smart versus stupid.


a friend and i talked once about what it means to be smart. the only time i ever felt smart was in elementary school, when i continually earned high honors, received flawless report cards, and proved that i was a better speller than anyone around. but then i got to high school, and i found that i wasn't smart at all. i struggled in accelerated classes, and i felt like no matter how hard i tried, i couldn't do very well. so, i stopped trying. i did the bare minimum and received average grades in return. it was a pretty rough transition. i've been thinking about why that is.

recently, i found out that my old elementary school, st. ignatius, was looking for a new fourth grade teacher. i visited their website, and i looked at the school schedule. basically, the fourth grade students go to mass in the morning, then off to p.e., recess, lunch, and then computers or science class. on average, the teacher only performs direct instruction about three hours a day. i reported my findings to my cousin, whose son, lorenzo, will be a fourth grader in the fall. "yeah," he said, "the teachers there do nothing. that's what i'm paying for." his wife, renata, joined in: "and they all have aides. sometimes the aides do all the work. teachers sometimes leave the school for hours to go get food." they seemed upset at the whole situation, and i wondered why they didn't send their kid someplace else.

private schools like st. ignatius offer only one thing: security. children are never allowed to walk home by themselves. my cousin, currently an eighth grader, remarked once, "my friend got caught walking home from school, and she got in trouble." i was driving her home from school, and as she said this, i noticed a small girl, most likely a first grader, crossing the street alone, holding a discman. it's amazing how private schools continue to capitalize on this false sense of security. there lies an unspoken belief that private school kids are more special and precious than all those other miscreants.

i think about the disparity between the lives of children who attended (and still attend) schools like st. ignatius in sacramento, ca, and notre dame elementary in watsonville, ca, versus children in overcrowded, inner-city public schools. the former aren't allowed to walk home, but the latter have no other choice. the former, in their relatively smaller classrooms, receive extra attention from teachers, while the latter get passed on, even if they can't read.

so what does it mean to be "smart?" is it all just a matter of privilege? recently, my friend told me about a party she went to, where a group of young, educated adults made judgmental comments about how "stupid" they thought some people were. she felt that this group of educated individuals will "always be ahead; they don't know what it is to be anything other than privileged and educated." the foundation for the ever-increasing gap between the rich and poor.

i feel like i'm constantly sitting on the fence. i've always attend private schools, but i never felt like i belonged there. i have one college-educated mother and a father who didn't finish high school. one side of my family has college degrees and careers, while my other half of the family does not. one of my best friends from high school went on to college, while my other best friend more or less gave up on himself. i volunteered and saw how radically different "the other half" lives. i want to do something creative and worthwhile, but i don't know what.

jill schulz once said, "i wonder what life is all about. it seems to me that we have a few tragedies or we win a few prizes and then it is all over."

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