Monday, July 22, 2013

The Hidden Lessons of High School

The following is the third in a series of posts written in the form of letters to my son who will be beginning high school in the fall. To view posts from the start, click here. After reading that post, select "Newer Post" at the bottom left of that post.


One of the most frequently asked questions by my students is "Why do we have to know this?" Sadly, few of my students ever appreciate the rich language of Shakespeare, the biting satire of
Mark Twain
Mark Twain or the subtle wit of Jane Austen. Hopefully, you will be one of the few. What you, and most of my students, need to understand is that high school is not just about learning differential equations, memorizing the periodic table or conjugating irregular French verbs. Learning the hidden lessons of high school is far more important.

What do I mean by the "hidden lessons"? These lessons are ones for which you are not graded. Let's start with homework. Why after five hours of school, do we send you home with even more work to do? Is that fair? 

Here's what homework teaches you: time management and how to prioritize your life. It may not seem like it now (or maybe it does), but life gets much more complicated as you get older. I'm not going to bore you with talk of bills, insurance, mortgages/rent, etc. Right now (believe it or not), your life is probably as simple as it will be for a long time. Homework gives you some practice at time management and prioritizing. Do you do your homework or play a video game? Do you squeeze in 30 minutes of studying on the bus ride to your soccer game or take a nap so you can get all your homework after the game? Do you start this lab report now or wait until the night before it is due? (Here's a hint, start as soon as possible.) You need to start prioritizing the different aspects of your life. After your schoolwork, what comes next? Sports? Friends? Video games? Work? If you want to be an athlete, that must take precedence over your social life. If you want to earn money, you may not be able to spend as much time playing video games. Notice that none of those things take priority over your academics. That's not a decision you are free to make yet.  The lessons of time management and prioritizing you learn through homework will help in whatever field you pursue in the future.

Another important hidden lesson you will learn in high school is how to develop relationships with adults AS AN ADULT. Up to this point, all relationships you have had with adults have been with you being treated as a child. That will begin to change in high school. Perhaps the most difficult thing to learn about adult relationships is how to deal with people you do not like. As a child, we would tell you to simply walk away from that person. As an adult, you may not have that choice. What if your teacher, coach, principal or boss is the person you cannot stand? You can't just walk away. This is one of the hard lessons to learn in high school -- some people will dislike you and there's nothing you can do about it, and some of these people my be in positions of influence. Here's my advice: treat everyone with respect, even if you don't respect them. Treating someone with respect doesn't mean that you kiss their ass, it just means you treat them maturely and professionally. They may never like you, but you may earn their respect, which is far more important. Do what they ask you to do the way they ask you to do it (within reason, of course). Don't ask why or challenge their authority YET. 

I'm sure you have already learned that the adults in your life are not perfect. We occasionally make poor decisions which leave you scratching your head. If you confront us on those poor decisions, we may listen and realize we need to rethink our position. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes people are afraid to admit mistakes. If this happens on a school related matter, here's my suggestion: until you have the power to change the rules, learn to play their game.  If you feel it's time to challenge an authority or rule, make sure it is a battle worth fighting for and that you are willing to accept the consequences for your actions. Don't waste your effort on trivial things, and make sure the potential consequences are are not so dire that you win the battle but lose the war. Seek out advice from those whom you trust. Hopefully, your mother and I will still be part of that group.
Of Mice and Men
Part of becoming an adult means accepting more responsibility for the relationships you develop. You will be judged by the relationships you develop and maintain. I think you already understand that people will judge you by the company you keep, so choose your company carefully. True friends tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Sometimes being a true friend requires difficult choices. When you read Of Mice and Men, you'll learn how difficult those choices can be.

While you may find it useful in the future to know how to do a Punnett square or write a research paper, there are far more valuable lessons to be learned outside the classroom. Learning time management, how to deal with difficult people, how to pick your battles, and the challenge of true friendship will all serve you well after you forget all the Biology or French you learn. Look for the lessons behind the lessons and you will get the most out of high school.



William Shakespeare

Next post: "The Wisdom of Shakespeare"

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