I am sort of reading friday night lights. It was in my pile of books to be gotten rid of (trying to downsize the library) and my Kindle died (temporarily as it turns out).
It’s an interesting book. What I find interesting is more in the representation of the place. It is based around the 1988 football season in Odessa. I never lived in Texas (although I knew people from Midland, and Odessa and Lubbock), but 1988 is the year my family moved from Marin County, California to New Mexico. It was a culture shock. I recognise a lot about 1988 Odessa, much that was similar to 1988 New Mexico, especially the town where I lived.
While the football culture was not (in my memory) as dominant, I do know that by the time I reached high school the one high school in town was overcrowded, but there was reluctance to build a new one, because (oh horrors) that would mean we went from a AAAA sports rating to two AAA teams. So dreaded was this that we had sub par education in order to maintain a higher sporting level (perhaps more for baseball than football). There are now two high schools in that town, but it was a tough call I suspect.
I recognise the attitudes, the easy tolerance for poor academic performance in athletes, the lack of encouragement for female activities outside the traditional roles. It is weird, and it explains a lot of the dysfunction in US politics and culture. The gulf between the elementary school I attended in Marin (in a town where the hippies became yuppies) and the one I attended in NM was massive. In my california school, there was one (one) black kid in my year of about 50 students, and a couple (i think ) of asian kids. I know that there was at least one muslim and several jewish kids. One the whole though, we were all very similar- upper middle class children destined for college and a relatively comfortable life. I lost touch with many after graduation but at least one classmate was headhunted to Google or Facebook a few years ago because of his data focus, another writes for the NY Times, others have equally interesting careers. We had art teachers, drama teachers, singing teachers and computer teachers (in the mid 80s no less- I learned what a googol was in math class). What we didn’t have was a PE teacher, or a gym. Not a priority.
NM was a shock. More kids in the year, and very economically diverse. We had PE teachers and music teachers, but forget art, drama or computers- they were handled by the class teacher or parents. There were some black kids, and a lot of hispanic and indian kids. Diversity of religion there was not, unless you count the variants of Christianity as diversity. I was an odd one out because I enjoyed reading.
It was an incredibly different experience, and while I feel that I benefitted from it, I am very glad that we moved again, and that I finished high school in a very different environment.
But we often assume that our experiences are much the same as others, and that may be why it is so hard for those on the coast in the US to understand the “flyover” parts of the country. The entire growing up experience is different. The frame of reference is different, the priorities and values are so different, in ways that are very difficult to articulate.
I contrast this with where I live in Australia. The State education department sets the curriculum for the state. Kids in a remote mining town will still receive the same texts as those in Brisbane. They might not have the same quality of teacher (new teachers are sent to the bush), but they do receive the same information. So different from the school board basis of education in the US.
There are benefits to both, I think the school board focus does allow the curriculum to reflect the values and needs of the community. It also allows it to reflect the priorities, biases and problems. In Australia, the principle seems to be that the middle is catered for. THe truly exceptional and the strugglers don’t really have as much priority. There are no streamed English classes where the stragglers get the attention they need and the high flyers benefit from challenge.
It is somewhat painful to read Friday NIght Lights, knowing that for many of the players, that season was potentially the pinnacle of their lives.