I have two children. My oldest just completed his freshman year of high school. One of his end of the year festivities, for lack of a better word, was an academic awards ceremony which my wife and I attended. We didn’t know what to expect. The only thing we did know was that our son was being acknowledged for something. Turns out, of the roughly 600 students at that school, almost half were recognized. Every one of the 290+ recipients got to hear his/her name called, and then walk across the state for the obligatory photo, handshake, and pin, button, ribbon, medal, plaque, certificate, trophy or life-size statue. This went on for what felt like a day and a half. When I wasn’t busy squirming in my seat, I had some time to think. My thought process went something like this:
What time is it?
How long is this going to last?
How can so many people have a last name starting with D?
Geez kid; you’re getting an award. Was gym shorts and a tank top the best you could do?
Could that skirt be any shorter?
Why didn’t girls dress like that when I was in school?
I’m definitely skipping this next year.
Hold on. These kids are being acknowledged for their academic achievements. They’re all honor role at the least.
If this many students are this smart, how’s the U.S. still ranked outside the top 20 in virtually every academic category?
That last thought was the one that really stuck with me. Is America’s youth a whole lot brighter than we’re led to believe or is the bar simply set too low? That’s a debate far too large for this one blog post. There’s no question our educational system is flawed. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 had its share of critics and the current practices of standardized testing and teaching to the test have their detractors as well. But what about the children themselves? What role do they play in all of this? Are they being challenged enough? Is there something wrong with the idea that everyone is a winner?
Growing up, we all heard stories of how much tougher our parents had it. They had to walk to school through four feet of snow, uphill both ways, and a family of six had to share a single pair of shoes. And, because toys hadn’t been invented yet, they played with rocks and dirt. “Sure, Dad. Whatever.” But, as bogus as they were, I can’t help wondering if those stories had some merit.
When I was a kid, we had a black & white television with one channel. There were no computers, no video games, and if you wanted to make a phone call, you actually had to dial. I spent all my time outdoors. My favorite game involved a couple friends, a ball and a steep hill. My second favorite game involved the same friends, the same ball and my garage roof. I’m dead serious. If it was raining, I was bored. And you know what? That was okay because it taught me to, even forced me to think outside the box or Xbox if you will. Today’s kids are never bored because they can play football, baseball and hockey, drive race cars, fly fighter jets, explore fanciful worlds, lead troops into battle, and all without ever getting off the couch. My kids aren’t spoiled, but by my count, they have no fewer than eight devices equipped for playing video games. A number of these devices replaced older models that have since been sold or given away.
I’m not against technology. I have very poor eyesight and, without things like screen magnification programs, I’d have a hard time getting anything done. However, it’s also possible to take things too far. To me, playing Scrabble with your family is a lot more beneficial than playing Words With Friends with a total stranger. Emails and texts are fine. It can also be nice to have a real conversation once in a while. I hope today’s youth hasn’t completely lost sight of that. I hope there’s still some creativity in the world. I hope, at least once this summer, every kid will be bored. It’s a great character builder.