I admit that [It Gets Better Project (IGBP)] doesn't do the impossible. It doesn't solve the problem of anti-gay bullying, everywhere, all at once, forever. The point of the videos is to give despairing kids in impossible situations a little thing called hope. The point is to let them know that things do get better. For some people things get better once they get out of high school, for others things get better while they're still in high school. And some kids, like the kid above, are helping to make things better for other kids who are in still high school. But things do get better and kids who are thinking about suicide need to hear that.
I just wanted to chime in on the thread you've been running on Dan Savage's amazing project "It Gets Better." As a straight high school teacher, I have often felt powerless to help my GLBT and questioning students see beyond the misery they confront every day. I can do a lot for themI can offer support. I can bring in gay friendly texts (I teach English) and insist upon respectful language. I can even teach students how to talk about GLBT issues in productive ways. And I can say that it does get better, but when I do so, I am not speaking from personal experience. The video series does that for me in ways I could never achieve. What a powerful teaching companion. I feel so supported by the project, even though I am not the intended audience.
Your reader questions why high school is the way it iswhy is it so miserable? What is it about how we set up high schools that makes it so difficult for so many students? The only answer I can provide is that high school is like any other social institution. It mirrors societal expectations and values. On LGBT issues, high school students are actually at the forefront of pushing toward equality. Polls routinely show that young people are much more accepting of LGBT folks than those from older generations. But there is still a lot to be done, and the "It Gets Better" project provides an accessible, honest, very human helping hand to students who often feel so alone. Just today I pulled one of my students aside and showed him the site. He was blown away, and so thankful, as he's having a really tough time at home with parents who are not dealing well with learning about who he is. So, it is helping.
Another reader remembers the difficulty of high school:
I have to say that I agree with Jason on this point. High school is essentially a prison for adolescent youth. It not only negatively affects gay people, but also highly intelligent people and fringe people as well (think “Freaks and Geeks”). The most well treated people are either people that bring the school athletic victory, or those people who are essentially viewed as successful social climbers.
I would go on and on, but I think that the person who says it best is Paul Graham, in his book “Hackers & Painters” which is really about computer science, but has a chapter long treatise at the beginning about the evils of the high school system. You can buy it here.
Essentially, his way of stating it is that high school does not value the people that are trying to seek the right answers to problems, it values those who are trying to please others, and pleasing others includes putting down those who are different, or those who are more intelligent, and, as Jason alludes to, developing cliques. Basically, It Gets Better’ is the same message that some people (teachers, guidance counselors) gave me after having to deal with bullies, wedgies and the like day, after day, after day. It takes way too long after high school for that realization to actually take effect. I didn’t feel like I had developed real confidence until I was about 26, and the real picture of my success as a software engineer had taken hold. This is probably true for many gay people as well.
High school is the least supportive, most horribly incentivized environment we can possibly give our kids to grow up in, and we can do better.
Another reader's experience differs:
You know, it's strange. When I see movies or TV shows about high school, or read about it books, it's like they are talking about another country. So much of the described American high school experience seems alien to me. You would think that I might have been a candidate for the underclass: hyper-smart, not a jock, read books all the time, did speech and drama. I was not the class clown. Hell, I even played Dungeons and Dragons! But I wasn't an outcast and was even friends with more "popular" kids.
I think it was because I went to a small school in a small town. There wasn't room for kids to divide up into cliques. There were jocks in the band, drama people in Vocational Agriculture. There simply wasn't space enough for people to become the "other". And I wonder if our massive urban high schools don't create that space, full of people of wildly varying physical and mental development, given the room they need to create tribes where cross pollination isn't just frowned upon, it is almost impossible.
I don't want to suggest my experience was Nirvana. A gay person in my day would have had a tough time of it. There was still a pecking order, just a more fluid one.
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