“We learned more in a three minute record baby, than we ever learned in school…”
-“Bobbie Jean,” by Bruce Springsteen
Good afternoon, friends. Today’s post is accompanied by Stone IPA, a beer out of San Diego. It’s tasty, but not as tasty as the next one I will have after this, which is Hop Burglar by Wicked Weed of Asheville, NC. A shout-out to our beloved beer hound friends who gifted us after their road trip. Kinda going out of my Michigan zone today, but that’s okay. Beer is all good, as I’m fond of saying.
Those of you who are on Facebook may have seen that I mentioned composing a letter to the editor yesterday, and to keep a look out for it in the local paper. The bad thing about submitting these kinds of letters is that there’s this pesky little drawback called editing. And in the hands of someone who is incompetent, one’s treasured words can be chopped up like hamburger. Trust me when I tell you that even though writers know this could happen, writers would also like to disembowel those who take such liberties. So I decided that along with some other commentary, I would include the letter in its’ entirety here. But first, a bit of backstory.
About seven years ago I wrote an essay about school awards night. I have revisited it a few times since and found it to be little more than a rambling eight page rant, but at the time of composing it I kept thinking, “Oh, this is good! This will show ordinary people what it’s like to sit through three hours of bullshit pomp and pageantry, watching the same Amanda and Zachary parade across the stage fifteen times, while the rest of us bimbos wonder what the &$@$ we’re doing here.” Re-reading the piece now I only want to edit and improve its’ message, because I’m much more removed from the emotions that held me hostage for ten years. I’ll try to weave in a little of what I was aiming for then, in this post.
Some of you know of our family’s journey through reading the aforementioned essay, and from another one that’s in this blog’s archives. They both concern my experience as the parent of Danny: a wonderful, funny, loving kid who is cursed with learning disabilities. I originally wrote the awards essay not only as a means to vent my frustration, but to spread awareness to Mr. or Mrs. Joe Schmo about life in the D and F lane. I might have accomplished that for a few people in my writing group, who were the first to lay eyes upon it, but even some of them were like, “huh?” Writers tend to be a scholarly bunch (except for moi), and didn’t quite know what to make of my spin on an institution all of them aced through.
Then again when I think back, my husband wasn’t too impressed either. I remember he read it, and scrunching his beautiful blue eyes he said, “Well. It’s a bit…harsh.” I’m pretty sure I got mad and said something like, well this is MY story, this is our family’s saga, and it isn’t all sugar and spice. And then I probably stalked off to re-write. Dear God, it was anything but sugar and spice. A lot of the time, life sucked.
The truth was I was angry, though time and distance have softened the edges.
In any case Danny graduated, and after battling in the bullpen I was burned out. I didn’t want the soapbox anymore, and I backed off the constant reading and research about school issues. I quit a job with the local intermediate school district (which I took to ostensibly help parents who might face what I had), partially because I felt like a fraud. I was becoming part of a machine that was helping to mold kids into what the school deemed as “ready”, rather than getting schools to meet kids where they were. I decided I would start writing instead.
So the things that used to dig at me about how ignorant the public is regarding special education, about teachers who need to retire, and about what makes a good student or a successful-in-life student, I usually let go now. And then I read the lovely little newspaper article that, while perfectly nice if a bit boring, struck my dormant nerve. Why? It’s truly hard to explain if you haven’t done the walk in my moccasin deal. But I can tell you it’s the same prickly nerve that made me want to rear end every single minivan sporting a “I’m a proud parent of an honor student!” bumper sticker. I guess if you have one you’re safe from me, because I don’t see them where I live anymore.
Anyway, I digress. A short synopsis: the newspaper story featured a senior who is the sixth person in his family to be crowned valedictorian in his class. Yes, that’s it in a nutshell. Nothing draconian or sinister here, and so what’s wrong with giving some press to a hard working young man and his Einsteinian clan? Well, in theory, nothing, except that I’m not interested. And that’s the problem in our culture. We don’t see a problem with three hours of homework a night; we eat these accolades up like they’re candy, and frame them and caress them like lovers, and if we are PARENTS of the recipients? What a huge validation of all our efforts! Talk about hitting the Facebook motherlode! The stroking continues on and on, and nobody questions why it’s such a great feat to become an expert at filling in test circles if it means getting into one’s college of choice.
Now, before you get your panties in a bundle, I know there’s more to a successful student than that. You may also wrongly assume I criticize those who post updates of their kids. Not so. If you’re obnoxious and prone to excessive bragging of any kind you’re not my friend, either on Facebook or otherwise. I love to see kids’ activities and their art, especially. We are all proud of our children and all they do, and rightly so. I am no exception. But it is long past time that we give a deep look into our priorities, and what we consider praiseworthy, and how to balance all of this with a serious dose of humility. And of course somewhere in there, shine a little light on the troopers who aren’t getting an audience, who nobody interviews because there’s nothing special to report. Well, I know better, so anything goes. Maybe those nonexistent interviews will be ones I make happen.
Without further adieu, here is my letter:
I had a few reactions to the May 16 article in the HP, regarding Connor Reed being the sixth member of his family to become valedictorian. First of all, congratulations to him. He sounds like a good kid with a good family and a bright future ahead. Bravo. That being said, how does something like this make the paper and deemed newsworthy? Certainly the kudos should be acknowledged among family and friends, but what is the point of the community paper’s front page? To show the readers brainy people applied “gentle pressure” to brainy kids, who then graduated at the top of their class? To be brutally honest, I. Don’t . Care.
Here’s one rub: for every kid that’s as seemingly well-adjusted as this one, there’s another ready to put a rope around his neck for fear of failure in the factories we call schools now. Check out the depression, anxiety and suicide rates for teens if you’re skeptical. So I don’t understand why we continue to glorify and trumpet academic accomplishments that in the end mean…what? Persistence and hard work pay off? No doubt about it, they do. But I am sincerely waiting for the news articles featuring teens who are persistently driving their grandparents to the doctor, or grocery shopping, or working a job to help their family, all while still facing three hours of NON advanced placement homework every night. Or babysitting siblings so a parent can attend night classes, or graduating themselves while in the throes of chemotherapy or another life threatening disease. How about this kicker? A kid who graduates in spite of learning disabilities or a horrific home life? You likely won’t hear about them because they are quietly going about their lives unrecognized, and wouldn’t have it any other way. They and their parents don’t want the participation medal, believe me. They are too busy with their heads down just getting through.
Yeah, my son was one of those kids teaches dreaded. Unorganized, inattentive, “doesn’t try hard enough.” And before you accuse me of sour grapes, I will say this: I was too preoccupied, fighting like a tiger to see him graduate, than to worry about jealousy or GPA’s. Imagine that! Those days are thankfully over, but it still upsets me to think of the hordes of bright kids who get lost without that parental support. You know, the ones who aren’t trying hard enough? Our son, a smart, sweet guy, would’ve been squashed flat in the system, were it not for us and a select few dedicated staff. I don’t say this so I can get my pat on the back or day in the sun; I say it for the thousands who never will.
You want to talk about unsung heroes, interview the guidance counselors and students who accomplish things amidst adversity. Interview teachers who, rather than making jokey hints to kids about whether they can keep the family valedictorian legacy going, lay awake at night wondering how to make a calculus lesson work for students who will never, ever use it. Personally, those are the stories I want to read about.
And that, my friends, is that. I really could write a book about what we’ve been through, what I’ve observed over the years. Maybe when this current novel-in-the-making is over I’ll consider it. I don’t know. A big part of me wants to show other people’s stories, so time will tell. Until next time, cheers. And an extra cheers to you if your kid gets all the bells and whistles in school. Just don’t be calling and trying to make a big splash at the Herald Palladium, or if I meet up with you in one of those gross high school bathrooms I might have to give you a swirly.