Monday, June 10, 2013

Summer Fever Grind

For the past week I have been contemplating Ken Craig's post about the wondrous summers of his youth. I didn't have carefree summers like that. I had one job or more jobs starting at age 11 and we lived a long way from anything resembling the beaches Ken describes.

My main job was an afternoon shift, so I would often sleep in before spending time staring at the inane content available on the three stations we could view on our black-and-white TV set. Many weekdays we would walk a mile to the municipal swimming pool where we would spend 1-2 hours before lazily walking back home through the cemetery. We rode around the neighborhood on our bicycles and took hikes into the nearby foothills.

But the summers of my youth were all pretty mundane; nothing like the idyllic summers described by Ken Craig. Although I groused about my jobs, I was happy to have the responsibility and the income.

My high schooler is in his third week of summer vacation from the grind of compulsory public schooling. But he grouses that he has had no summer vacation yet. He had hoped to earn some money doing the window cleaning business he learned from his older brother last summer. But so far his summer has pretty much been more school work.

This boy is quite intelligent. He understands a number of subjects quite well. But he has long had academic challenges due to failure to focus on, complete and turn in assignments. Frankly, a lot of this stuff seems like worthless busy work to him, since he usually understands the concepts already. And to be honest, a lot of it probably is inane. But it's also the unavoidable path to a passing grade.

My son is far smarter than I was at his age. I was forced to take chemistry back then. I have no idea how the geniuses in the office determined that chemistry was right for me. It wasn't even one of my alternates. I had somehow managed to pull C– grades in algebra, although, I had absolutely no clue what was going on in the course.

Chemistry was worse. I didn't even understand why the textbook was filled with math. (A subject, as stated above, that completely eluded me.) After a D and a D– in chemistry the school finally allowed me to transfer out of the class. But only after my mother had a stern exchange with a vice principal, who then reprimanded the counselor that had been blocking the transfer. I still rather resent the chemistry teacher for publicly belittling me in front of the whole class when I had him sign the transfer form.

My son, on the other hand, gets and even enjoys chemistry. But he failed one quarter this past year due to the above mentioned failure to complete assignments. He has spent the past two weeks doing intensive online work to compensate for his failing grade. Before completing the work, he complained that it was on a much higher level than what he had studied in class. He ended up watching college level chemistry lectures and even consulting with one of his older brother's genius friends.

This week my son is off to EFY. Although he is happy to be attending, it is far from the unstructured time he has been craving. He is also chagrined that he had to shave his proudly cultivated beard.

Even when our son returns from EFY, his unstructured time will have to be put on hold for a few more weeks because he has to make up for two failed quarters of World Civilization. I can understand my son's problem with the course. The 'teacher' (a term used quite loosely here) mainly distributed and corrected worksheets, piled on additional useless work, and acted as an obstruction to actual education. (See YouTube video of student's rant about a similar World Civ program in Texas.)

Still, plenty of other students have managed to survive the silliness of my son's lousy World Civ teacher. My son has yet to learn that life is fraught with situations where, in order to advance you have to play the petty games demanded by those that have power over you.

By the time my son gets around to having unstructured time this summer, his remaining days of vacation will be limited. If he learns anything from this summer, I hope that he grasps the value of completing required work before it is initially due, despite the distastefulness of doing so. Not only is it important to achieve the stated learning objectives of each course, it is important to learn the unstated objectives of what it actually takes to get along in life.

We all romanticize about the rugged individualist. This theme never loses its popularity in books, movies, and other entertainment. One of the reasons for this popularity is that we are aware of how much our real lives differ from this ideal. There are countless inane things we have to do just to get along and to get ahead. We loathe the times that we bow down and pay obeisance to small minded people that have a little authority. We are uncomfortable with the reality that leading a successful life includes playing such ridiculous games.

The last thing I want to do is to squelch my smart, creative son's unique spirit. But he needs to learn that there are unpleasant things that cannot be avoided if he hopes to maximize his individual potential. Doing some irksome tasks now can be the springboard to future freedom.

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