Every generation brings with it a new problem. Or, we feel the need to invent one for them. For my generation, there’s this whole uproar about entitlement. Things have moved on. The zeitgeist now is how the current generation of kids do not know what it means to lose; that they are soft as a marshmallow; that they are told they are all a winner. The kid is out celebrating the fact that she got a certificate – so what if everyone else got a certificate too! Parents are scared all this softness doesn’t prepare the kid for life. And they think the schools are somewhat responsible.
When I went to school, the school ensured you felt like a loser. The teacher would meet your parents and tell them, how in her prolific career as a Kindergarten teacher, she hasn’t seen a kid as stupid as you, and maybe you need therapy or something. And you’ll be standing right there all along, staring at some ant, with no idea what was happening. And then you are thirteen, and all the teachers get together to decide your fate: whether you should move to a different curriculum. A euphemism for, “this guy is sure to fail and ruin the school’s repute, so let’s put him in this special school for losers that we built inside our own school and just to make things interesting, let’s not send any of his friends along because, well, none of them got a 7 in their exam. In case he asks, let’s just say ‘state-board’ so that it sounds all rad.”
The problem back then wasn’t very different from the problem now. For one, it’s a typical first-world sort of problem. The underlying issue is that we think school prepares us for life. It doesn’t. Schools are there to keep kids occupied, help them day-dream, help them make friends and most importantly, make parents believe the kid’s doing something with her life. The larger problem is having enough schools to give kids an opportunity to discover that there is this thing called ‘life’ and that it’s not meant only for a privileged few. It’s ensuring we don’t have kids giving up on a shot at life because no one told them something like that existed. But that’s a problem we have left for a selfless and passionate few to solve as we lose sleep over whether the kid should learn Spanish or German.
Let’s solve the easier problem first. Spanish.
This idea that kids are growing up soft is not new. Every generation feels that about the subsequent generation. What hasn’t also changed is that every generation grows up and wonders what a bunch of loonies the preceding generations were. Here’s what your kid may possibly tell you (me) as she stares into her iPhone 17:
“You have been doing the same thing for 10 years? I may be soft and cry and yell out words in Spanish when I lose, but you won once and continued to play the same game? Were you scared you would lose? Did all that state-board toughness growing up make you afraid of looking soft? Same place, same job, same path, same friends, same life? All that toughness prepared you for a life, but looks like you never showed up, Dad.”
I know what my response to that rant would be: “I sacrificed my life for you, you insensitive prick!” As my mom usually says, “guess we’ll have to wait for her to have a kid of her own before she understands that.”
All of this, however, begs one question: does life have to be this sacrificial loop of solving a problem we invented because we ran out of things to talk about? Generation after generation, we think it can’t get worse, but, in reality, it only keeps getting better. I look at the schools now and wish it were like this when I was studying. They may be missing out on parts of life we had, but they also have the parts of life we never got to see. That’s an inherent sacrifice every generation makes. To be upset because your daughter will never experience the hardships you went through is moronic, sadistic, and really?
With longer dreams comes longer disappointments. The kid has this rare power to dream longer. And, we are afraid it will be difficult for her to see those dreams crumble when she dreamt so long. I would rather have it that way than watch her give up early and settle. Schools are there to show her there are dreams. We don’t want to give schools the power to put a timeline to those dreams. They may quash it and send her to therapy and tell her she’s no Martin Luther King. Don’t forget somewhere out there is a kid, sitting on the last bench of his state-board school, wondering if he’ll ever have a certificate, a dream or the courage to see his friends again.