American depictions of high schools are replete with images of homecoming dances, pep rallies, athletic games won and lost, and students draped in medieval caps and gowns at graduation ceremonies. Classrooms are recalled as places where teachers deliver their subject matter in dull or inspiring ways and students amuse themselves with playful antics as they learn more serious lessons. Underlying the imagery is what Metz (1990) refers to as a “basic common script for 'The American High School'” (p. 77). Students, according to the script, are offered similar classes where they are taught standard curriculum, differentiated according to their abilities and interests. Their roles and those of teachers are similarly defined, as are the outlines of classroom plots.
Common images of the American high school extend into corridor spaces, where students spend about an hour a day in hallways, lunchrooms, and bathrooms. Teachers, security guards, and other school staff are supposed to supervise these spaces, but they tend not to intervene unless events get noticeably out of hand. Left alone in relative freedom, students form tight-knit cliques, intimate dyads, and divisive rivalries, and they play out their relations in undirected scenes where actors take most of their cues from one another.
Taken together, these images and conventions make school actors feel like participants in a “Real School… rich with symbols of participation in a cultured society” (Metz, 1990, p. 83). And yet, teachers take great liberties with the common educational script as they deal with building arrangements, resources, and other tangible material factors, as well as the more intangible demands that society and local communities place on schools (Hemmings & Metz, 1990; McNeil, 1983, 1986; Page, 1991).
Their classroom performances are affected by—indeed, ultimately de-