Sunday, July 13, 2014

Things that matter

I went to a local high school graduation a couple of months ago. Its a high school I am familiar with. My father and father-in-law went to the high school, as did many of my cousins and friends. When I was in high school it was the rival to my high school, both of which were Catholic, all male, military schools. I had not been to the local high school's graduation ceremony since 1984. Since then, the rival has become optional military and merged with its sister school. My alma mater is still a Catholic, all male, military school. I have been to many graduation ceremonies of my alma mater over the last 30 year of brother-in-laws, cousins and last year, my eldest son.

There was something about this local high school's graduation that bugged me which I could not put my finger on. It has taken me over a month to figure it out and I think I have.

The entire graduation ceremony at this local high school was about things that don't matter. Things such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and economic status. The entire thrust of ceremony, the entire message of what it means to go to this local high school told at its graduation, is that these things that don't matter do matter. And the job of the school is to help each student identify in themselves and others these things that don't matter, teach that these things are a "burden" to be carried by each individual for the rest of their lives and that the great accomplishment of the high school is sending its students off to the lifelong struggle to overcome these "burdens" of things that don't matter.

Now I know you say wait a minute; race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and economic status do matter, don't they? Well yes I guess they do on a society level or a family level or maybe even a personal level but they sure do not tell me about the individual. I am of mixed Irish, German and French decent, Catholic, male, straight and in economic straights right now. These things matter to me and my family but what do they tell you about me? Am I honest? Am I good to my children? Am I brave? What do these things that don't matter tell you about anyone? It is just a census bureau of facts. Arbitrary things which don't tell you anything about the person, their morals, their qualities. And in an individual setting, one-on-one, they do not matter. And more importantly, they have no place in an educational setting when you consider what does matter.

At my alma mater, the graduation narrative has a different theme. Its about things that do matter such as leadership, faith, courage, acceptance, knowledge, self-sacrifice, tolerance, persistence, collaboration, treating others with respect, etc. You get the point. The thrust of my alma mater's graduation and the message of what it means to go to my alma mater is that these are the things that do matter. The job of my alma mater is to identify the things that matter, teach that they are a good and desired goal for life, and the great accomplishment of my alma mater is sending its students off to the lifelong struggle to achieved the good and desired goals of things that matter.

I know this local high school is teaching its students the required academics for college admission, the necessaries for the ACT/SAT. I know kids from this high school go on to good schools and good lives. But I wonder what damage is done by any institution which focuses on things that don't matter and ignores things that do.

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