School Culture: What Have We Done To Our Kids?

I put on a crazy hat lighted up with a six volt battery, proclaim myself “Quizczar” and head into a team taught class. The subject is post high school planning. Choosing colleges. Career Choice. Financial aid. Necessary stuff, but low interest, essentially boring, as much as I try to jazz it up. The kids have already heard me on the subject at other times, and endured readily enough a more recent presentation on same. Since they were no doubt thoroughly saturated with knowledge, I and their teachers had decided we would quiz them, lighten it up, try to have a little fun, while still highlighting parts of the subject matter.

Turns out to be a tough crowd. These teachers are reasonably well liked by their students, and I normally have a respectful hearing as well, but ‘twas the pulling of teeth. Give me a break. I work the crowd of kids with increasing energy, trying to will their enthusiasm like a comedian whose jokes just fall flat. Maybe half dutifully respond to the “quiz” questions, and most listen modestly when I highlight certain points once the answers have been revealed. But very few questions, which is usually sign that brain waves are just on flat.

These listless juniors inhabit the middle of their second to last year of high school, less than a year from when they will hopefully be fully engaged in the post high school application full court press. Yet too many seem to have only a faint idea that time is marching toward them with imperatives they cannot avoid, nay, must embrace. It is not for my own lack of trying, or that of enough of the teachers.

Perhaps it was a failure of my comedic talents.

The intuitive experience is that of inciting molasses to move. Tip them, turn them upside down, but they stick to where they are. I look for signs of excitement in the future, eagerness at beginning to train for a career, a brightness at the prospect of university or college. Of course, I find that, too. But too little, with too few of my students. Parents are typically more openly worried about the future of their children than their offspring.

My little quiz show experience is emblematic of what many high school teachers will report, I suspect. We deal with kids whose energies are partially screened off from us, as though our enterprise is suspect, and by extension the authority of the adult world. There seems too little wariness of the consequence of failure to act, and so of failure itself. Some do become scared of their deficits in the present, and their prospects for the future, but instead of taking action to meet the standards before them, too many seem unable to shift gears and strive to solve the problem, as though someone else may rescue them, perhaps just as their cell phones have appeared though they may have done little to earn them. Perhaps in our cultural drive to take care of our children, we have given them too much that they haven’t earned, have excused too much that they have transgressed, have not held them accountable enough, and so we have effectively infantilized them. Deep down, we can guess that those so apparently not caring are frightened, of failure, of not measuring up, and lack the personal strength and strategy to move themselves off stuck. What is maddening is that many of us proffer a hand, but neither is it grasped in too many cases.

Again, the culture walks in our school doors. What happens within, the byways that teachers face, is a reflection of the culture outside. If this is true, as I think it is, then schools must find some way to correct the ills, well intentioned often, that we as a culture have visited upon our kids, all of us. Ay, there’s the rub.

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