TO A PERENNIAL QUESTION
So, did the U.S. public high schools in this research enrich individual human potential and allow young people to achieve a good life? The usual approach to this perennial question is to define and explore student potential and achievement in rather narrow academic terms. But such a tack ignores the fact that high schools are and always have been established to facilitate coming of age processes in the broadest cultural sense. They are sites where adolescents realize their potentials through complex identity formation and seek the good life through integration into economic, kinship, religious, and political community domains. When this two-pronged process of identity and integration work is examined through (post)anthropological lenses, it becomes quite evident that coming of age in U.S. public high schools cannot be understood, nor can answers to critical educational questions be found, without careful consideration of American cultural crosscurrents.
Crosscurrents are comprised of fluid, shifting, conflicting discourses and attendant practices. As is summarized in Table 7.1, the currents described in this study flowed through community domains as multilayered pressures on individual and group adaptations.
Economic currents in contemporary America are manifested in discourses of money and occupational gratification. Dominant versions emphasize the importance of the American work ethic while reinforcing divisions of labor with their customary ethnic, racial, classed, and gendered workplace