Graduation Day! Mixed Emotions

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Today is graduation day for the high school students in our district. Some years ago, Michelle Campbell (2007) wrote an article about the students who didn’t graduate, and were held back for summer school or worse yet, another year. Not surprisingly, most of these students were African-American men. My young man upstairs is a bit of an iconoclast, and gave us some (a lot!) of worry about whether he really would graduate. He is a stubborn one, and he is done: it would either be high school
diploma today or GED another day. Nothing, neither powers, nor principalities, nor parents would convince this independent-minded young man to attend summer school. My daughter nailed it when she said that the phrase “summer school” is an oxymoron.
From one end of the spectrum to the other: Some children attend summer school at local private schools, taking classes (presumably not PE) they will take the following year. Why do they do this? To be sure they will get As and into the right college. The culture of overachievement is just as depressing as the culture of underachievement. What kind of childhood is that?!
The boy (technically a man now, at 18) asleep upstairs spent part of his summers running around barefoot in Vermont at a camp that allowed no access to cell phones or computers. Meanwhile, these super-achievers spent their summers in classrooms staring at computer screens or enrolled in Kaplan or Princeton Review classes.
Our school system is singularly ill-equipped for the “average” student. This boy is far above average intelligence, but has adopted a fairly strict policy of not studying for exams or doing much homework. (Calculus was the exception to that rule.) He is not in it to prove a thing to anybody except, perhaps, that he won’t be programmed, scared, threatened or bribed into thinking that straight As and an Ivy League education are the path to happiness in life.
Many of the classes at our College Town, NJ high school are only offered at the accelerated or AP level. AP classes have proven to be little better than the Kaplan courses my sons refused to take for personal and political reasons. The exception to this was both sons’ wonderful experience in environmental science. This class includes field trips and a highly intelligent, disorganized, Canadian science teacher. I confess to never personally noticing that Mr. Anderson is disorganized and his classroom messy. This I was told by others. Shouldn’t a science classroom be full of interesting, touchable things? What I do know is that the ten minutes in Mr. A’s classroom at back-to-school night did not make me want to fall asleep or weep for the poor children in his class. I’m sorry I never took the class myself. There was only “earth science” when I was in high school, and that, sadly, meant that you were on the “slow” unacademic track, heaven forbid! So however interesting that class may have been, my friends and I never found out.
This is not a call for schools to cater to the “average” in the sense of lowering their standards, but to become more engaging, and get the kids out from behind their desks as often as possible.
The literary curriculum makes the skin of this former English major–who took accelerated English with an engaging curriculum & teachers–crawl. Please revise! Why on earth should my son, or any other high school student, read The Girl with the Pearl Earring? It is a fine book for book group or a light summer read, but offers nothing more. Did the local school board or state select this light novel because it is uncontroversial in content? I am appalled. This is but one example of a curriculum from middle school on, which has been gender inequitable, forcing books far more likely to appeal to young women than young men. I loved Jane Eyre, but my son refused to read it. He would not even stoop to read the Spark Notes or Wiki summary. Both his male guidance counselor and his male teacher agreed that they, too, would not read Jane Eyre for love or money. My son reads books on his own, as we all do in this family, independently and for interest. He goes to the place known as the “media center” to borrow books. Why not provide an option more likely to appeal to young men?
College will bring some of the same challenges, but more choices. A major in agriculture will certainly involve writing research papers, and writing up labs, but also, literally, time in the field.
God Speed, my idealistic and stubborn young son. I will miss you terribly and daily. Tears fall as I write. There will be no one around to drink a quart of milk and eat a daily box of cereal. The soccer field has already been rejected in favor of hiking and backpacking–outdoor adventure–but the tiny mudroom is littered with keeper paraphernalia and soccer cleats. I don’t think I will put them away any time soon. The saxophone, keyboard, and drum set are somehow crowded along with camping gear into a small and extremely messy room. Part of me itches to crawl under that bed and dig out some mysterious items, but mostly, I will miss him. But it is time. The University of Vermont, agriculture, environmental science, and ceramics await. This is not to mention friends, hiking, backpacking, skiing, and possibly club soccer. Fare thee well, my boy, my young son.

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One thought on “Graduation Day! Mixed Emotions

  1. ABE

    Glad he made it – stubbornness runs in our three, too, probably inherited from BOTH parents.

    Now all you have to do is worry until he’s out of school, and then finds a job. Problem is, he makes his own decisions – as mine did – and you can’t step in and ‘save’ them any more than anyone else can save you.

    Our generation of parents has a hard time: we respected our parents (as much as possible), but also give more freedom to our children (because we have to). When I feel overwhelmed by it all, I try to remember I wasn’t exactly easy on my poor mother!

    You have given him the best start you knew how. Don’t worry – he carries it in his heart, but he will express it HIS way.

    Reply

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