School Daze

>    Last week, on my way to visit my 91 year-old mother in Florida, I purchased a special edition of U.S. News magazine at the airport that is dedicated to advice for high school students on applying to college. I certainly support being prepared in advance for application to institutions of higher learning. However, I think that somewhere along the way we scrambled our priorities and, perhaps, have actually lost our way.
    I am the mother of a 14 year-old daughter who starts high school this morning…so I’m in the trenches on this one. We had to juggle her school schedule with after school lessons in piano and voice as well as math tutoring. Jazz dance lessons are out this semester because of a time conflict. The theater program, of which she is a student, will require that both she and her parents sign a contract stating that if she is in the school play, all other commitments are secondary to rehearsals (piano, voice, tutoring, doctor and dentist appointments included, just to name a few) and that missing one rehearsal automatically removes her from the play. As the performance approaches, rehearsals can last until 11 P.M. on school nights. Team sports have a similar contract so its one or the other, not both, for obvious reasons.
    Our daughter’s schedule is not nearly as “booked” as most of her friends. On the academic front, some of them took a prep course and practice SAT’s (college entrance exams) in 7th grade! Early application and early admissions are now the norm…so their really not “early” anymore, are they?
    As I said, I’m all for advance planning when it comes to college. I went to college and law school and am an advocate for higher education. But when did we stop allowing kids to be kids? When did age appropriate learning and fun become subsumed to the race for who is the smartest…with the most activities on their application…and who gets there first?
    Our next door neighbor has three children under the age of 12. I notice she is tired and stressed a lot. Yesterday we were talking about school starting and she was near an emotional break point telling me about all the required things she had to do for each child. Even her youngest about to enter kindergarten was required to have (among a list of other things) ten glue sticks. Really, 10? Almost as ridiculous as our daughter being required to purchase a $140 calculator in 8th grade. (As an aside, while my neighbor and I were having this conversation, her 9 year-old daughter was yelling that she hadn’t yet gotten the cell phone she’s due).
    The technology has accelerated our lives in so many ways we’ve lost count of them and simply try to keep up…or catch up. The pace and the pressure is hard enough for the adults. As for the children, I suspect the damage is accruing over time…like too many sunburns at the beach when you’re 15 that later turn out to be skin cancer…we are stressing out the children, perhaps beyond repair, and the children are the future.
    I hope our daughter continues to develop her academic mind and creative interests. I know we’ll support her in whatever ways are needed to continue to help her grow to becoming a contributing member of society. But I have to tell you that in the end, I won’t care if it’s Harvard, The Restaurant School, an art Institute or any state college. In the end, I’ll care if she is joyful, compassionate, respectful of all living things and able to appreciate the miracles of life that occur all around her each and every day.
    As of this writing, there is no course selection or after school activity being offered in “Life Appreciation and Right Thinking.” Until there is, my husband and I are teaching that one.

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