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Does High School have to be that big a deal?

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I am British.
Here, we see the USA as the big guys, they have the biggest music industry in the world, the best movie makers (films in Britain) etc, I could go on. To us everything across the pond seems larger than life. Not to say that we idolise them, but there are probably hints of jealousy woven into us. After all where do people go when they're looking for fame? To Uncle Sam.
When I first used to watch films from America, in particular rom-coms, I was first shocked then scared. I recall this from back before I went to high school, here we start high school at 11 or 12 and leave when we're 16-18.
I was quite frankly frightened by what I saw as a depiction of a typical American high school. The opening scene was the protagonist walking down a central corridor clutching books to their chest while a disorganised chaos erupted around them. Of course I see clearly now that that was of course made for a film and was probably not a true representation of a typical school. However I have seen other places, through media that starting high school in America seems a much bigger deal and I ask why? Here it really isn't much of a deal. I wonder if it is because we start on that perilous journey at a younger, more naive age? Or perhaps because there are very few schools here where the pupils wear non-uniform. This of course takes away all number of problems and I hate to think of all the added bullying that would take place if the rules were reversed.
Maybe I am speaking out of turn as an ignorant British teenager but from where I'm standing, it seems that the Americans are making a lot harder than it has to be for their next generation.

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