Family Archetypes #5: Warped Sense of Opportunity

Warped Sense of  Opportunity

As strange as it seems, sometimes teenagers discover that they have a better chance of receiving opportunities as a reward for what I like to call “options-limiting behavior” than as a result of doing their best. I have encountered students who have attended two or three boarding schools and others who have been in one or two rehabs. These kids have not received these opportunities because they’ve earned them in a productive fashion. They’ve received them as the result of negative behavior. Chances are they have “defaulted” on their own adolescent development, sensing  that their parents will accept responsibility for them, that their parents will always be waiting with a safety net. The tragedy is that these teenagers will often carry this warped sense of opportunity into their adult lives.

Home is nearly always a contrived reality. If parents are not careful, we can set up a home reality that bears little resemblance to the outside world. Then if kids attempt to apply this warped sense of understanding of opportunity to that outside world, they will be slammed and slammed hard. Yet that is precisely what they will do because that is what they will have been taught.

Hyde is most successful with students whose parents make a genuine commitment to the spirit of our family education program. However, one group of students at Hyde has historically constituted the exception that proves the rule: those students from our city scholarship programs.  At face value, these students would appear ill‑equipped to succeed at Hyde. Their academic skills are typically weaker than other Hyde students. Many have come from homes where the parents speak little to no English. (I remember a Hyde teacher who once said of a student, “He thinks in Spanish yet speaks in English.”) And very few of the parents have experienced the benefit of higher education.  Many of these students come from single-parent households and experience culture shock when they arrive in Maine, a state that is 99+% white.  And yet… Consider the higher education experiences of just one 1980s cohort of hyde graduates from Washington, D.C.:

– B.A. Hobart College  (Martin Luther King Scholar); Villanova Law School
– B.A. University of Western Illinois (Basketball/Football Scholarship) – Currently teaching and coaching at Hyde.
– B.A. University of Maryland
– B.A. San Francisco State University; M.B.A.  Harvard Business School & M.I.T., Sloan School of  Management
– B.A. Northeastern University
– B.A. Tufts University

Each one of these students may have gotten off to a slow academic start at Hyde, but each one also had a very healthy understanding of opportunity. They were sometimes perplexed by the number of unearned opportunities that some of their Hyde peers had received.  They came from a world where hard work is all too often rewarded with no opportunities, and one where lack thereof, to say nothing of negative behavior, will always get you nothing.

As an educator, I can’t stress enough how important it is for teenagers to earn their opportunities and how important it is for them to feel the consequences of their own mistakes. If we teach kids that they will receive opportunities regardless of whether they do their best or their worst, we teach them a formula for life that will ultimately backfire on them, perhaps after that inevitable day comes when we -‑ parents and teachers -‑ won’t be around to cushion the blows.

Next: Ego vs. Conscience

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld