Taking time in the school day to center ones self, to breathe, to make meaning is at the heart of the social and emotional class. Typically, in most schools, students have little or no time to settle into themselves. They are harried from morning to night, responding to external pressures that have little to do with who they are, what they’re feeling or what is going on around them. Kids are expected from the first day of school to produce at a rate dictated by outside forces whose singular goal to reach predetermined learning benchmarks.
Lissa is a success story. She is a 22-year-old college graduate who will earn 73% more than the average high school student in her lifetime. She is an elite member of students to graduate from a private college in the U.S., whose parents are not only still married but also rank in the top half of the U.S. annual income statistic.
At one job interview, Lissa felt worried and anxious when asked what she liked to do in her spare time. That question stopped her cold. No one had ever asked her that particular question before. It dawned on her that she didn’t have an answer, or the right answer. Was there a right answer, she wondered? She’d never considered her personal interests or desires because school was what she did and she did it well. School was never about her but about being the best student she could be. It was both a role she played to get along in her world and an identity she relied heavily on. She was “the good student.” She was also the “good girlfriend” but she couldn’t tell him that, she thought. That’s not what he wanted to know.
She liked the reward system of school. The grades. The knowing she was on top, that her grades proved she was worthy in some way. Of what she wasn’t sure. It meant something she knew, or she thought she knew. Everything she had done her entire conscious life, for the past 16 years, had been about getting good grades, pleasing the grade monster in her teachers, in her parents, in her friends, in herself. Now she was done with school. Now she was looking for a job and now she was being asked this question. Was this interview the new grade monster?
For a millisecond, she thought that it was a trick question and maybe it was. But it got her thinking. The grades were her insurance card she always carried with her. They soothed her doubt. The good grades would lead to a good college which would lead to a good job, so she could…. What exactly? Make a lot of money? Buy a car? Be comfortable? Now she was here, at the getting a good job part and she was confused. She had done everything that was expected of her so why was she feeling tricked. He wanted to know about me. School didn’t prepare her for this…this question.
“I just sat there looking stupid. I couldn’t even pretend an answer because I had no idea what the question meant. Did he want to know if I did community service or did he want to know that I liked to read certain books that made me sound thoughtful and intelligent. I know he didn’t want to know that I had no idea what interests me beyond school. This felt like a test that I was completely unprepared for. I did know if I answered the truth, he would definitely not hire me. Finally I just told the truth. What else could I say. I said, ‘you know, I don’t really know. My main interest outside of school was school. All I ever did was school. So I guess it’s time for me now to figure out what interests me.”
School filled Lissa’s every waking moment. Though school was not designed to help Lissa discover herself and follow her interests, Lissa will spend her 20’s doing just that and hopefully she will find her true passion. But first she has to get a job and now answer to the work monster.