In English on Wednesday, the oral presentations from the paired interviews continued, and a common theme emerged.
In second period: "Nicolas went to Magic Mountain and can't wait to go again. He loves listening to music and hanging out with his friends."
In third: "Brianna hates school, but she went to Disneyland this summer and had a great time."
In fourth: "Samantha loves going to the mall and spending money and wished summer wasn't over, because she'd rather be at the mall then at school doing work."
Also from fourth: "Madison said she talks on the phone several hours a day, and can't stand English because it is so boring."
Disneyland and Magic Mountain were mentioned often, and in one class, I asked, "If you had a choice between Disneyland and Magic Mountain, where would you go?"
Magic Mountain won by a landslide, because of the roller coaster.
In one class, I said, "I have heard a lot of people say they hate going to school."
"School's a prison," one student replied.
"We get nothing from school. How's it going to help us in the future?" another student asked.
"I have an answer to that," I said. "The government keeps detailed records from the census, and those records say the average high school dropout in America earns less than five hundred dollars a month, compared to a high school graduate, who earns about eleven hundred. College graduates earn much more, in addition to having the lowest unemployment rate in the country. High school dropouts have the highest unemployment rate.
"A few of you mentioned plans for a good education, but most of you only want to have a good time, so I have a few questions.
"Do you expect your parents to stay alive and support you until you die? That means, if you live to age eighty and your parents are thirty-five today, they would have to be still working at the age of a hundred so you could be out partying on their hard-earned money.
"And if your parents throw you out of the house after high school and refuse to support you, where do you think you’re going to get the money to go to Disneyland and Magic Mountain?"
I waited for someone to answer, but there was only silence.
Then I asked, "Who knows what instant gratification means?"
Not one hand went up.
"I see." I let a pregnant pause hover before giving birth with, "When one of you says school is a prison, you desire instant gratification. That means you want to be entertained as if you are watching TV all the time and have nothing else to do. Counting kindergarten, most of you will spend thirteen years in school, and then go out and find a job. How many years do you think you’ll work in your life?"
This time, I heard answers ranging from thirty years to sixty.
"If you have to work for thirty to sixty years after leaving high school," I said, "you tell me how much school is worth for the dropout compared to the high school graduate."
In every class, one or two students rummaged in their backpacks and came up with a calculator. Most of the answers were close: the high school graduate earned more than twice what a high school dropout earned.
"What this tells us," I said, "is that working in school to learn—no matter how boring it is—pays off for most of us. The average American lives to be seventy-eight, and high school ends at age eighteen. Much of the quality of your life for those sixty years after you turn eighteen will be determined by what you do in school."
I had trouble believing that no adult—parent, guardian, or teacher—had ever talked to these kids about these facts of life. Ninth grade was their tenth year in school, and each of my students had probably already been taught by at least twenty different teachers.
There were eight computers for the journalism class, but only five were working when the student reporters poured in the room at lunch. They had to wait their turn.
While they worked on rough drafts, Mary Grace was on the phone selling advertisements, and, by the end of sixth period, she had sold three.
I was the advisor for three student clubs: journalism, the hiking club, and the chess club. Only journalism paid a small stipend for the added work hours. Murphy, another English teacher, shared the responsibility for the hiking and chess clubs, and, before 4:00 pm, Karen, the student president of the hiking club, dropped by.
"Can we have a meeting next Tuesday at lunch?" she asked. "I've been thinking of ways we can raise money for the club. I'm going to ask for three dollars to join the club, and then all the hikes are free for the year. If anyone who is not a member wants to go on a hike, they will have to pay two dollars for each hike. We also want to set up a table during club week to recruit new members, and we want a food booth at lunch."
"That all sounds good, Karen," I said. "Where do you want to go on the first hike?"
"Chantry Flats," she said. "Everyone likes it."
THIS IS THE END OF THE PREVIEW.
Thank you for taking time to read these scenes from Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé. If you read the rest of the book, please consider telling your friends and/or posting a short review on Amazon. Word of mouth is an author’s best friend and much appreciated.
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The Introduction, which comes before the Prelude, may be found at: