I just watched a riveting documentary called "Race to Nowhere," which features the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink in this hyped-up culture of achievement in our schools.
Our public school sponsored a free viewing to ring the alarm bells in parents and educators who pack their kids’ schedules with mountains of homework, activities and, worst of all, the expectation of perfection.
I never had to deal with that kind of pressure growing up.
Sure, I entered kindergarten in the long shadow of my older cousins Debbie, Linda, Robert and Diane.
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I was a B and C student growing up, sloppy as the day as long, and unable to concentrate on my lessons for very long and hopeless in organizing my uncomplicated life. “Needing poster board at 11 o’clock at night is now my problem?” screeched Mom as I panicked over the science project I forgot was due in the morning.
My little brother came up from behind, passing me by as he devoured the books and demonstrated the same perfectionist tendencies as our cousins.
Add to the fact that he was a drumming child prodigy and an outstanding soccer player and you had plenty of bragging fodder for a mother in need.
It took the emphasis off of me and I suspect it left my parents praying for more, doubting I’d amount to much, but hoping for the best for me nonetheless.
Yet they never gave up on me. By some miracle that only a wad of dead president flash cards could produce, I found my way into an exclusive private school known for its academic discipline.
St. Joseph’s is a scholastic powerhouse nestled in the leafy suburbs of Metuchen, New Jersey, and I was sent there by the grace of hard work and sacrifice by my middle class parents.
If I had given birth to a bulb as dim as I was, I never would have plugged him into a high-watt school like that. I would have saved the money and bought a lifetime supply of fry-cook pants for my kid, but my folks were committed to fulfill the immigrant dream to have your kids turn out better than you did at all costs.
I suppose that was the one constant undercurrent of pressure that might be a distant cousin to the stress and urgency that kids in the Race to Nowhere film were suffering.
There was also the expectation that you rose above the kinds of jobs your parents were doing to put you through school and, by God, you best not do anything that would embarrass your last name in the church parish.
The thought of the wrath of God that came down on my head when I did something that got the church ladies talking ill of my family terrified me at the time. Now, I almost expect it to happen each week the Irish Voice publishes an edition or another novel is written!
There were other subtle pressures as well. “You’re not living off me past 25, and if you find yourself in jail or spitting out a child before marriage you can lose our number,” my father would say.
I wonder today if my school track record would be different if I popped the potpourri of pharmacological candy that is available nowadays for every sliver of species on the attention deficit spectrum.
I know I had it back then and I have a touch of it as I write this -- jumping from column to Facebook to playing with the Joker Pez dispenser on my desk, to fumbling with my text messages and then back to this column again!
My toes tapped incessantly when boredom set in during Sister Jane’s first grade class -- was a shot of Restulex in order for that Restless Leg Syndrome?
My mind wandered like a helium balloon in a cyclone --would it have been different if Mom packed two Adderall in my Hot Wheels lunch box?
I don’t think it would have made a bit of difference. I was never a strong student.
God gave me the gift of quick wit and creativity, skills they never taught in school but nonetheless gave me this nifty title of vice president of sales and a view of the corner office at the top of this here corporate ladder.
In fact, the nuns tried to stamp humor and spontaneity out of their classroom with sensible heels, and hands that moved their crayons outside the lines were quickly rewarded with a ruler across the knuckles.
We have evidence that these traits make great leaders like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.
My girls make their way over to the dining room table and crack open the books as soon as they get home from school, exerting more pressure on themselves than I ever would.
My parents shake their heads in disbelief and frustration that I will not have the kind of kids that put me through the kind of suffering my academic shenanigans put them through.
I pray this hard work will lead to streets paved with gold, but if the car turns onto a road to nowhere every now and then I won’t sweat it. Their dad turned out okay!
Books make great gifts, and you only have about six more weeks of shopping until St. Patrick’s Day! To get a jump on the holiday rush, get Mike Farragher’s new book at www.thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com.
Here, catch the trailer for 'Race to Nowhere':
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