School Spirit, Innocence, and the Fifties

  • Posted on Oct 27, 1978


Recently some brave young high school soul gave the Tiger Hi-Line newspaper editor a letter on school spirit. You may have read it—she had to remain anonymous because she wanted to live past her senior year.

Her letter said, simply and in so many words, that school spirit is a hoax, and the smart students know it. What difference does winning a football game make after a year?  she asked.

The following week, several letters in the Tiger Hi-Line attacked her (rather predictably, I thought) for not enjoying high school, football and her life. The writers urged her and other smart students to get with it and support the good ol' Tigers and the spirit behind them.

All of which reminded me of my days at CF High, some 18 years ago, and the burning questions of my high school years.

As I recall, school spirit was barely a question, much less a burning one. This was because there was, in fact, quite enough school spirit. In those days, there weren't many smart students who saw the idea of school spirit as a hoax. Some didn't support the team very much, but only out of laziness or apathy, not out of conviction. Most students just yelled themselves hoarse at every pep rally and hoped for a win Friday night.

Still, there were in fact some burning questions. Here they are, in the order of their heat, lukewarm to white-hot:

—How much do I have to drink before I can act drunk? This was a warm one because if you drank too much you really were drunk, and this meant clean-up problems, parent problems and a nasty morning. But if you didn't drink enough, everybody knew you were faking. I remember 3-4 beers or 2-3 hard drinks in an hour or less was about the right answer.

—Where do you go with a date when you can't get a car? This was a hotter one, and the answers ranged from the back row at the Regent to Teen Time to: steal a car.

—How many dates do you have to have before you can touch much? And how much can you touch? And for how long? These questions were all burningly related, and we managed to find answers before we graduated. The smart students did, anyway.

—DOES SHE or doesn't she? This was a hot question, for in those days, we weren't referring to Clairol. It was something more basic. Funny, we never thought to ask "does he or doesn't he?" The basics only applied to she.

—Will you or won't you? This was the most burning question of all, the question most asked and least really answered. Whole nights were spent wheedling, begging, imploring, commanding, crying this question out. Sometimes it was all to no avail, but sometimes (if memory serves)  to avail.

Songs like "Don't Forbid Me" by Pat Boone and Elvis's "Don't" and "Let Me" helped us ask this white-hot question. Again, only males seemed to ask it.

Way down the line were the questions that Dylan gave voice to when he asked, "How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?" When I was in high school, we didn't think about such questions.

Nobody had heard of Lee Harvey Oswald or My Lai or Kent State. We believed in school spirit just as we believed in America, policemen, the President, and Winning. Nothing was a hoax then.

So no matter how hard we tried, in the late Fifties it was impossible to lose our innocence.

It took the Sixties to do that.


Posted in
  • Hot Button Issues
  • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • Graduation
  • Education
Cedar Valley Chronicles Photo

“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


Contact Scott

Contact Scott Photo