Sometimes in this blog I plant just seeds, while at other times I sow a seedling in the soil. In the first case, a tiny seed goes in the dirt simply to start the process. In the second case, a very young plant, with a stem and several leaves, settles into the prepared earth.
Today, I am plowing a miniature furrow with my finger to drop in a simple seed.
A local high school news broadcast last week ran a story about senioritis. Like other valuable news features, it pushed me to ponder. It made me wonder.
In her introduction, one of the student anchors called senioritis a “phantom disease.” The reporter then characterized this disease as a tendency for students to “stop putting effort” into their school work. I have been wondering about the disease metaphor.
If laryngitis steals your full voice and bronchitis inflames your lungs, what exactly does senioritis do? More importantly, what causes it? Laryngitis has multiple possible causes, and infection is responsible for bronchitis. What lies behind cases of senioritis?
A student interviewed for the school broadcast summed up his understanding of the disease by asking “What’s the point?” He said that once he had been accepted to colleges, he started wondering what was the point of his school work. When I hear his summation, I am reminded of my earlier blog post called “Give ’em what for.”
A teacher interviewed for the story remarked that students showing symptoms of the phantom disease are “good kids,” by which he seems to mean that they are not putting in less effort out of any maliciousness. When I hear this remark, I wonder about the real or imagined voices to which he is responding. Who says or does things to suggest these are bad kids? This same teacher said that his AP students have “no other option” but to keep working because of the upcoming test. This idea makes me wonder about the rest of the students–i.e., those not taking AP tests in May. What options do they have? What motivates their work–after spring break or at any other time in their high school career?
Finally, because this simple seed is quickly sprouting leaves, I think of a plaque given to me by a friend. A company in Kinsale, Ireland makes it. They have cast in bronze and iron a statement made by Michelangelo, when he was 87: “I am still learning.” The combination of this plaque and the senioritis story makes me wonder where Michelangelo went to college. I wonder what he did after receiving his acceptance letters. I also wonder how he might answer the student’s question, “What’s the point?”
As a related postscript, I offer the following passage quoted by a facebook friend who noticed that Wendell Berry will deliver the 2012 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities:
XXVI. The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. It’s proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or “accessing” what we now call “information” – which is to say facts without context and therefore without priority. A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.
(from Wendell Berry’s essay, “Thoughts in the Presence of Fear,” in the Autumn 2011 issue of Orion magazine)
photo credit: http://img.webmd.com/dtmcms/live/webmd/consumer_assets/site_images/articles/health_tools/bronchitis_slideshow/webmd_composite_image_of_bronchitis.jpg