This is the week my eighth grade son made the decision that, he thinks, will determine the rest of his life. He listed his high school choices first to last, and handed in the form.
Commence nervous wreck-hood? Can’t! All the schools we visited looked better than great. They left me soaring.
I know, I know — we only looked at “good” high schools. And when good schools throw an open house, they put on their best face ever. And the tour guides are the best of the brightest of the cutest of the cute — yes, they were all out to wow us, but so what? Nothing could dim the fact that those kids were all colors and creeds, all jazzed about their schools. And the schools looked ready to launch them on the right path.
At Brooklyn Tech, the sweet (okay, nerdy) kids showed off their flight simulation software with “Top Gun” bravado. At Eleanor Roosevelt, I read a student paper about bacteria (or were they viruses?) that was so funny, I laughed out loud. Seems a measles germ was furious that his mother had been diluted to make a vaccine. He vowed to track down the scientist and give him/her a dose of his own medicine, but this was harder than he thought! If only Raymond Chandler had realized the literary gold mine that are angry amoeba.
At Stuyvesant, all those brainiacs managed to sing their hearts out as the opening act before the principal’s speech. It was like “Glee” meets The Big Bang Theory. And speaking of music, we were winding our way through Bronx Science when we heard the mad strains of an extremely excited, extremely LOUD pianist coming from the grand entrance hall: An Asian guy banging out “Hava Nagilah.”
At the High School for Math and Science at CUNY, we were surrounded by zillions of class projects and the proud kids behind them, all eager to talk about engineering (and their tiny classes: 20 kids each!). “You know, everything is really engineering,” said one boy. That’s true. And everything is philosophy, if you’re a philosopher. And everything really boils down to English, history, science — whatever turns you on.
That’s really what was going on: Everyone was so turned on. It felt like the great flowering of our education system, at least looking in at all these New York City gems.
I was grinning the widest listening to a girl at Brooklyn Tech talk about how she founded the lacrosse team — when she wasn’t busy with her astrophysics class.
She was wearing a head scarf pinned so tightly around her bright face, it was impossible to see a single hair. She had the braces and acne that come with the age, but the confidence and joy that only come with discovering the things you love — and doing them pretty well. No one was keeping this girl back, least of all her two physics teachers who were looking on, wind-beneath-the-wings-like. One hailed from the islands. One hailed from what sounded like right there — Brooklyn. It was a scene as multi-culti as a Disney special, as high-tech as NASA and as hopeful as anything I’ve seen in all my years in New York.
Traumatized by the high school process? Try thrilled — both of us, me and my son. Maybe his fate will be determined by where he goes to high school.
I hope so.
Lenore Skenazy is the founder of FreeRangeKids.com and author of “Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.”
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