LA Times column by Bob Sipchen. Mr. Sipchen has two Pulitzer Prizes, one for spot reporting and one for editorials on mentally ill people, so he’s done some good work. This column is not one of those pieces. Mr. Sipchen thinks that Mr. Iversen tricked the principal and superintendent, was a creepy predator, and worked to satisfy his own coming-of-age fantasies. The revelations about Claremont came from high school newspaper journalists; the controversy helped push the superintendent out the door. According to the fifty-something columnist, at the end, “Hollywood would be better off buying the rights to the student journalists’ story. It’s a more dramatic yarn, and they told it without conning anyone or qualifying the word true.”Wait a minute! There’s an interesting point buried deep in the Boomer’s column. He admits that the Claremont students he reached generally didn’t know Jeremy. In other words, they reported that they weren’t embarrassed after the fact. “Everyone” knew. Right. I’m over 30 and without trying am considered an undergraduate often enough at Bellarmine; a 24 year old could easily be 18 or 19. Mr. Sipchen quotes a student at Northwestern. The comments of this blog entry contains one claim of falseness and a better school, from an AP student. Keep reading the comments, and an anonymous person defends the book’s authenticity with real names. The AP student backpedals. Of course AP teachers are better, and AP students care. They’re the top tenth. Between the blog and the column, the attackers were in the top tenth, while the two people that knew Jeremy vouched for the book. That sways me. The high schoolers have shame to cover their leap, plus in many cases, the good students had different experiences. On the other hand, an esteemed journalist should classify sources into primary and secondary ranks, and trust primary sources better. Bob Sipchen doesn’t write about news anymore; he’s editor of Sierra. The Sierra Club magazine is a great perch from which to critique and moan like an overindulgent Boomer.

Back to the book. There wasn’t too much new here for me. The biggest revelation was the casual attitude about steroids. It’s not a shock that girls prefer muscular men, and that intellect and political wit don’t matter much. My story, and my writings, illustrate those points. I am surprised that steroids were recommended so freely and casually, because there are serious side effects. Plus, only some people knew they often cause the opposite effect on an important male body part. Beyond that, of course some students party hard and take studies lightly. There are always bad teachers and creepy teachers. It is disheartening that they can stay so easily, but that’s a story for another time. The most depressing thing was that WACS was misled so easily, given the problems within the school. Then again, without unannounced visits, it’s always easy to make things clean. Literally, too; the soap dispensers got soap just for the visit.

This is not a good book. Despite my general belief, there are still questions about validity that can’t be avoided by composite semi-anonymous accounts. Furthermore, Mr. Iversen does have a problem with tone. At the beginning and end, his emotions are heavily involved, but in the middle, he disappears. He states that it’s because it’s not his story, but his presence is missed. It was his story. It is partially his story. He needs to tell us when he’s there, as opposed to second hand reports. That involves just little lines, like “I sat in the stands at the powder puff game” or “We talked while picking up beer cups.” Without that narration, the story runs wilder than the kids. Ultimately, though there are illuminating stories, the lack of consistent voice dooms this tale to a 2 out of 5.

About Adam

My quest is a world where calling someone "virtuous like a fairy tale hero" is routine, not fantastic or ironic. My vocation is the teaching and learning of statistics. My dream is a long happy life with a wonderful wife and kids. Who knows if any will become true? More information is at my homepage on the twelvefruits network: http://adam.twelvefruits.com
This entry was posted in Book Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Millennials, Part 3: Based on a True Story

  1. Becky says:

    I read this book – skimmed it, really. It was not necessarily shocking, though it was disheartening (as one who works with students before they get to high school!) I did get a little of the ‘adult trying to live out his unresolved fantasies’ vibe, but only in the beginning when Jeremy actually says he’s doing it. I didn’t think it was creepy, just a literary technique. If he meant it, it was creepy. 🙂

Replies are Welcome.