I’m waiting in line at the coffee shop near school and the woman in front of me is engaged in a conversation with the Barista taking her order. The Barista is explaining how she hated high school. She didn’t like any of her teachers. She never read any of the assigned novels in her english classes. She liked the social aspect of school, the Barista admits, but she cannot remember anything she may have learned. As a new teacher, I could have taken that opportunity to express my disgust, to emit a Guffaw in response to the Barista’s enthusiastic description of a worthless education. I could have, but I didn’t. What she was saying is a reality for her and for countless kids across the nation. How can a student leave high school with such a sour attitude about an important formative experience? The factors that go into the answer can be numerous, and I have many ideas (topics for another post). What concerns me the most is how much one’s experience in high school can create the kind of person they will become as adults. If the Barista hated high school, her teachers, and the learning associated with them, how might this attitude affect the decisions she makes as a future citizen?
I have always believed that school is a microcosm of the larger world. In school, we learn to deal with authority, work with schedules, develop relationships, explore the basis of our ethics, and learn work habits. It is in High School that we begin to develop attitudes, opinions, and ideologies that become the basis of our future selves . If a student leaves High School apathetic and resentful of his or her high school experience, than those attitudes might swell and grow into a more sinister apathy and bitter resentment in the adult world. A negative relationship with a teacher might translate into an unworkable relationship with a boss. A student who Constantly harasses peers might develop unhealthy perceptions of power and make bad decisions that reflect that perception. A student who is the victim of constant harassment might look upon humanity with spite and seek vengeance in secret and vile ways. Those shortcuts in Algebra or English may have pushed a student through to graduation, but cheating might become a regular option in the world of work and responsibility.
I realized late in my High School Career that each teacher I had offered something I needed. I didn’t need to be friends with the teacher, but I could respect the knowledge they had. As soon as I realized this, my grades began to rise. I recognized my capacity to learn from them. The philosopher Bertrand Russel makes a distinction between asserting oneself upon the world and allowing the world to enlarge the self. When I hated my teachers, I was asserting my self on them, expecting them to fit a mold of what I wanted them to be. Needless to say, I became apathetic when they failed to fit the shape of my ego. I saw myself as a victim of a tyrannical system. Things changed when I began to demand to know what my teachers knew. I wanted what they had. Little by little I realized that the only thing I had control over was how I chose to see High School. My Barista chose to see High School as a waste of time. I found much more happiness in the challenge of learning something new, not because I had to, but because it was new and I wanted to know it. If a student can realize this as a freshman in High School, it can save them a good deal of time.