19 July 2008

Stay in School, or I Will Kick Your Ass

I know that most of the readers of this blog are grownups. Most of you even have college degrees. Good job! Go, you! You deserve a cookie.

If you have already graduated from high school, this blog post is not for you.

If, however, you are one of the approximately 400 students I taught in New Mexico, or you're a kid whose overbearing parent or grandparent or teacher sent this link to you, or you're a high schooler of any kind, or you're seriously considering dropping out of high school for any reason, or -- well, you know what I mean -- this blog post is for you.

This morning I responded to two separate emails from two separate former students asking about whether or not they should stay in school. You GUYS!! You're killing me! Of course you should stay in school! Even Mr. T knows that.

Look, you guys. I know that high school sucks. Of course it does. It sucks for everyone. Anyone who tells you that high school will be the best years of your life is either mis-remembering high school entirely or just completely deranged. High school is NOT the best years of your life, but it IS practice for the best years of your life.

You don't need me to tell you all the statistics about how high school dropouts make so much less money than graduates (and over a lifetime, a MILLION DOLLARS less than the average college graduate) or how high school dropouts make up a disproportionate percentage of America's prison and death row inmates or how high school dropouts are far more likely to apply for public aid and assistance. You can google all those facts yourself, and you probably should. I imagine, though, that the idea of making a million dollars more over the course of your lifetime seems pretty abstract in the face of the concrete suckiness of your day to day high school life. Right?

Here's the thing: high school sucks because you're learning big giant important life lessons, and it's always completely uncomfortable to learn big giant important life lessons. We humans are kind of dumb, and we only learn big giant important life lessons when the universe hits us over the head repeatedly with a giant metaphorical stick. In other words, humans have to SUFFER to learn. That's how we're made. When you were really little, and your mom told you not to put your hand on a hot stove, did you say, "Okay, Mom! Thanks for the heads up! I will take the wisdom you've earned from life and apply it to my own!" or did you go, "Don't what? Hmm, what would happen if I put my hand here? OWWWWW mother of god that hurts oh my lord the agony aaaaahhhhh!!"

Mmm-hmm, and which one made a bigger impression on you?

I hate to say it, you guys, but high school is an awful lot like life. Think of it as the bootcamp of adulthood. It sucks because you're encountering all these crappy aspects of life for the first time, and you're trying to negotiate your way through by trial and error. You're putting your hand on that hot stove every single day, and it freaking hurts. The good news is that all of the lessons you're learning now will help you later in life. I swear.

One of the most important things you'll learn in high school is sheer perseverance. SO much of your future success will depend on your ability to keep showing up, even in the face of major trials and difficulties and bad hair days and stupid people up in your face all the time and headaches and all the other mundane awful things of every day life. High school teaches you to keep on trucking, no matter how bad things get. Woody Allen said "Ninety percent of success is just showing up." Thomas Edison said "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." You see? Good things only come to those who work steadily, every single day, at making their dreams come true. Oddly enough, high school will make you better at this.

Another crucial life lesson you'll learn in high school is how to get along with people you hate. I know you're surrounded by small minded, stupid, annoying, ridiculous people. I know they drive you crazy. Unfortunately, you're going to have to work with them for the rest of your life. I have only worked ONE job in my entire adult life that didn't have at least one completely obnoxious co-worker I had to deal with -- and that's because I was only working with one other person. I hate to tell you, but we live in a group-work society, and high school is your training ground for how to deal with people that make you want to stab your eyes out with a pencil.

Finally, high school will help you to learn how to make the most out of your life. Believe me, the next sixty-odd years will be full of people and situations you don't want to deal with, busy work that makes you crazy, boring tedious repetitive tasks (just ask anyone without a dishwasher), financial and emotional and time constraints, regardless of who or what you are. The good news is that within that framework of all the stuff you have to do and all the limits you have on you, you get to choose what your life will be. I'm serious. Whether you end up working three jobs to support the seventeen children you managed to acquire or living in a mansion with a butler and six ferrets, you will get to choose whether you're happy or sad, whether you're a victim or a hero, whether your life is full of loneliness and tears or love and laughter, YOU GET TO CHOOSE. When I was in high school, my best friend used to remind me (constantly), "You know, Abraham Lincoln said that most folks are just about as happy as they make up their minds to be!" and I would say "Shut the hell up, Matt, I am full of angst and rage and you don't understand my pain!" and then I would punch him in the face. But eventually, and to my chagrin, I learned that he (and Abe Lincoln) was right. You're going to be as happy as you make up your mind to be, whether you're sitting in Algebra or touring the circuit as a professional rodeo clown. Living through high school is excellent practice.

Finally, in response to those of you who have emailed me complaining that your high school is awful and your teachers are morons and the whole experience is just making you DUMBER: look, I sympathize. I had a high school English teacher who didn't know the difference between the words "resume" and "résumé" and it made me want to call the presses and run a major exposé in all the papers about the idiots who were teaching in our schools. And I actually went to a pretty good school. And really, as a teacher, I know for a fact that some of your teachers probably are dumb, because I know that I've had a colleague or two over the years who's shocked me with their ignorance. But I also know that MOST of your teachers are a lot smarter than you think they are, and even dumb people can occasionally teach you something of worth. If you feel like you're not being challenged by the school, then take the reins into your own hands and challenge yourself. Take the hardest classes you can find. Push yourself to get straight As in all of them. Learn a new language. Teach yourself how to draw. Write a book. Read every single one of the 100 Best Novels. Invent something. Take up cross country running, or knitting, or fencing. Learn how to cook and bake and make your own yogurt. Find ways to help out people who are worse off than you. Challenge yourself.

And hang in there.

Ms. Backes


Natalie said...

Oh Ms. Backes.

You DO know everything. This is a great entry.

Anonymous said...

To quote Rocky, it's not about how hard you can hit. It's about how hard you can hit, and keep moving forward.
Great post, Molly. I'm going to send this to my nephews when they start high school next year.

macwidow said...

Molly, I may talk to Toni and just MAKE you post this stuff somewhere that OHS Graduates see it. I remember observing the same things, but you have the gift of being able to put it into words!
THANK YOU!! I share this blog with my cousins who are HS English teachers and Elementary school teachers, in Neenah and Kaukauna respectively. They LOVE your blog posts:)

Geri OHS Class of 1998