Why I Obsess About Where My High School Ranks on Philly Mag’s List

Is that a Philadelphia thing? Or a Quaker vs. Quaker thing?

As soon as I saw the Philadelphia magazine issue with area high-school rankings on its cover, I got an urgent feeling inside, like I had to buy it immediately—or at least read it in Barnes & Noble. (Full disclosure: I blog for the magazine’s website. [Hello!].) The urgency has nothing to do with the fact that I have kids because I don’t have kids. I’m not a high-school teacher (though I’d like to be) nor do I work in the education field. The urgency is all about me. Or not me, exactly, but my high school. I have to know how my former high school is doing.

This is completely preposterous. There’s no reason for me to have any stake whatsoever in where my high school ranks among other high schools. Unlike college rankings, it has no practical value in my life. The college a person attends remains on a resume, heavy with almost as many connotations as the degree received there—and those connotations change. Two years ago if you walked into an interview with Penn State on your resume, there’d be no expectation of an awkward moment. The same can’t be said today.

When I see my college drop in the rankings, it pisses me off. I depend on my college’s reputation to express something about me even if I’m having an off day at an interview. Plus, as a major donor, I have to wonder: What exactly are they doing with my $10 every year? Must be some kind of fiscal malfeasance.

But unless you’re fresh out of the educational womb or need to fill up space on the page, no one puts their high school on a resume because no employer gives a crap. Oh, sure, you might want to say in an interview how going to such-and-such tough public school gave you grit and determination, but as for the school’s current rank and academic reputation? Unless you’re interviewing in Philadelphia and went to Masterman, it’s best to move on to other topics.

I didn’t go to Masterman; I wouldn’t have gotten in. Instead, I went to Friends Select School, a Quaker institution. The private schools don’t get rankings per se, so I find myself scanning things like standardized test scores and top colleges to determine where Friends Select would rank if it had a ranking. This can be time consuming and requires two different-colored markers if I’m really zealous. Which I sometimes am. But why?

I think it’s because when I was in high school, kids from the other Quaker schools would make fun of us because our school was “in the city.” This is technically true: Friends Select is on 17th Street and the Parkway, just kind of plopped down there, looking like a tumor growing out of the high-rise next door. But the way they would say it—in the city—you’d think we were passing through metal detectors every morning instead of being buoyed along on the seas of our parents’ $10,000 tuition checks.

As “city” kids, my schoolmates and I had a rep for being less inclined toward concerns of the intellect and more inclined toward concerns of where can I do this line of coke or are your parents home because I have a VHS tape with porn on it. This reputation made me feel really sad and like the world wasn’t fair. We were smart too! I thought we’d be vindicated when graduation came and my peers (not me) would get into Ivy League schools (does Penn count if you’re from Philly?). And they did, some of them, but a lot didn’t, which suggested that the suburban kids had the upper hand in this ridiculous internecine Quaker-school smackdown: The “city” kids weren’t as smart. Nor could we even claim street smarts because who gets street-smart at 17th and the Parkway?

I can only assume that I have carried this sense of intellectual inferiority with me throughout life. What else accounts for my fevered attention to current Friends Select students’ college admissions? I should probably have snorted more coke in high school and had more fun. Snort too much English lit and you end up sweating over copies of Philly Mag in some doctor’s waiting room. Oh, and to my Philly Post employers? How about a subscription? That’ll make this whole thing easier come next year.