“Since the admissions process has gone totally insane, it’s worth reminding yourself that this is not a particularly important moment in your life.”
I don’t often share the views of David Brooks, but if you’re a high school teacher, his op-ed piece in the Times today is worth a look. It’s about how truly crazed many students are at this time of year when their college acceptances are hanging in the balance. And, as Brooks points out, this moment in their lives that seems SO huge is really not nearly as important as it feels.
Ironically, I was having just such a conversation with one of my students yesterday who was really upset by the fact that she was wait-listed for a semester at one of her top choices. She wants to be a journalism major, and I suggested that she might use the opportunity to do something interesting for six months, like travel a bit, or join an non-profit organization and do some good, or volunteer for a political campaign or…you get the idea. Not an option, she said. I said well, what about going to a community college for a semester and getting some credits. Nope. It was the $40,000 a year college…that was it. Too bad.
The Brooks essay isn’t kind to public education. He describes students being forced into what he calls a “a prudential attitude toward learning” that sacrifices passion for consistency, and says that what they learn most is how to play the game to get to a first class school. He accuses the system of “trying to whittle you down into a bland, complaisant achievement machine.” In large measure, I think he’s right. Public education in general just seems so locked in to standards that all we seem to be producing are standardly good students. There’s a surprise. So few of my students have passion, originality, or the motivation to figure out what THEY want as opposed to what we expect them to want. I know it took me a while to find my passions as well, but wouldn’t it be great if we could create an environment that nurtured that exploration in kids instead of deadened them with conformity?
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