The Decades Project

I’m not one who typically gets nostalgic or particularly misty-eyed over anything related to my high school years. I’ve stated before in a number of blog posts that I just didn’t care for high school all that much. It’s not that I had a horrible experience or anything, it was just mediocre. There’s not a lot for me to look back on with fondness during those four years.

For whatever reason, I’ve gotten to thinking about one of my high school years lately. I really don’t know why, but I think my junior year might have been my favorite. I mean, if I have to pick one. Which I don’t. And now that I’ve put it down on the screen, I kind of want to take it back.

I can find pros and cons about all four years of high school. It’s probably easier to think of the cons, considering I don’t want to give high school much of a chance. But this isn’t about ranking my years in school.

Not knowing what’s brought that 11th grade year to the forefront of my memories, I can’t help but find myself awash with nostalgia. Maybe our recent tendency to look back at the decade that was the 2010s has done it to me. Because junior year was when we had our epic Decades Project.

So… it’s basically just the word decade that’ll do it.

During my first three years at Patrick Henry, I was involved with a program called The Center for Humanities. At least, that’s what my memory calls it. I’m sure it was more complicated than that and what I remember is just the lowest common denominator. Anyway, during 9th, 10th, and 11th grades, the Center required its students to be enrolled in special English and social studies classes. There were also extra work requirements, such as volunteer hours in the community and… um… other things, I guess…

I don’t think it was anything like an honors program, though the Center was definitely populated with many of the school’s hardest working and most intelligent students. I don’t honestly know how it was decided that students would be invited to participate in this program. I just remember getting a letter during the summer before my freshman year saying I had the option to be a part of it. Since I’m such a huge fan of doing extra work, I signed up immediately.

On an unrelated note, I later found out during my senior year that a lot of kids who were not in Center classes thought that the Center kids were stuck up. To be fair, a lot of people think I’m stuck up until they get to know me. I promise, I’m just an introvert. But I can’t speak for all the other Center kids. I couldn’t have been the only introvert, though.

In those first two years, the English and social studies classes remained separate. Being on a block schedule with “A” days and “B” days, English and social studies happened every day at the same time, just alternating from one day to the next. Once we hit 11th grade, however, American Literature and American History were taught together in a double classroom with twice as many students. It was kind of awesome.

I mentioned the Decades Project and really got off on a tangent. You’ve probably been getting impatient for me to explain what the Decades Project was. If you guessed it had something to do with time travel, you guessed wrong. These classes focused on the humanities… not the sciences.

Before we get to the Decades Project, we need to talk about what happened during the fall semester. Before any work or research could begin, the double-sized class all had to be split up into different groups. Just as I have no clue how any of us were chosen to be a part of the Center in the first place, I also have no idea how we were divided into our Decades Project groups.

I’m sure it was fair and equitable, making sure that no one just found themselves with five of their best friends. Not that I really felt like I had friends in 11th grade, but that’s an issue for a therapist to unpack someday.

In my memory, which we can all agree is spotty at best, I found myself in a group of five… I can only remember three of those people for certain. The fourth is questionable… And there actually could have been a sixth member of the group that I’m just completely leaving out. I won’t be mentioning any of them by name, so there’s no fear of leaving anyone out.

Anyway, each group was assigned a different decade from the 20th century, from the 1920s to the 1980s. I guess that means there were seven groups… Remember, it was The Center for Humanities, not The Center for Maths.

Our group got the ’60s. And what a decade it was!

During the fall semester, we completed the first portion of the project, which was to develop a newspaper complete with articles and pictures that focused on one specific year in our decade, sharing the highlights of that year. I think that’s how it worked. Any Patrick Henry survivors reading this want to help me out with that?

The spring semester brought on the bigger part of the Decades Project, in which we were expected to write and perform a one act play that would basically teach the entire decade to the rest of the class. Pretty sure our group nailed it. If I’m not mistaken, and we all know I very well could be, I played a guy who was about to be drafted to fight in Vietnam. I was picked up by a couple of hippies from San Francisco on a cross-country last hurrah kind of trip before I shipped out and our VW bus broke down in the Midwest where we met up with a farmer and his wife. Shenanigans ensued. We got an A.

I think.

Really, the one act play is a blur. As is most of high school. But I do vividly remember spending many a late night with my group at a local Waffle House and/or Kinko’s. So many late nights. To this day, you can ask me anything about the 1960s and I can confidently answer your question.

Can’t guarantee my answer will be right… but I’ll answer it.

I will say, I learned a lot during that junior year in the Center. Mr. Flanagan was our history teacher and Mr. Isaacs was our literature teacher. These guys had a very clear passion for teaching. Flanagan has consistently been my answer whenever someone asks who my favorite high school teacher was. But I look to Mr. Isaacs with the utmost respect.

I’m ashamed to share this next part, but it’s a part of who I was and I hope it’s something that helped me to grow into a better person. There were a lot of aspects to my high school career that I’d do differently if I had it to do again. During my freshman year, I took to heart the knowledge that I didn’t have to be a perfectionist. For my own sanity, I had to take that to heart. But I wish I hadn’t taken it to the extreme that I did… where I was basically one step from being a complete slacker.

This meant that, for a lot of things, I took the easy way out. I read Cliffs Notes instead of reading the actual book. Or, in the case of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I watched the movie. Kids, the Disney produced The Adventures of Huck Finn that was released in 1993 is very different from the book. Do not write a book report based on a viewing of that film. Your teacher will call you out on it and will warn you that you are only cheating yourself.

When I got that paper back with the note from Mr. Isaacs at the end of it, my stomach dropped. I’d never felt so small in my life. And he was right. Of course he was right. I’m grateful that he called me out. Because from then on I had no choice but to read what was assigned. My appreciation for the things they taught us in those classes only grew because he called me out.

Junior year was difficult. And it was a lot of work. But it was so worth it.

Feature Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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