Monday, May 19, 2008

Quirky is Good

There's a girl at the high school where I teach who is a little weird. She's one of the popular kids, head cheer leader, homecoming queen, and typically looks and dresses the part. She takes high-level classes and gets good grades. She's also one of those kids who is only resented by the most bitter of students because she doesn't let her looks, popularity and relative wealth go to her head.

But what really fascinates me about this girl is that if you were to take all of the photos from the local weekly newspaper in which she's appeared during the last couple of years, there are a few that really stand out from the rest. Among the images of her in her homecoming court formal wear and cheer uniform and the everyday dress of awards and club photos, she's also seen regularly in jeans, boots and a button-down shirt while wielding a cane next to her championship hog.

That's right, this girl who fits the bill of homecoming queen (minus the stereotypical bitchiness) is also a member of the Future Farmers of America and shows hogs in the local and state fair. There's always been something impressive to me about a girl who can be both the epitome of girly-girl and then unironically and enthusiastically take part in activities that entirely screw up the whole stereotype one would want to place on them. The same goes for the good-looking jocks who graduate third in their class.

The only thing is that this girl's not that unusual where I teach. I like the fact that in small rural schools kids aren't forced to specialize before adulthood. In a large urban or suburban school, kids pretty much have to focus on one aspect of themselves to be good enough to rise to the top. The smart kids are pretty much just the smart kids. The jocks are pretty much just the jocks and often don't star in multiple sports. The cheerleaders definitely aren't showing hogs on the weekend. Kids like me who are passable but far from great in a lot of areas get to do nothing of note. In my school it's not unusual to see your honor graduates and even the salutatorian and valedictorian lettering in sports, possessing a proficiency in a musical instrument, and having a healthy dose of shop classes under their belt when they graduate.

Specialization is just too highly valued in today's culture, at least at the high school level. Sure, you need to be competent in what you choose to do as a career, but that shouldn't require giving up knowledge and exposure to other parts of life. Besides in most team sports, year-round dedication in high school is unnecessary to move on to the next level. Many top-tier college football and basketball, and minor league baseball players played other sports in high school. In fact, many football coaches require a second sport of their players to help keep them in shape. Tennis is a different story, but none of these kids are going to be moving on to the next level no matter how much work they put in over the four years of high school. The next generation of top-tier college and pro tennis players have been training religiously since they were in single digits. Only a couple of these kids have been doing that. Encouraging them to focus solely on tennis in their extracurriculars wouldn't give them any new future opportunities, but it would take away experiences and would make them less well rounded after high school ended.

The Renaissance Man was an ideal that never should have gone the way of the Renaissance.


JustinS said...

I wonder about the Renaissance Man thing sometimes as it applies to science and art... I wonder if, because of the vast amount of knowledge we've acquired as a species, it's just too much for one person to take in the way they used to.

Excuse me... I mean too much for a normal person.

Not for me.

I'm special.

Jacob said...

Of course you can't be an expert in everything for precisely that reason, but it doesn't mean that you can't have a working knowledge of a bunch of different disciplines. The original Renaissance men of course could be experts in many categories, but just because we can't be an expert in everything shouldn't mean that we shouldn't even bother with knowledge outside of our expertise.

Julie said...

Yes, but sometimes those well-rounded students go on to achieve nothing like me. Whereas, if I'd specialized in one thing, perhaps I could have excelled at something.

Courtney said...

I disagree with your stereotype of large suburban high schools. I went to one, and I knew lots of people who played multiple sports and excelled in multiple subjects. Jeff Francoeur is now a pro baseball player, but in high school he was also a good football player and a decent student.

Jacob said...

Courtney: But I never would have had a chance at starting on the tennis team. You don't have to be a future pro to be able to excel in a small school. It's a simple matter of math.

sid said...

Shows hogs? I have to say that to me that was really amusing. Showing hogs is defintely unheard of where I come from.

I went to a model C primary school which forced me to do 2 sports each year. My high school on the otherhand,was classified as "previously disadvantaged". We barely had a field on which to play on. And every interval the field would be occupied by boys. It was so different from my primary school where I spent most of my time playing netball and basket ball. I often longed to play some type of sport in high school BUT ...

Mickey said...

My high school didn't offer any shop classes and nobody raised hogs. But I'll still kick your ass at Trivial Pursuit.

(Can you tell I'm reading posts out of order?)