When teens judge teen craziness on "Serial"

EPISODE SIX UPDATE: According to the 11th graders, yesterday’s episode of “Serial” definitely made Adnan seem a little “sketchier,” though still not as sketchy as Jay, or even Hae. The high school students said that another student writing “I am going to kill” was “a little wack” (they voted on the terminology), but not as strange (they said “clearly obsessive”) as Hae doodling her boyfriend’s name 128 times. The students had wildly different views on Adnan’s reaction to Sarah’s saying that he likes him (which some of them thought was weird in itself). But finally, they didn’t like that Adnan didn’t page Hae after she went missing. This is, so far, the “sketchiest” of Adnan’s actions, but they all admitted it was difficult to put their imaginations in the world of pagers — they certainly would have texted if they could have.

The entire “Sketchy Sketch” is at the bottom of the post.

The rest of this post mostly concerns their reactions to the high school students in Episode 2 and 3….

As my wife and I look forward to “Cereal Night” (listening to “Serial” while eating a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch), I definitely have an idea of who and what I think is “crazy” or “suspicious” or even “sociopathic” within the world of “Serial.” I imagine, for starters, what I’ll do to the poor ex-boyfriend who calls my daughter at 12:30 AM someday. My wife, meanwhile, feels Jenn is suspicious in just about every way.

But what do teenagers think about this teen world that I’ve somewhat forgotten?

Well, I have 140 students in my 11th grade English classes ready to tell me. Yes, we are listening to “Serial” instead of reading Shakespeare (more on that in a future post?), but they’re a few episodes behind me — so I can make sure it’s going to stay teen-appropriate and make some proper Common Core lesson plans.

After the second episode (“The Breakup”) I asked them to name the ten most blatant examples of abnormal behavior, starting with “calling an ex-girlfriend at 12:30 AM.” Then they asked each other two questions about each act:

1. Where does this fit on your “crazy scale” (a 1 being “typically high school” and a 10 being “genuinely psychopathic”)?

2. How many people do you know who might engage in this behavior?

The answers might not surprise you, but they startled me, and I’m a high school teacher who thinks he’s somewhat in tune with his students. The big takeaway? According to my students, the 17-year-old Adnan is the most typical high school student in the story. The most peculiar high school student? Hae, without much argument. Obviously, Jay and Mr. S topped the chart for the most suspicious behavior, but they aren’t in high school. Who else was voted stranger than Adnan? His parents, by a long shot. In summary, I’m not teaching Hamlet anymore, but I’m still using featuring a protagonist who is possibly crazy and amoral, or possibly just surrounded by crazy, immoral characters. Or both.

According to the kids, the most disturbing habit of Adnan’s was keeping tabs on Hae while she was with friends (a 5.4 on the Crazy Chart). Ranked relatively low? Calling her at 12:30 AM, just slightly stranger than helping an ex-girlfriend with her car. I double-checked: “12:30 on a school night?” They mostly nodded. In each class, at least one student would speak for the class: “12:30 isn’t that late.” I then did another quick poll, and discovered that over half of my students were awake at midnight last night (a Wednesday), and about 20% were up past 1:00 or 2:00.

Meanwhile, they almost entirely tripped out on Hae doodling her lovers’ names in her diary over a hundred times. “You guys do that when you’re bored,” I told them. I could feel the whole class lean forward in response: “No, we do not.” The classes were split on whether the doodling was “crazy” (different classes had it ranked anywhere from a 1.8 to a 6.2 on the Crazy Chart), but they all agreed it was very rare. In fact, in one class, it was four times more likely that they knew somebody like Jay than somebody who obsessed with a boyfriend’s name.

Somewhat disturbingly (though not shocking), the students said, on average, that they knew about four fellow classmates who would help a friend with a heinous crime (by giving him a ride, or a shovel) and not tell the cops.

Right behind Jay (and Mr. S, of course) were Adnan’s parents, although most students reported that they knew a senior or two who wasn’t allowed to go to dances or football games.

The preview for tonight’s episode says that my wife and I will hear about Adnan’s “curious behavior” while we eat our bowls of cereal, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be updating this Crazy Chart in a week or so, when my students catch up. In the meantime, I’m attaching my very hurried spreadsheet below:

“Crazy score” # of kids similar kids we know Other notes

Calling gf “devil”

4.3 2.9
Calling ex at 12:30 4 3.7 Over half up at midnight; average of 11:30
Crashing girls night 5.4 2.1
Multiple gf’s/towns 3.7 7.9
Doing big favor for ex 3.7 3.1
Using “kill” in convo 4.4 5.7
Not paging Hae 6 3.3
Awk convo with Sarah 4.9 2.4
Parents crashing dance
6.5 1.5 including football games, movies
Mr. S 7 0.3
Buying fancy jacket for ex-boyfriend
4.4 0.8 “rare, not crazy”
Quickly shifting romantic priorities 2.9 8.5
Doodling names 100+ 6.5 2.2
Aiding crime w/o telling cops
7.4 3.7 Y’all know 3 people who are a 7?” yes

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