(By the way: "It was a really small study. I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into it. But its results sum up the entire high-school experience." It was a really small study that you shouldn't read too much into, but it sums up a vast diversity of the human experience. There are not enough face palms.)
I also think that there is a deeper problem in her attitude. Because what the piece really is about is less the failings of high school and more the failings of other people. The dominant impression of Senior's essay is not that the structure of high school failed her but that the people around her did not meet her standards. More than anything, after reading the article I just wanted to say to her, "I'm sorry that the people around you have failed to meet your expectations. Perhaps you should look deeper to see if they're feeling pain similar to yours." As you can probably guess, this is a case of me finding particularly aggravating flaws I identify in myself. I struggle constantly to balance a necessary criticism of all of the fucked up bullshit without falling into a flat, useless misanthropy. (Not for anyone else, but for myself.) So feel free to find this hypocritical, or take it as someone who is working on it.
Ultimately, my disagreement lies most in Senior's corrosive notion that the problem with high school is the way it exposes us to difference:
In fact, one of the reasons that high schools may produce such peculiar value systems is precisely because the people there have little in common, except their ages. “These are people in a large box without any clear, predetermined way of sorting out status,” says Robert Faris, a sociologist at UC Davis who’s spent a lot of time studying high-school aggression. “There’s no natural connection between them.” Such a situation, in his view, is likely to reward aggression. Absent established hierarchies and power structures (apart from the privileges that naturally accrue from being an upperclassman), kids create them on their ownThis isn't a problem with high school. It is the best thing about high school. Compelling people to spend time with others who are not like them is an essential function of schooling, one that the affluent frequently avoid by sending their kids to private school or home schooling them. And, not surprisingly, many kids who went to private school or were home schooled grow into the kind of adults with no sense of what the world is like outside of their social milieu-- which further dulls the sense of communal responsibility. Senior's notion that there is something wrong with being exposed to people across legitimate differences is truly corrosive to democracy, to egalitarianism, to society itself. We already have become such a siloed, segregated culture. So many of the products and services you can access online now are geared towards eliminating your interactions with people who are genuinely not like you. (At its worst, homeschooling takes this logic to its extreme, along with the typical arrogance of parenthood: my child is simply too precious to be exposed to the unworthy.) I simply don't believe that a civil society that is as diverse as ours can survive when we have walled off our lives from those who are not like us. And while I don't blame people for not undertaking such a process of exposure artificially, it's essential to the long-term health and fairness of society for it to be a part of our education and socialization. Democracy has consequences, diversity has consequences, and while I'd never wish it on anyone, the reality of diversity is that sometimes our encounters across difference will be unhappy.
Finally, there's this: Senior is allowed to complain about the throng because she positions herself as punching up, because she tells us that she was unpopular in high school and is thus permitted, in that vague way, to cast her judgments. Certainly, that's the lesson of most high school movies: the unpopular people are the sensitive dreamers who are gifted with the right to tell the story, while the popular people are cruel and vain, and thus not eligible. I was pretty popular in high school, so I suppose I shouldn't be the one making this argument. But there's nothing inherently more accurate or perceptive about the observations of those on the bottom than those on the top. One thing that I realized long ago: the "losers" in high school are often not any more fair, open-minded, or generous than those at the top. They simply lack the power to do anything about it. Now, if we're talking about addressing problems of cruelty and abuse, certainly, my sympathy and support goes to the people who are the subject of it. But when we're attempting what Senior is attempting, and trying to take a bird's eye view, we need to avoid the temptation to take the Hollywood path and assert the superior virtue of the more oppressed.
Senior's self-identified status as a high school loser animates the whole piece. It reminds me that there is a profound narcissism in those who constantly self-identify as social outcasts. Take the fleets of people who make videos saying "I am a true geek." They claim to be arguing that they are responding to the perception that they are unworthy. I think instead they are simply saying, I am great, and I deserve to be recognized for it. The only reason the behavior is permitted is because of the preemptive self-branding as a geek or loser. Ask yourself: would New York have ever run the essay, if it was the perspective of one of the winners, complaining about the profound lack of character and low moral fiber of those below?