Here at 25YLSite, we handle a lot of heavy lifting. Analysis, interpretation, deep discussion, introspective interviews… you name it, we’ve got it. “Favorites” takes a lighter approach to the material we normally cover. Each week, we will take you through a list of favorites – whether it’s moments, scenes, episodes, characters, lines of dialogue, whatever! – in bite-sized articles perfect for your lunch break, a dull commute, or anywhere you need to take a Moment of Zen. So, sit back and enjoy this week’s offering: Lindsay’s top ten favorite fictional schools.
Fall is here, hear the yell
Back to school, ring the bell…
For most students and those of us in the pedagogical professions here in the Northern Hemisphere, September means buying new pencils and sheafs of looseleaf and chalk erasers (okay, maybe we don’t use chalk anymore) — autumn might be the season of crunchy leaves and crisp breezes (and Pumpkin Spice lattes, which are awesome, don’t @ me… #BasicB*tch) it’s also the start of the school season! In that vein, I thought it was only fitting that I run through my favourite fictional institutions of higher learning from TV and film. This was a tough one. There were many I had to leave out and many more I’m sure I forgot. So please chime in with your list in the comments!
Without further ado, and in no particular order:
Rydell High (Grease)
It’s hard for a school to be cool, but Grease‘s Rydell High pretty much succeeds where others have failed before (and after) it. Yes, it’s filled with the typical cliques, but here they get cool names — The T-Birds! The Pink Ladies! And everyone gets matching jackets! I loved this high school growing up, and wanted my high school experience to mirror it (which might explain why I went to the school with a Thunderbird as a mascot…) — who wouldn’t? They had pep rallies in the fall, American Bandstand in the spring, and a summer carnival for the graduates at the end of the year! Complete with flying cars! Okay, sure, the teachers weren’t fantastic (except for shop teacher Mrs. Murdoch…and Coach Calhoun was a riot!) but Rydell High was a magical place, where “Grease” is, was, and will always be the word…
William McKinley High (Freaks and Geeks)
On the flip side of Rydell’s bubblegum sensibility is William McKinley High from the tragically short-lived 1999-2000 comedy-drama Freaks and Geeks. But while the students — also separated into cliques: the titular freaks and geeks among others — bemoan the purgatory that is high school, there is so much goodness to be found here. Freaks and Geeks intelligently and thoughtfully shows us that the problems of adolescence are real for the kids they belong to, but also shows that the adults in charge truly care. With the exception of math teacher Mr. Kowchevsky, who seems to have it out for everyone he meets (there’s one in every school), the teaching staff at McKinley High are there for their kids, to help them through the issues they’re dealing with, whether it’s low grades or bullying or drug use or abusive home lives.
Springfield Elementary (The Simpsons)
One might argue that Springfield Elementary can’t possibly be a good school since none of their students have ever advanced past the grades we first saw them in three decades ago… (I kid, I kid!)… but as far as fictional schools go, it has to be on the list for no other reason that a significant portion of the adult population today has grown up with it. We know and “love” the staff of this school like they were our own beloved scholastic caregivers — the snarly Edna Krabappel, sweetly beleaguered Miss Hoover, perennially put-upon Principal Skinner, even Super Nintendo Chalmers! And that doesn’t even touch the supporting characters — the Groundskeeper Willies and Lunchlady Dorises — or the one-off guest teachers that filled in over the years, always making sure that the students in Springfield had… a place to go during the daytime. (I really can’t call it an “education”… I can’t do it…)
Degrassi Junior & Degrassi Senior High – (The Degrassi franchise)
Let’s get serious for a moment: Degrassi Junior High and, later, Degrassi High School were places where growing up was done. In the years when the educational purpose of television was being widely understood and utilised on a grand scale for the first time, the Degrassi series provided a place where the much-maligned “after school special” met popular comedy-drama. Without Degrassi we wouldn’t have Freaks and Geeks, Saved by the Bell, Dawson’s Creek or Beverly Hills 90210. While the schools were fictional, they were centered on the very real De Grassi Street in Toronto, Ontario, and featured the very real storylines of average teenagers, from the first incarnation in this franchise way back in 1979 (The Kids of Degrassi Street) through to the most current (Degrassi: The Next Generation) which ended in 2015. Teen pregnancy, drug use, school violence, abuse — you name it, the Degrassi schools had it. But what makes this show stand out, for me personally, was a conscious choice on the part of the writers — for all the adults in the orbits of these teenagers, there was never allowed to be a scene with an adult present that didn’t also have a Degrassi teen present as well. Centering kids in such a way made their problems real and important, and signalled to the rest of us that our problems were real too.
John Adams High School (Boy Meets World)
Boy Meets World was not always a show that took things as seriously as some of the others on this list, but in its fictional John Adams High School there was always something very touching and poignant about the presence of the one teacher we always wish we’d had: Mr. Feeny. His life lessons — doled out in class or over the fence in Cory’s parents’ back yard — were the stuff of inspiration.
Grosse Pointe High School (Grosse Pointe Blank)
Much like Rydell High up top, my affinity for Grosse Pointe High School comes from the fact that what happens within its walls is the stuff of legend — a ten-year reunion attended by a former student-turned-hitman? Who kills a dude outside his old locker?? With a pen??? And then disposes of the body in the school basement by throwing it into a furnace??! While 80s New Wave and British ska plays on the soundtrack??!! Okay, really, it’s just that soundtrack — The Clash, Echo & the Bunnymen, Nena, a-ha, Violent Femmes, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Pogues… I mean, this is exactly how I would have wanted my ten-year high school reunion to be soundtracked, and I graduated in 2003, so…
Robert F. Kennedy Junior High/McKinley High (The Wonder Years)
What can be said about The Wonder Years that hasn’t already been said? The schools featured in this beloved comedy-drama series are the backdrop for some of the most important life lessons in young Kevin Arnold’s life, and are usually set up against the wider conflicts of the adult world just beyond its doors. In this way, The Wonder Years sets up adolescence in the same way that Freaks and Geeks would later on, and the way that Degrassi had done since the early 1980s — centralising and making important the trials and tribulations of youth while keeping it within the safe microcosm of the school environment. It helped to have rose-tinted glasses to view it all through, and the perfect Sixties soundtrack to underscore it, too.
Starfleet Academy (Star Trek)
Star Trek‘s Starfleet Academy just looks like an awesome school to attend. First of all: Ex astris, scientia. “From the stars, knowledge.” That’s in their frickin’ motto! Learning about space is cool, so it gets major points for that; ditto for their classes on exolinguistics, temporal mechanics, interstellar ethnology, advanced subspace geometry, and creative writing (I hear Klingon poetry is second to none). Secondly: look at that campus! San Francisco in the 24th century looks beautiful and lush and if we keep with our current climate change trajectory I doubt it will actually look like that, but the vision is quite nice and should fill us with the desire to see it come to pass. Mostly, in my opinion, Starfleet Academy ranks high on this list because of what it stands for: as the military arm of the United Federation of Planets, it trains future Starfleet officers of all races, creeds, and Galactic species for careers devoted to exploration, peacekeeping, and diplomacy. There is no need for conquering other planets or subjugating other people; there is no military-industrial complex driving wars and conflicts. It’s a humanitarian’s dream.
Hill Valley High School (Back to the Future)
Okay, so maybe Hill Valley High isn’t the best school on the list, but it’s fun to include nonetheless. For Marty, seeing it in the 1980s as the degenerate, run down institution it became and then zipping back in time thirty years earlier to see it in its prime is a wonderful conceit — it allows him to understand his parents and the lives they lead and how those lives have impacted him, all the result of choices made long before he was born. Further to that, the time travel forward to the alternate-1985 in Back to the Future Part II, in which the school doesn’t even exist anymore, is a result of decisions Marty makes in 2015, 60 years after his parents met! The interconnectedness of it is mind-boggling. But that’s what makes Hill Valley and its high school, in all its incarnations, so important. It represents something bigger about the nature of time and our passage through it — how all of these little, individual choices we make every day can have grand effects on the world around us in ways we could never imagine! I never learned lessons like that in my high school…
Bronson Alcott High School (Clueless)
Not many people have a high school experience quite like Cher Horowitz, but that doesn’t stop Clueless from feeling relatable in a weird way. And I credit Amy Heckerling’s winking humour for that, really. But Bronson Alcott High School (named for the 19th century writer and educator who advocated for a new way of interacting with students using conversation and avoiding traditional punishments — sounds a lot like the high school named after him, eh?) — really was a pretty cool place to be. The teachers genuinely cared about their students — that’s a pretty common thread in my list — and provided them with exactly the right amount of guidance to become the young adults they would grow into by the end of the film. At the end of the day, any school whose teachers invite you to their wedding because you helped to set them up on their first date using “sucky Italian roast” coffee and Shakespearean sonnets cribbed from Cliffs Notes is my kinda place, even if there are more cliques there than in any school I’ve ever seen…
Capeside High (Dawson’s Creek)
Forget about the (sometimes excessive) teenage angst and the drama that would make any Millennial Instagrammers head spin. Any high school that produces students with vocabularies as varied and expressive as this one deserves to be recognised, no?
Walkerville Elementary (The Magic School Bus)
I don’t know what kind of insurance policy the school carried, or how they managed all these field trip parental permission forms, but if I’d had a choice to attend a school with Ms Frizzle at my teacher, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’d have enrolled! Wouldn’t you?!