• U.S.

Education: High-School Hell

2 minute read

For 23 years, Oregon has had a law forbidding high-school secret societies but in Oregon’s largest city, high-school kids have paid no attention. In Portland (pop. 400,000), the societies flourish. They have mysterious names like EUK, Pack and Domino; they pledge socially prominent classmates, hotshot athletes or just kids “who have something,” from convertibles to “cute personalities.”

Last week the Portland school board suddenly sat up and took notice. For one thing, the current Ladies’ Home Journal was carrying an exposé of such societies that quoted a former Portland boy named Chuck Swanman. On “Hell Night” he had been taken to a faraway golf course “where the cops can’t hear you yell,” forced to drink a mixture of a searing hot sauce compounded with pepper and garlic and ordered to smoke a handful of cigars, inhaling every puff. After he vomited, the “hackers” went to work, whacked him 50 times with an inch-thick paddle. “Some of the kids give themselves shots of Novocain,” Chuck reported, “but that just hurts worse when it wears off.”

The Portland school board had other evidence. A mother wrote in to describe what had happened to her son on Hell Night. “He hardly looked human. He was covered with blood, molasses and sawdust, and was shaking with spasms … He was covered with red marks across his back and buttocks, the latter broken in many places and swollen . . . His teeth chattered so that he could not talk.”

Last week, Portland’s school board voted a ban of its own on the secret societies, announced that its rule and the state law would be enforced.

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