Sunday, December 19, 2010

Crazy Making (with apologies to Jonathan Swift)

‘Tis the season, and I find myself imagining what the holidays will be like for today’s teens when they are, say, my age.

Here’s what I envision: A holiday office party in the not-too-distant future, let’s say 2042. Everyone at the party graduated from high school in 2011. Colleagues mingle, but all have brought spouses/dates, so introductions are also happening. Let’s listen in.

Sally: Dick, I’d like to introduce you to Jane, Tom’s wife. 780, 710, 740.

Dick: Hi, Jane, it’s great to finally meet you! Wow, guess that’s how you connected with an [elite college] guy like Tom. But that 710 … what happened?

Jane: Yeah, that was the writing portion, but I scored 12 on the essay and won a national cross stitching contest, so [elite college] gave me the benefit of the doubt. What about you?

Dick: 650, 690, 680.

Jane: I’m sorry, Dick. How’s it been?

Dick: (chuckles) A few bumps in the road but for the most part, Life’s Been Good. A sports tip, plus that 5 I got on the European History AP got me into [different elite college] Early Decision, where I met my first wife.

Jane: First?

Dick: A trust fund baby and three-generation legacy. Her family built the IMAX theater for the film department, among other things.

Jane: Let me guess … she didn’t break 2100?

Dick: (laughing) Are you kidding? 1980. We lasted three years. Ah well, live and learn.

Jane: For sure. Did you remarry?

Dick: (nodding and gesturing toward a woman across the room) Yes indeed, that’s her standing by the punch bowl. 760, 750, 790. Early Action to [Ivy League University]. National Merit Scholar and captain of her high school sky diving team. I tell you Jane, she’s a keeper.

Jane: Children?

Dick: Three. 740, 730, 770 and 740, 740 … 800. We were pretty damn pleased about that. Our youngest hasn’t taken the SAT yet.

Jane: Good luck with that! But I’m sure #3 is taking a prep course and you’ve lined up a private college counselor?

Dick: Obvi. Plus, we’ve flown all our kids to global hot spots to perform community service and participate in international peace negotiations for a week each summer.

Jane: So we’re talkin’ Ivies?

Dick: Jane. You need to ask?

I guess you can tell by now the “season” I’m referring to has nothing to do with holly, ivy, menorahs or Kwanzaa candles. It’s the season of decisions, and colleges are releasing their first wave of rejections and acceptances to high school seniors who applied for admittance to the Class of 2015.

Isn’t it exciting? Isn’t it thrilling? Okay, so a few kids are probably a little nervous right now, and there will definitely be a modicum of disappointment in the air, but let’s face it: this is by far the most important event in a young life. Where You Go To College determines everything: who you’ll marry, your income level, your future job … hell, your employee-based health care benefits and hence your life expectancy! Young people choosing a college today know they need to ask themselves: “How long do I want to live?”

That’s why those activities, those standardized tests, that class rank and those varsity letters earned during the high school years are so crucial. Kids today understand that happiness and future success depend on an outstanding transcript, while relationships and leisure time can always be deferred. They understand that less important than the type of car one drives is the college sticker on the back window of that car. They understand that the type of work one does simply doesn’t matter if, at any given social gathering for the rest of your life you can mention your SAT scores and the name of your college.

Teens today know that the alma mater is Life’s Trump Card, and even if they wind up behind bars, people will respect and admire them once they learn they graduated from an elite college or university.

It’s all so different from when I was a growing up. Back then, Sally, Dick and Jane played with their dog, Spot, and didn’t do much else since they only had three channels on the television and no X-Box. How boring! A life spent playing outside, building forts, and riding bikes with the neighborhood kids. Sports were “pick up,” and loosely organized by the older kids, so no regional travel teams with spiffy uniforms. No summer math enrichment, no cello camp, no foreign language camp. Kids had to make their own fun, and adults generally weren’t watching, which is a frightening thought because goodness knows what unsupervised children will do. I remember countless hours at a neighbor’s home, jumping on a trampoline that had no safety walls (imagine!!) and talking, talking, talking with all the other kids.

When I think of how much higher my own SAT scores might have been if I’d spent those hours taking practice tests!

There’s a documentary making the rounds right now called “The Road to Nowhere,” and it deals with this phenomenon of getting into college today. I haven’t seen it yet, but friends tell me I must. From what I hear, the teens it portrays will very likely resemble the attendees at the 2042 holiday party I described above. I'd love to know if anyone else out there has seen it?

Happy Holidays! This blog is on vacation until 2011.

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