My return to the classroom has triggered a fair amount of déjà vu. I’ll start talking about something and then, all of a sudden, these old teaching riffs start flooding into my head.
After our curriculum shifted to the notion of self-governance, I decided to hit them with my “Four Phases of Life” model. This rite of passage narrative features my take on the impact that four very specific chronologically ordered realizations had in guiding me through (and beyond) my own adolescence. My hope is that it will jolt their frame of reference and maybe spark a booster shot of resolve as they proceed with their own journeys. Here we go:
1. There is no Santa Claus.
At age eight, this was a tough pill to swallow. (I mean, such a cool idea really ought to be true!) This may well have been my first interface with denial as I initially made a concerted effort to sustain belief in the whole St. Nick myth even after I knew it was false. For example, I tried not to think about the fact that I kept seeing Santa in a few too many places in the same 2-hour shopping trip with Mom. I also recall the realization that prolonging my “belief” could be profitable whenever my grandmother came to visit for the Holidays. I hung on for a bit before letting go for good.
2. My mother lied about the stork.
A couple of years after letting go of Santa, my buddy and I were playing in our smalltown New Hampshire playground when two “big kids” (i.e., any human being in junior high or above) pulled us aside and proceeded to gleefully explain the biological process that brought us into the world. On the one hand, I fought the urge to blurt out “My parents would never do such a thing!” On the other, the whole idea seemed so preposterous that no one could have made it up. In any case, my mom’s stork story just wasn’t the same after that.
3. I’m not going to be the next Jimmy Brown.
Another bitter pill. After years of Little League baseball, pee wee hockey, and Pop Warner football, it hit me: Hmmm… I’m not even close to being the best player on our junior high football team… And our team is in the cellar of our league… And no one from my town has ever made it to the NFL… It was so much simpler in elementary school: OK, Who’s it gonna be: Jimmy Brown, Willie Mays, or Bobby Orr? Junior high was when the full impact of the cold, hard realization dawned on me: It ain’t gonna be any of ‘em. Bummer.
4. “The world is not your mother.” – Indira Gandhi
Somewhere around senior year of high school a thought entered my consciousness that was every bit as powerful as the previous three realizations: Wow! Life’s different than I thought. I really can’t just do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it.
To drive this point home to my government class, I ask, “Do you know what an investment is?” They seem to get this concept. Then I ask, “Given that investments depend upon time, you’ll want to get started right away. So, how much are you prepared to invest right now?” Someone will then invariably respond with something like “Well, Duh!… Obviously not very much since we haven’t even started working yet.”
I fire back with “Au contraire! You have oodles and oodles of something that I’d love to have. You might not have money, but you’ve got… Time! In fact, I wonder if I might interest you in a deal where I trade some of my money for some of your time.” Some are humored. Some are confused.
I shift into the sermon: “Everybody pays. And everybody pays a lot. The smart people in this world pay up front, and they do more of the things they want to do on the back end of life. The stupid people in this world do what they want to do on the front end, and they pay their dues on the back end… with interest.”
I continue: “One place to start is by weaning yourself off of the ‘progress standard.’ Progress is a great thing for people of any age, but as you age out of adolescence, you might do well to consider the idea that the only person who really cares about your progress is… your mother.”
And in the words of Indira Gandhi: ‘The world is not your mother.’
Eventually it all comes down to a 1944 Louis Jordan song: “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” When you hit adulthood, you either are a dependable person of character OR you are not. As you prepare to leave high school, consider the idea that your days of getting extra credit for progress are numbered. And like Santa Claus, they ain’t coming back.
Onward, Malcolm Gauld