Thank you for your cover story on the Arcata High junior ("Search & Suspend," Jan. 20). It reminds me that things are not well at Arcata High and have not been for quite some time. My son, now 25 years, went there for his freshman and sophomore years. At the end of his sophomore year he took the GED rather than continue there (over my wrongly placed objections), noting at the time that "they run the place like a jail." He went on to CR and began earning good grades, then transferred in to UCSC, where he earned his B.A.
What I observed was that he respected his teachers and they respected him at CR -- something he did not seem to experience at Arcata High, and in that context he was not willing to work. Not to repeat the mistake again, my younger son went to Northcoast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy (NPA). I cannot say enough good things about NPA. It's a wonderful school. On a class trip to Ashland with NPA, I had the opportunity to speak with a very intelligent and mature young lady, a High School junior who had transferred in to NPA from Arcata High that year. I asked her what difference she noted between the two schools. She replied, "At Arcata High the teachers don't respect the students, and the students don't respect the teachers or each other. Here (at NPA), everyone respects each other." This confirmed my suspicions about Arcata High, which your cover story again illustrates, and gives credibility to my son's observation when he was 16: They run the place like jail.
I don't want to diminish the fact that there are some dedicated and talented educators at Arcata High, that some students do very well there or the fiscal and cultural realities that Arcata High has to deal with. Nevertheless, people learn best in an atmosphere of respect, something Arcata High needs to learn to cultivate if it is to fulfill its educational mission.
Gerald Drucker, Trinidad
As a youth rights activist, I cheer your placement of Arcata High School student Carlos Espinosa's story on the cover of your Jan. 20 issue. Although I didn't know of his particular case before reading the article, I find it typically outrageous in showing bureaucratic disregard for a young adult's constitutional rights. The trend in the United States over the past century or so has been to extend childhood well past puberty through measures such as compulsory high school attendance. Far from representing true progress, the trend has become a nightmare for many generations of American teens. Their hormones are said to make them hopelessly irresponsible and in need of micromanagement by their elders.
But as with the war on drugs, policies and problems must be examined carefully to distinguish causes from effects. Do illegal drugs inevitably cause crime and sickness, or are these largely the unintended consequences of drug prohibition?
Likewise, the notorious recklessness of the teenage years should be considered mainly a consequence of policies that infantilize them. When teenagers get drunk, steal, have unsafe sex, or bully one another, let's not forget that they are forced into schools that treat them like products on an assembly line. They are pointlessly, rigidly segregated by age, which alienates and humiliates those who learn slower or faster than the statistical average. Curricula and schedules are forcibly imposed on them by unionized government workers, for whom the customer is always wrong.
Why is the Soviet-style repression of the typical American school rationalized as the cornerstone of democracy? Maybe I'm cynical, but I have to think it's because misery loves company.
Brian Sorgatz, Arcata