Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Flawed American High School

“The rules of high school turn out not to be the rules of life,” Stated Leon Botstein, in his writing titled “Let Teenagers try Adulthood.”  Simply based off of this statement, I already agreed with his critique of the American high school.

High school is not an accurate representation of the real world. The success you have socially doesn’t imply that you will have actual success later in life. Plenty of students placed into the stereotype of “nerd,” will one day be the boss of the oh-so-popular “jock.”

Botstein goes on to point out how “individuality and dissent are discouraged,” meaning that while they are in high school, students are not accepted if they have character traits that make them stand out in ways that are not “cool” or socially admirable. They are encouraged to fit inside little boxes that crush their uniqueness.

Which brings me to another of Botstein’s points, no other institution categorizes people by age. Sure, once humans reach a certain old age they could be put into a care center, but it’s not as if they turn people away if they aren’t old enough yet. In the real world, age-segregated environments do not exist. “In no work place, not even colleges or universities, is there such a narrow segmentation by chronology.”

“By the time those who graduate from high school go on to college and realize what really is at stake in becoming an adult, too many opportunities have been lost and too much time has been wasted.”

Botstein’s solution to this problem is to allow students to graduate two years earlier, at the age of 16, should they feel ready for the task of beginning life in the “real world.” This could be by going on to college early, entering a trade school, or directly entering the work force. The point is that it’s up for the student to decide. At this age, most students know their own strengths and weaknesses, and have a grasp of where they’d like the general direction of their life to be headed.  

I agree with this ideal completely. By my sixteenth birthday I knew that I didn’t want to be in a job that required mathematics, yet I’m still in a math class my senior year. I believe that if we give students the opportunity to make their own decisions regarding their future, we would find that many teenagers actually have the capacity to be intelligent thinkers and creators. I believe that the shallowness of high school will diminish. If everyone is focused on bettering themselves so that they are prepared for the near future, it won’t matter if you were the captain of the football team, or if you never got a date in high school. It would matter that you prepared yourself for success later in life.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Our Queen Is Irreplaceable

If I were queen of my school, I would strive to be as good of a leader as my current Principal, Dr. Mary Wilcynski.

This woman memorizes 1,800 names, first and last, every single year. She makes a point to have conversations with the students, and even get to know them.  

She holds a meeting once every month or so, called Cougar Advisory Council, where she sits and listens to complaints and concerns by students about our school. She actually takes these points and applies them to make things better for everyone. She compromises and finds a place where everyone can be happy.

Once, last term, she approached me and asked me how my classes were going, and expressed her concern for my final grade in my math course. She wanted to see me succeed, and knew my capacity for learning was above where I was performing. In a school of 1,800, she took the time to know I wasn’t doing well in Pre-calculus.

From how my teachers talk about her, they also appreciate her establishment of relationships in our school. My philosophy teacher, Coach White, even mentioned that he’s never met a more decent person in his entire life. When his son was having health problems a few years back, she didn’t bat an eye when he needed time off, she instructed him to be with his family. She not only cares about her students, but she treats her faculty as prized possessions.

I once traveled to Marshalltown to watch one of my best friends compete in women’s state swimming, and I wasn’t even shocked to find Dr. W in the crowd. She makes an effort to attend as many events, sports or otherwise, as she possibly can. I’m talking weekends, tournaments, multiple games or even multiple events per night.

And don’t even get me started on graduation parties. Kennedy High School has a typical class size of about 400 students. That’s 400 parties, 400 locations, 400 “congratulations” cards. This spring, Dr. W will attempt to attend each and every one of these parties. This absolutely blows my mind.

Though it’s become a running joke that she shoves AP classes down our throats, the concept has been a little dramatized. She may stress the importance of challenging ourselves, but she only wants the best for each of us. And she most likely knows what’s better for us than we do.

If I were to apply only one concept that Dr. W has taught me, it would be that you have to be your best, to expect people to be their best. How could Kennedy not have an outstanding academic record when we have a woman behind us that is working her absolute hardest so that we succeed? She drives people to do better, because SHE is better.

So I guess I didn’t really take the question of “What would you change if you were queen of the school?” to heart, because I believe that the Queen is already in her rightful place.