Why schools play “the game” with students

If you’ve ever worked as a teacher in a high school, you’ve probably had to play “the game” with your students. You become acutely aware of how awkward “the game” is when you start talking about school events with adult friends of yours who do not work in education. Here’s how such an exchange between adults goes. Chandra works as a teacher in a school. Gemma has a non-school-related job (investment banker, magazine editor, graphic designer, consultant, etc.).

Chandra: I can’t believe they made me chaperone that dance last night.

Gemma: Oh, did they put you on sex-and-drugs patrol?

Chandra: Yeah, it was terrible. There were students freaking in the middle of the dance floor. There were people trying to sneak off to the main building to smoke pot and make out. We didn’t have enough faculty to supervise.

Gemma: I remember my junior year in high school, Daniel and I were the only ones who were able to sneak out of our homecoming dance to hook up.

Chandra: Yeah, well…

As you can see, Chandra is playing the game, and Gemma is inadvertently calling Chandra on it. Chandra was probably once in high school as well, experimenting with drugs, fooling around sexually with other students, and trying to skirt the rules of the school. Now that she’s a teacher, though, she has to enforce the rules.


I would argue that Chandra probably does not really believe that high school students should not indulge in any risk-taking behavior at all. She probably does not regret any drug use or sex (unless she was raped) that she had as a young adult. She probably views that time in her life and all the “mistakes” she made as part of her growth into being an adult. Gemma not only feels that way but acknowledges it vocally. Gemma can do this, because she doesn’t work in education.

If Chandra started telling kids it was okay to smoke a little pot or to have sex in high school, she’d probably get a reprimand from the school administration and some parents. She might even get fired. Parents of teenagers, as a whole, don’t want to encourage their children to do illegal drugs or have sex, and they generally will not enroll their students in a school that encourages the teenagers in that way.

If a school existed (and schools like this may exist), it would quickly gain a reputation as being for “bad kids” and would attract students who don’t just casually experiment with drugs and sex but who take both quite seriously as endeavors.

I’ve been a teacher, and I’ve had to play that game. I don’t feel like a hypocrite for doing so, as I didn’t have sex or do drugs in high school. I was pretty much as straight an arrow as you could get. I didn’t drink before I was legally allowed to. I didn’t go to wild parties. I didn’t baseball bat mailboxes. I didn’t throw eggs at houses. At the same time, though, I don’t think that everyone should do what I did. I don’t think it’s healthy to force all teenagers to or to pretend all teenagers do run the straight and narrow.

I don’t know a good solution, though. I don’t want to be in a school that says to the kids, “Hey, make sure you lose your virginity some time in high school. We don’t want you doing hard drugs, but smoking the occasional joint won’t screw you up big time.” But I don’t like the other directions schools have gone, which is basically “Don’t do anything bad. We may have done bad stuff, but we’re all adults now and we’re going to pretend we never did that. You shouldn’t do it.” Who knows? Maybe the game is necessary for the sake of order. At least these days, when students go to college (university, to you non-Americans), the schools no longer demand students be squeaky clean. In terms of legal liability, they’ll play a little of the game, but not as much as secondary schools play.

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