Measure for measure

Categorizing people is an American way of life. We loves statistics. We like to know where you stand. Clothes, CD collection, team uniform, or the musical instrument you tote around all inform our database.

It's a contrary habit in a country so fond of preaching that you can be whatever you want. Adults try to convey that popular message to high-schoolers as they ponder the future. Yet even as parents and teachers say the sky's the limit, they often ignore the intense cliquishness that governs many high school halls - and reins in more than a few kids.

Temporarily lost in the recent outpouring by people with bitter memories of high school is the fact that many students march relatively successfully and happily through the experience. But couldn't adults do more to promote contact between some of the stultifying groupings kids create - and not simply dismiss cliques as a rite of passage?

Our cover story looks at a high school in Pelham, N.Y, which is reexamining a culture carefully coded by cliques. It's a caring, small school. Many of the students say their groups give them a place to belong. But on the heels of that comes acknowledgment that social life can be difficult for those on the outside.

Adults know cliques break down as kids get older. They know that kids who won't talk to each other now will find common bonds in years ahead. Without being heavyhanded, they could try to nudge kids toward branching out. It's not an easy task, especially as adults are cliquish as well. But it's as much a part of education as final exams.

*E-mail newcomba@csps.com

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