Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On Your High School Years

Dear Mackenzie,

The other day your mom asked me if I thought we should attend our high school reunion next year in Cleveland.  The answer for me was a quick and easy yes. Was she crazy? Who wouldn’t want to go to his high school reunion with the “it” girl on his arm?

The conversation started me thinking about you though, and about your upcoming high school years. You’ve been home schooled or schooled on sets since you were in second grade. Initially when we started home schooling you I had grave reservations. I wasn’t too worried about the three R’s. I felt reasonably confortable that you could learn all of that in due course.

What did worry me was whether home schooling would affect your social development. I’d heard all the horror stories about how the social skills of home schooled children lag behind because they aren’t exposed to classrooms and schoolyards, and all the life lessons those settings portend.

As it turns out it appears I needn’t have worried. Four years into your home schooling experience you’re beyond socially adept.  You’re good with kids your own age and with older kids too. You can hold your own with adults, and though you’re only eleven I’ve rarely seen you in a situation where you weren’t comfortable in your own skin.

I don’t know whether your social skills will sustain as you get older. I hope they do. Conversely, I worry whether the one thing I didn’t fret over – substantive learning -- will come back to be the real problem as time goes by. Hopefully it will all turn out okay. So far so good.

But what about the high school experience itself? What will you be able to reminisce about years later which will bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your face?

I certainly don’t mean the classes. I’m hard pressed to point to a single high school class that sent me in an interesting academic direction, and I can’t even remember the name of any of my high school teachers. In fairness, that may be more a reflection of me than of the institution. Your Aunt Viv says I’ve blocked out much of my childhood. She may be right.

I do remember, though, that one day during my junior year at Cleveland Heights High School our chemistry teacher gave us a pop quiz about the Periodic Table. We all thought we had done poorly. The next day as the bell rang to end the class, the professor asked me to stay behind for a minute.

I thought I might be in trouble, but when the rest of the kids emptied out and we were alone, the teacher turned to me with that sympathetic yet dry tone that doctors use when they give patients very bad news. “Norm”, she said softly, “you seem like a nice young man and I want to help guide you”.

I didn’t really know where this was heading and I must have been staring at her blankly, because she ratcheted up her sympathetic tone. “College isn’t for everyone”, she continued.  “There are some fine vocational schools that can teach you a craft to get by in the world. Perhaps you could be a diesel mechanic… or maybe even a plumber”.

I grant you that I didn’t have the most distinguished high school academic career, my sweet daughter. But can you imagine the damage that kind of uninformed comment can inflict on a young mind? I shudder to think how many kids’ lives that teacher may have inadvertently sent in a wrong direction.

No doubt as I write you this letter, some knucklehead shop teacher somewhere is probably telling the next Mario Andretti he should quit wasting his time with race cars and go to dental school.

So no, I’m not at all concerned about you missing out on the classroom experience.  But as you get older I do want you to have all the same types of wonderful memories that your mom has about her high school years, and that I have about mine.  How do you amass memories like those if you’re home schooled? I’m not sure.

And great memories they are.

I remember driving around aimlessly on Saturday nights listening to the radio and looking for trouble with my two ne’er-do-well friends Howie Kohr, who now calls himself Howard and deals with Presidents and Prime ministers, and Vic Schmelzer, who now calls himself Victor and performs high risk cardiac surgeries.

I remember Coach Lieberman telling me I was too small to play high school baseball and running me ragged practice after practice trying to get me to quit the team, and then after the season telling me he thought I had become one of the best defensive center fielders in the state.

I remember Nina Fromer, who fueled my fascination with pretty Israelis.

I remember Randy Stoner (not his real name – here’s why) taking me to an abandoned building one day after school and offering to share his joint with me.  I coughed and hacked and then told him the weed had no effect on me, after which I stopped off at the local deli and ate two packs of Twinkies because I had the munchies.

I remember Harvey Kirshenbaum and Elizabeth Buck and Scott Comp and John Ernest, all of whom were taken too soon.

And of course I remember the beautiful “it” girl.

Those are the memories that fill my heart. Whether you ultimately go to a regular high school or are home schooled through your high school years, in the end the memories you create will be uniquely yours.

If your memories give you as much joy and delight through the prism of time as mine have given me, you’ll be one very lucky girl indeed.

All my everlasting love,

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