by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"Education is a private matter between the person and the world of knowledge and experience, and has little to do with school or college.".... ...Lillian Smith.
Commentary of the Day - May 18, 2006: My Last Senior Year. Guest commentary by Felice Prager.
With two sons, each attending public school for 13 years, added to my own 13 years as a public school student and a decade plus as a public school teacher, I proudly announce that I am finally done! The light at the end of the tunnel is so near that I need sunglasses. As my younger son joins the rest of his graduating senior class next month, tossing his cap high into the air, I may bring a cap of my own so I can toss mine as well. "No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers' dirty looks!" "School's out for summer! School's out forever!"
It has been a long sentence. I tried to serve it diligently, holding up my end of the bargain at each intersection where students, teachers, and parents collide. At times, I played the role of student; at other times, I played the role of teacher; and on this final leg of my journey, I have uncomfortably played the role of parent. Each role was different and difficult, especially this last stretch since I have been watching from the wings while having a very difficult time keeping my trap shut. I am exhausted. I have so much to say and so many people to say it to, but it does not matter anymore. I am ready to head off into the Pacific to retire with my husband on a desert island where I never have to see another school cafeteria, another auditorium, another classroom, or another front office again. I no longer have to be politically correct in fear that someone will take it out on my kid. True, we cannot actually head off into the sunset until our younger son completes his studies at one of our state universities. He still needs us here in order to qualify for in-state tuition. However, that is just temporary. The island is out there, and the sails on our sailboat are hoisted and ready for a good strong wind.
I did a little math the other day. I am always doing a little math. Math, being as exact as it is, helps me stay in control when I start obsessing about details. The math I did went as follows: My two sons each attended school for 13 years. That is approximately 2,340 school days based on a 180-day school calendar. This is equal to approximately 16,380 hours of school based on a seven-hour school day, which is equal to almost one million minutes of school for each of my sons. From this total, we could subtract time for early dismissals, fire drills, standardized testing, practice for standardized tests, chicken pox, strep throat, inept substitute teachers, one rather stubborn case of pink eye, school trips, fund-raising assemblies, announcements, passing from one class to another, lunch, recess, and a broken water main in 1994. Yet, even with those deductions, that is still a lot of school. In defense of the schools, my sons have brains filled with information. I am not in the mood to think about how much of this information they will actually use or how many times teachers handed out word-search puzzles saying it was practice for the big "end of the unit" test. That would just start the old conversation called, "Why do we need to learn this junk? We're never going to use it anyway." I am not feeling up to the debate since, in many respects, I am on the same side of the table now, and I no longer have to pretend to support that with which I do not agree just so I will not make waves. We will have plenty of waves on Bora Bora.
Two weeks ago, we received a phone call from our son's English teacher. Though we have received our share of calls from administrators when our sons were involved in violations of the district's code of conduct, this was the first time in two million combined minutes of school that a teacher called to tell us one of our sons was doing something right. We have received report cards and had our share of parent conferences – all of which were positive and promising, but this is the first time a teacher went out of his way to tell us something good for no reason except he wanted to share the good news. I thanked him for taking time from grading those 5000-word senior term papers to tell us that we are not alone in thinking our kid is terrific, despite the few infractions he has notched into the belt that barely holds up his sagging pants.
When I was a senior in high school, I could not wait until I was finished. Senior year seemed endless, and I discovered many creative ways to do my work and get good grades by making as few personal appearances in the school building as possible. I was a rebel, but more importantly, I was already mentally in college. I had shopped for college clothes, had a new 8-track player that would be small enough for the dorm, and my boyfriend-of-the-month was a college student. High school was boring. High school guys were immature. In high school, they said they treated us like adults, but they did not. All I wanted was the diploma so I could get on with my life. I did not want to go to my own high school graduation ceremony, but I made a deal with my parents that involved use of my mother's car for the summer if I would wear a cap and gown and take part in what I thought at the time was a silly, meaningless ceremony. At 18 years old, I had an answer for everything, just like the two young men who have lived in my house and have had their own share of answers. I do not remember any of my high school graduation ceremony except I gave my dad a hard time over taking pictures of me, and I was annoyed that I had to get out of my jeans to wear something nice beneath my cap and gown that no one would ever see. I did not go to my prom. I was not into that, and even if I were, I would have been embarrassed asking my college boyfriend-of-the-month to go with me. I do not remember if there were any parties after graduation. If there had been, I did not go because I was already driving my mom's new Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme from New Jersey to my summer job in New Hampshire where I was going to be a counselor at a sleep-away camp for a whopping $800. The whopping $800 was for the entire summer, not per week.
My older son went to his prom wearing Heelys with his rented tux and attended his graduation without a fuss. After graduation, the school planned an all-night party at the school. In an effort to provide a tragedy-free graduation, many school districts across the country provide alcohol- and drug-free all-night-parties for graduating seniors as a safe alternative to drinking and driving from party to party. My older son and his girlfriend were locked into the school building after graduation along with the rest of the graduating seniors until 6 AM. There, parents provided food, free massages, prizes donated by local businesses, contests, games, and entertainment. When my son and his girlfriend (who is now his wife) talk about that night now, they say it was lame, and the only reason they had fun was because they had each other and the food was free.
My younger son is not as cooperative. He is more like his mother and his father than he would like to admit. He will not go to his prom. He is not the prom type. He is not the tux type. He will attend graduation reluctantly. Somehow, before the ceremony, we will coax him out of his black torn clothes and sneak a tie around his neck when he is not looking. He informed us during the first week of his senior year that he "would not, under any circumstances" attend the post-graduation party at the school. If I were 18 again and had the decision to make, I would not go either. It is an excellent program, and I would selfishly prefer if he went for my own peace of mind, but, to quote my eloquent graduating son, "Why would I want to be locked into a school after I finally got out of the school." Of course, being the diligent parent that I am, I made sure to share the statistics about post-graduation deaths with him. His reply was, "If you want, I'll hang out at home after graduation. But I'm not stepping back into that building after I finally escaped." Since all diplomas are "held" until 6 A.M. the next morning so kids will not sneak out of the party, my son will have to make one more appearance in his high school to get his diploma, but being locked in is what really sets him off when I gently try to re-introduce the subject. I have since made reservations at my son's favorite restaurant, and we will be doing a family thing instead. My other son and his wife will join us and if my son wants to bring along any of his friends, they are invited. I have not told my son this yet. He is too good at making excuses and I do not want to give him time to think about it. After all, he is my son, and I know I would do the same.
© 2006 Felice Prager.
Felice Prager is a freelance writer and former English teacher from Arizona. She publishes the Write Funny pages.
The IP adds: Felice included the following two links related to high school graduation parties and drunk driving, both of which are worth a click: