Cheerleaders are their number-one worshipers, high priestesses to the cult

Saturday, December 7th, 2019

American schools are uniquely focused on athletics, sociologist Randall Collins notes:

Murray Milner (University of Virginia sociologist) did a massive study of prestige hierarachies at high schools across the country. He went on to develop an explanation of why jocks and cheerleaders are at the top, and serious students near the bottom. Games by a school team are the one activity where everyone is assembled, focusing attention on a group of token individuals who represent themselves. Games also have drama, plot tension, and emotion, thus fitting the ingredients for a successful interaction ritual. Predictably, they create feelings of solidarity and identity; and they give prestige to the individuals who are in the center of attention. Jocks are the school’s heroes (especially when they are winning). Cheerleaders are their number-one worshipers, high priestesses to the cult, sharing the stage or at least the edge of it. And they are chosen to represent the top of the sexual attractiveness hierarchy, hence centers of the partying-celebration part of school life — out of the purview of adult teachers, administrators, and parents.

In contrast, outstanding students perform mostly alone. They are not the center of an audience gathered to watch them show off their skills. There are no big interaction rituals focusing attention on them. Their achievement is for themselves; they do not represent the school body, certainly not in any way that involves contagious emotional excitement. The jocks-&-partying channeling of attention in schools devalues the intellectuals. When it comes to a contest between the two, the athletic-centered sphere always dominates, at least in the public places where the action is. The social networks of intellectual students are backstage, even underground.

I wouldn’t disagree with that, but we should admit that being athletic is naturally more attractive than being studious.

I think he really misses the boat here, though:

This is why the average scores on American students in international comparisons of skills in reading, math, and other subjects tend to be at the bottom, far below countries in east Asia and in Europe. It is not a matter of talent, and certainly not a deficiency in school facilities, but a problem of social motivation.

European-Americans do about as well as Europeans, and Asian-Americans do about as well as Asians.


  1. Bill says:

    Re: European-Americans do about as well as Europeans, and Asian-Americans do about as well as Asians, see this recent Steve Sailer article:

    The New 2018 PISA School Test Scores: USA! USA!

    “Every 3 years in December, a well-funded organization called PISA releases a giant report on the test it gave 15 year olds around the world the previous year. And every 3 years, all respectable voices lament how badly the U.S. education system performs…

    “And every three years the one dissenting voice is usually … me. I ritually point out that each race within the U.S. (see the red bars in my graph) did pretty darn good compared to the rest of the world. (Keep in mind, though, that the U.S. usually spends more per public school student than all but a few tax havens like Luxembourg.)

    “For example, the mean score on the three parts of the test — reading, math, and science — for U.S. Asians was 549, which would make them the third highest scoring place in the world, behind only the utopian city-state of Singapore and four rich cities in mainland China. (Scores are on an SAT-like 200 to 800 scale with 500 supposed to be the rich, or OECD, country mean, although the OECD mean was 488.)

    “At 521, U.S. whites outscored all countries founded by whites (light blue bars) except Estonia. American whites edged Japan and South Korea by one point, which isn’t shabby.”

  2. CVLR says:

    Americans before replacement immigration would’ve scored ~650+.

    Considering the strong population substructure of “U.S. whites” (a fake category), 521 doesn’t tell you much. It perhaps isn’t necessarily reflective of reality to group together English, Scottish, German, Swedish, Irish, Italian, Polish, Russian, Czechish, Khazar and call it one race.

    You can find traces of this in such unlikely works as Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death.

  3. Ezra says:

    “‘U.S. whites’ (a fake category)”

    Hardly a fake category. A basic group as united by a commonality of race [and yes race does exist], religion, and in the USA language [English]. Also to a degree a common heritage and agreed upon history. A nationality of persons united as would any other nationality of Europe or any other place in the world.

  4. Dave says:

    In my high school, every few weeks there was a surprise announcement over the PA, and all classes dropped whatever they were doing and marched into the gymnasium for a pep rally. I felt like an anthropologist watching a primitive jungle tribe perform its ritual dance. The cheerleaders were cute but not available to nerds like me.

    I don’t think they ever interrupted a football game for math or English lessons, so the school’s priorities were pretty clear. And this was a wealthy white suburban public school in a liberal state in the 1980s.

  5. Kirk says:

    One of my more cynical high school teachers, a former Army Air Force armorer, once made the comment to me that one of the original ploys for worming mandatory education into being a “norm” was that they were seeking to harness the power of local rivalries between communities via the competition of high-school sports.

    I don’t know about the correctness of this theory, which he claimed he had heard from his own educators back in the 1930s who’d actually taken part in the whole “Let’s put high schools everywhere…” thing, but it does ring true. For an awful lot of America, the education is secondary to the athletics, which are more about local rivalry between communities than anything else. In Europe, they do this shit with rifles and armies; here, it’s all sports.

    To be honest, I’m kind of ambivalent about it all. I think it serves a useful social purpose, but at the same time, I’m also pretty damn sure that the whole deal is now more the tail wagging the dog than it is anything else. The nuttiness of high school sports stuff is a feature of American rural life that just about everybody from outside the context winds up commenting on, along with the integration into the schools.

  6. Obie says:

    Physical attractiveness is a sign of healthy genetics and good breeding stock. The reason nerds keep complaining about jocks getting all the hot babes is that they themselves would much rather hang out with a cheerleader than a dowdy math wiz. Mathematics might put a rocket on the Moon, but good looks plants seed in the womb.

  7. Mike in Boston says:

    “local rivalry between communities… In Europe, they do this shit with rifles and armies; here, it’s all sports.”

    I would not say that the local rivalries in Europe are played out with rifles and armies. Just as in America, they are channeled into contests that don’t leave heaps of bodies in the streets. The competition at the Palio di Siena is a much more intense than at any American high school football game. In Malta the rivalries are so intense they’ve ended up cancelling some festas. And I haven’t even gotten to soccer yet. It seems as weird to Americans as I suspect high school sports seem to a European.

    Separately as regards jocks and cheerleaders, single-sex high schools must be a radically different environment. I know some amazingly high-achieving people who went to single-sex high schools. They also seemed to go pretty wild in early college, of course.

  8. Bruce says:

    “harness the power of local rivalries between communities”

    Remember it was normal to have organized mass rock fights between fairly respectable boys in the US up through the 1930s. The shift from sticks and rocks to baseballs and bats was a real step up for public order.

  9. Kirk says:

    Mike and Bruce,

    Yeah, you’re both right. The thing is, I just have a hard time equating the usual European stuff like the various community Fasching efforts in Germany with local football rivalries here in the States. In Europe, it’s all separate from the school systems, while here in the US, it’s wrapped up in them. Europe, the rivalries are wrapped up in adult things like community clubs, giant marionettes, ancient hallowed ceremonies. US? It’s all at the post-adolescent high-school level, with sports and nearly nothing else.

    In France, you have the Royal de Luxe giant marionettes; in the US, we have the various basketball and football teams of the local high schools. I’m not sure which is preferable, to be honest. It all seems equally nuts, to me.

  10. R. says:

    I live in Europe, and ‘rivalry’between communities inside an ethnostate is basically the capital being mildly hated by everyone for obvious reasons and people in capital hating on those who move in because they’re ‘pushy’. Doesn’t occur to them that people willing to move move where the opportunity is are going to be more ambitious.

    This rivalry doesn’t go beyond jokes and occasional sneers.

    Maybe it was different a hundred years back before radio, but nowadays, nobody thinks like that.

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