The Student Council

Does anyone else remember the Student Council? I don’t know what they are like in present-day schools but my high school memories from the ’60s and ’70s are vivid — several weeks of rah-rah-hoop-la accompanied by burlesques of grown-up election slogans and wretched little gummy lapel stickers made of Con-Tact paper. Since the Student Council really didn’t have a lick of power except to tug its forelock and maybe organize an occasional charity drive, the whole thing added up to a popularity contest reserved for the school’s glossiest and richest or possibly most truckling and conformist, probably some of both. Some of them were possibly nice kids, but you knew their little “elected student government” didn’t have any real power — it couldn’t change the penalties for assorted infractions, appeal your detention, fire the football coach (or abolish the stupid cash-sucking football team for that matter), or mandate a better school lunch. It was a toy. We knew our lives and fortunes were truly ruled by Them — people beyond the reach of any “voting rights” we possessed: the principal and school staff, members of the School Board and school administration, local governments, the U. S. Congress. In fact until I was nearly out of high school you had to be 21 to vote (though you could have your ass shot off at 18), so the whole thing was even more unreal.

I look at discussions on the Net sometimes and I think most of the nation is still stuck in that Student Council mentality. Half the nation regards voting as irrelevant and doesn’t bother (though they still somehow understand that a vague Them decides their fates), and those that are politically engaged seem more likely to be focused on personalities and general coolness than anything affecting the nation’s (or even their local precinct’s) actual destiny. The taunting and name-calling belongs right back in eighth grade, as does the apparent obliviousness of anything in the larger world.

Maybe we’re making a serious mistake by leading young people through a charade of government when they’re too young to, at first, even understand it and, later, change anything by their participation. We may just be teaching them that electoral politics amount to an excuse to curry favor with the people you do like (or want to be like) and yell abuse at the people you don’t.

Just a thought.


16 thoughts on “The Student Council

  1. Nicely put… I remember the old days, I was the Odd girl out.. not cool at all. Though I was chosen to be Head of Study Hall.. I went to boarding school.
    I’d never thought of looking at today’s politics that way, though the name calling does take me back and I’ve probably had a few Palin types at my school.. only brighter.
    I despair of making much forward progress the way things stand right now. My vote, admittedly, feels very small and unheard.. though I vote diligently and with actual thought!

    • I actually have clients whose immediate family members were among the “cool kids” who treated the rest of us as if we didn’t exist (except for an occasional bitchy reminder of our uncoolness). When they talk about their wonderful son, etc., I just smile and nod…

      Actually, it was only after writing this that I remembered I wrote a whole action thriller in my sophomore year, in competition with a curious fellow who was sent out of algebra class to do extra credit work with me for part of the semester. (We each penned our own take on the theme.) The premise was that the Student Council rich-snots at our school had been able to create a secret underground floor during the school renovations and secretly ran the place like a Nazi fiefdom. Loopy, whacky James Bond stuff with hidden slides from the football field into an underground private pool, hall patrols armed with live ammo, Student Council secretaries in revealing organza blouses, and the all important guerilla resistance. I guess those people got up our noses.

  2. Well, since we teach sex ed in the schools we should also teach the politcal business too. In fact, politics and sex go together well.

  3. I was also “odd girl out” (probably still am) and never bothered at all with anything at highschool, including my classes.

    I don’t know what could have got me interested in politics when I was in school. Same goes for now.

  4. I’ve always liked the truly democratic (well, unless you were a woman or a slave) ancient Athenian system where all the adult (male) citizens’ names were put in a jar and then chosen by lot to fill each public office. You might end up in charge of the roads, or the navy, or the water supply or the corn stores. No voting, no currying favour or bribery of the electorate. Each man thus elected served for just one year of office and then the whole thing happened again.

  5. In politics or in business or anywhere you have the power you give yourself. Nobody will give you power unless you affirm yourself. We had student couincils and those who went for it diid accomplish a few things such as getting better sports equipment or a better menu at the cafeteria…but they worked hard and really wanted to exercize the powers alloted them by the school rules.
    Many had an attitude of “they’ll stop us if we go to far” and the authorities proved to be more elastic than anticipated.

    • Different community and different time? I am cynical, but I know things vary. Possibly, what I saw had a lot to do with being in the area of the nation’s capital. People whose parents are high ranking military officers at the Pentagon or under-secretaries of something or other and belong to the local Country Club just naturally assume they are entitled to be in charge of everything, even if it’s a meaningless exercise (and here, it was). That’s what creeps me out about it decades after the fact… that, and the way it introduced so many of my contemporaries to the electoral process in the form of a meaningless farce.

      In the last couple of years I was in high school there was something of an uprush of student radicals who leafleted at school doors about the Vietnam draft and the other wider issues of the era. The mind-set was often intolerably fanatical but at least they showed some level of consciousness; alas, once again the lesson was that existing systems were irrelevant.

  6. Ours was called the Board of Control and met in a little temporary building near the Berkeley Community Theater where Jimi Hendrix gave one of his last concerts, and I was completely oblivious of their doings except that the president called himself Cosmo, ran with his arms swinging the opposite way as compared to most people, and made Star Trek jokes.

    Maybe the absurd political theater that had played out a few blocks up the street while we were children altered our perception of How Things Worked. I know I’ve never taken it very seriously, though I have also always voted.

    • I would have been grateful for people that funky, instead of all the boys and girls with perfect haircuts and perfect records of comportment and perfect creases in their slacks or perfectly pressed designer blouses who campaigned for their positions on more or less the platform “Vote for Carol because she is perfect.”

      I didn’t figure out until I was almost out of high school that a certain segment of the population expected the best of everything and admiration from everyone else because their parents were rich and influential. They just were there, looking like the drawings in a Dick And Jane reader, self satisfied and faintly boring. I think they are the ones who still run things in this country.

      • You are probably right about the guys running the country. I know many of the guys I knew on those councils ended up in politics. It was the same with my own children’s class council members. Must be some kind of virulent virus.
        But, since they seem to be a breeding ground I guess they should be given closer scrutiny and real responsibilities and accountability.
        Long ago when I was in charge of, as an educator, of a student council, the guys complained that I was a slave driver. Some time after I left for other duties, one guy told me:” I hate to tell you that but we complained that you were a slave driver, the new guy is a lot smoother…but we are’nt accomplishing anything anymore.”

  7. I don’t remember my Student Council being relevant, nor was it populated by power-hungry, prim and proper Heathers. In fact, my whole senior student council board in high school got booted from office after the cops busted them at a weekend drinking party at someone’s house, which was funny to me because the school wouldn’t let me run for Student Council president because they thought I was psychotic.

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