Friday, July 20, 2007

Before the Retreat

So, today is kind of a special day for me. I'm going on my vacation in a couple of hours. I need to get a shower and pack a couple more things. But then it will be done. I'm going on a meditation retreat to a little Jesuit center near here. I will be spending hopefully 8 days engaged in religiously oriented meditation under the direction of a Jesuit priest. He is the director of the center that provides such retreats and after talking with me on the phone he decided to direct my retreat personally. I'm not sure exactly why but, I think it may be that I'm a confusing and unusual case.

When I tell people about this vacation I tend to get one of two responses. Either A) "You're a freak. Why would you ever want to waste your time doing something like that?" This is a response that is pretty typical at work. Or B) "That sounds pretty cool. I think it's really great that you are the kind of person that could both want and actually follow through and do something like that. " I have my suspicions that those in group B are polite members of group A but... oh well. I have been wanting to go on such a retreat for several years, ever since I studied the founder of the Jesuit order or Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and his Spiritual Exercises. The very concept of a spiritual excercise intrigued me, and I look forward to giving this a try.

So anyway, I'm hoping to have a valuable learning experience and will be sure to post my reflections when I return.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Answer for Surly Temple

Why am I opposed to a law which requires kids to stay in school to the age of 18? There are many reasons and so far I’ve not had quite the chance I desire to articulate them in a way that I want to send on to relevant legislative individuals. And even now I’m not sure how I ought to articulate them all. A lot of it has to do with my reasons for thinking that our system is evil and bad in the first place. It follows that I wouldn’t want to require anyone to spend up to two more years undergoing this sort of education than they might otherwise.

A major piece of my opposition is rooted in a belief in good old-fashioned freedom and self-determination. As it is now, a 16-year-old student may with the permission of parents withdraw from school. Students may do this for many different reasons but, one way or another the students and parents make a determination that schooling is not consistent with the said student’s life goals and prefer to do something else with these years. What they do, as long as it is legal is up to them. It could be home-schooling. It could be entering the workforce. It could be any number of things but ultimately it is the exercise on the part of the individual families to pursue happiness for themselves. To pass this not only violates this right, it insults all parents and students in the state by claiming that they are not competent enough to figure out what to do with their own lives.

The case of one of my students always comes to mind when I think about this issue. He had dropped out of school before entering our program. He had some very serious behavioral problems that made it near impossible for him to function in a classroom. Forced to take school, as it was part of our program, he experienced limited success and was frequently a deficit for his influence on other students. In a traditional school, in a traditional classroom it would have been that much worse. Required to stay in school by the law he would be the sort of person to bring drugs and weapons onto school campuses. That is assuming he would even bother going to school at all. Because he is required to go to school, getting a job would be out of the question because any employers would be complicit in his truancy. This means a kid with no self-control and a great deal of free time on his hands.

Part of the assumption posed by this legislation is that it is possible to somehow force a kid to learn stuff. This line of thinking annoys me a great deal. Learning is voluntary and a student who is not motivated becomes both a wasted investment and an impediment to the education of others around him. When you have a kid that has been to school (as all have) and has had little success and a lot of frustration you can expect that he will develop a certain amount of resentment towards the society that is doing this to him. If you take away his last recourse to choose another path for himself and criminalize his potential means for finding satisfaction you have galvanized this resentment and have significantly increased his capacity for deviant, even criminal behavior.

Now, it has been suggested that there ought to be a place in the school system for such kids, like mechanic school, or something. I agree that there ought to be and if more of such choices were available I would be less aggrieved by this bill. The problem is that there are very few, and those that do exist are very selective of their students. Boys like mine (those I might suggest need it the most) tend not to be able to get into such programs because they refuse to enroll kids with a history of truancy, drug abuse, criminal behavior, etc. Now the law in question provides funding for investigating the possibility of increasing the numbers of internships, school-to-work programs, and possibly even increasing the availability of technical high schools. The problem is that it imposes the requirements before the investigation of these sorts of programs is finished. Note that it is the investigation. We aren’t even close to talking about actually increasing the range of services provided. We are merely talking about talking about increasing the services. I believe the saying goes “putting the cart before the horse” or something like that.

Anyway, these are few bits and pieces, odds and ends for reasons I am opposed to this legislation. I am about to read a book that proposes an hypothesis that I’m interested in because I suspect that if it is not on the right track it might represent a perspective in this discussion that doesn’t get much voice. It’s called “The Case Against Adolescence.” The primary thesis is that the social roles of teenagers has been infantilized through history. This means that the competence of adolescents is being under-estimated and that they have not been given the sort of responsibility that both satisfies their changing psychological needs and conditions them to perform as adults. I suspect there is a certain amount of truth in this but I’m not sure how much or what it would ultimately mean in the end. I’m sure that it would not support legislation that only extend this infantilization. However, I don’t know for sure yet and maybe I’ll comment on it after I’ve studied it more.