A Bear in the Woods


    Or maybe not. Apparently the bears are moving out of the woods.




    It seems that every week there’s another sighting. Another roving bandit making his not-so-stealthily way through city and suburban neighborhoods across the country. They’re pulling at birdfeeders, scurrying through yards, perching themselves up in backyard trees.
 
    
According to the Massachusetts Environmental Police, this is the time of year when the mama bear kicks the kids out and sends them into the world. Those baby bears are supposed to find their own territory, start their adult lives.




    At the risk of being redundant (https://kidssuck.net/2010/09/01/deer-in-the-headlights.aspx)

and way-sexist, I posit that the sow bears are doing exactly that. Heading out of the family dens and building some of their own, on track and on target.




    But that not-so-little guy with the dumb-eyed look hanging in an Attleboro tree last week, I’ll guess he’s a boy. A teenager, for sure. And the thought bubble above his head in less-than-articulate fashion probably reads: What? Where? Vinnie Babarino in a bear’s cloak.

    
That’s not to say I don’t think the boys are smart. On the contrary, they are. That’s what makes their life delays so damn frustrating. I think Michael has actually devised a mathematical algorithm to compute the absolute minimum effort required to get by in certain areas of his life. And he’s not alone. I’ve had some pretty in-depth conversations with a few of his friends. In a foggy, fast-forward scenario, I can even picture them as adults. Responsible, good men.
 
    
But now, they’re just baby bears, a bit wild, somewhat misguided, and roving.




    And like the bears popping up in places they’re not supposed to be, many of the boys I know are taking the most circuitous routes possible to get to god-only-knows where they’re going. I don’t. And I don’t think they do, either.




    But back to the bears.
 



    All those mama bears in the woods are pushing their kids out into the world. Our world. They’ve taught them well, I’m sure. And they probably know that the girls have paid heed, will likely do just fine. But I bet mama bear also knows full-well that her baby boy isn’t quite ready for the world. Judging from the overblown reaction he gets every time he makes a backyard forage, the world isn’t ready for him either.

    
Mama doesn’t seem to care. Ready-or-not, she pushed him out anyway.




    Too bad we humans don’t do likewise.

    
Instead of following the rules of nature, we’re bucking the intended order of things. It seems that all those helicopter parents created a rash of boomerang babies. The kids often go off and out. But then they come back.




    And in true 21st century fashion, rather than remedy our missteps with action, we’re reacting with talk. There are websites, blogs, discussion forums, all themed around adult-children-living-with-parents.



    All to tell us, we’re not alone.

    T
hat’s part of the problem. Because when we’re assured that we’re not the only ones, it lends normalcy to the trend. 

    
I know of so many really good parents who’ve gotten themselves in this too-many-adults-under-one-roof predicament.




    Reminds me of the guy interviewed on television after something horrible happens in his neighborhood, saying if it can happen here.




    It can happen anywhere.




    Unless maybe we follow the bears. And the birds, for that matter. The nest above our back porch light is a-chatter with chaotic chirping in the spring. Long before summer ends, though, it’s pleasantly silent.




    Michael’s only 17. But on days when he’s performing solo drum concerts for hours-on-end, I sometimes wonder what silence emanating from his playroom nest might sound like. And if I’ll ever hear it.

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Go to Start


    It isn’t usually about a student’s learning style or a professor’s eccentricities. It’s generally unconnected to too much work or too little resources. And it often has little to do with a student’s inability or an assignment’s difficulty.
 
    
When my students fail to complete their assignments or don’t do them well, the one commonality at its root can be summarized in a single word: procrastination.  

    
That isn’t to say that there’s not often a whole lot of other stuff that gets in the way of their start-to-finish. The roadblocks to the boys I know often come by way of a party; with the girls, it’s the drama.

    But for all of them, they get caught up in it. And often to the exclusion of all else.

    
Instead of buying the supplies or starting the research or making the phone call or doing the interview or drafting the outline, or any of those many tiny steps that could set them on go –they don’t. They stay still. 

    
Well, not still exactly.

    They’re generally moving, just not in the direction of the project or the paper.

    They’re battling in video worlds or chatting on Facebook walls. They’re making it to Zumba class and Wings Night. They’re taking road trips and pizza runs and pit stops to the mall. Going out to lunch or dinner. Heading to the gym, going for a run, cleaning their rooms. They’re helping friends through crises. Taking time with families.

    But in all that doing, what they’re not doing is that small pile of work relegated to the back corner of their desks or hidden in untapped files on their computers. And the longer they tap past it, the more the pile grows. Until eventually it seems to expand with the rate of a Youtube post gone viral. Out-of-control and unavoidable.

    And so they finally begin the assignment in crisis mode. 

    Not the best way to do one’s best.

    There’s a price to be paid for the putting-it-off. Not just in a ditched assignment, shoddy work, or a bad grade. There’s actually a point to most of the work their professors assign. And they’re missing it.
 
    T
hat isn’t to say that sometimes it’s not worth it. That in the throes of  procrastination, they might not discover rewards of another kind.

    My student may better remember the time she had with her friends than she will any real-world benefit she got from that one botched Research Methods paper.

    But then, maybe not. I’m not sure how much she actually remembers from that particular  night.

    That’s not the point.

    The point is that they procrastinate at the peril of their accomplishments.

    But we all do it.

    I’m doing it right now. I post to this site at the sacrifice of the should-dos and have-tos in my real-world life. And that’s a bad thing.

    But.

    In another way, I’m doing what I am supposed to do. This is an exercise of sorts. A means of keeping a finger in a craft where my whole hand should be. Because at least it’s a finger.

    But I am doing this instead of a whole lot of other stuff. Like my students.

    Many years ago I took a pause from my to-do list to join my uncle on his boat pulling lobster traps from Boston Harbor. The crazy cousin who regales with his stories and spends with a generosity that contradicts his ability to pay offered a philosophical take on the day. 

    This is the kind of day that is immeasurable in its value. You couldn’t give me a million dollars to take a pass on it.

    For all its aura of inaction, sometimes procrastination is exactly the right action to take.

    And the pile grows.

Diminishing Degrees

    I had a student inform me towards the end of last semester that she was thinking about continuing on to grad school.


Considering the academic environment in which I work, maybe I should have reacted differently. But I know this young woman.   

     Grad school  -really? Huh?

grade inflationThen I posited an even worse response: Is this just to avoid the plunge into that real world about which you’ve heard so much?

She laughed.

And admitted that, yes, that was indeed the real reason.

There are plenty of good reasons to get a master’s degree. Your future profession requires one. Hers won’t. You have an intellectual passion for a particular subject matter. She doesn’t. The degree will translate into a real world salary increase. Unlikely.

   So for her, I suggested that maybe she didn’t need to get a master’s degree. At least not right away.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for continuing education. Not just in the short term, but, well, forever.

I corresponded for decades with a woman who was a passionate learner. In her 90s and taking a course at NYU, she informed me that any day she learned something new was a good one. What a great philosophy.

My student’s philosophical bent isn’t quite the same.

But she’s not alone.

If you believe Conan O’Brien’s Dartmouth commencement speech statistics (you shouldn’t), 92% of Americans get college degrees. His point, though comically rendered, is that a college diploma today is no big deal.

Higher degrees? Also a lot lower in value than they once were.

But we laid this path out early on. The crowded classes of Advanced Placement courses in high school are a glaring example.

When I was in school, there might have been a dozen kids in AP English, and that from a class of nearly 400. Same for AP Bio and History. The students in those classes were there because it touched on a passion or laid a foundation for specific college study.

Today, they’ll let anyone in.

Maybe not quite, but literally millions of American students are plopping down in desks in AP classes. And most of them don’t belong there.

    In a survey conducted a few years ago, AP teachers admitted that most students coming into AP classes were in over their heads. Ninety percent of those teachers said that students were coming into the classes to beef up their high school resumes. And 75% said that there was an institutional push for AP classes to improve academic rankings and reputations.

    Great messages we’re sending our kids.

    I often wonder what ever happened to average kids? And why we punish students who are stellar artists and scientists and musicians by insisting that they be good everything.

 

But more I worry about a system that teaches kids how to foster the illusion of success instead of its actuality. At the top of the class are often students who may not always know how to do well but do always know how to look good. They learn what clubs to join, what service to offer, what sports to play –all in an effort to pad their resumes.

The most recent big scandal in our small town revolved around drinking and graduation this year. Big shocker. When the students were called in for discipline, those who fessed up and admitted that yes, they had indeed been drinking, were denied the privilege of walking with their classmates and receiving their diplomas at graduation. The kids who said they hadn’t (wink wink) been drinking got a pass.

    Again, nice message. Punish a bit of integrity. Reward a lie.

    Politicians still take kickbacks. Academics fudge data to bolster their research. And the Wall Street wizards seem unapologetic for bringing the country to its economic knees.

    Our kids should fit right in.

Roller Coasters


    I used to like roller coasters.



    Ups and downs, twists and turns, even upside downs.




    And I’d often do the exit runaround to get back on and ride again, from a different seat -to get another perspective, a different experience.

    
It was all fun.




    Not anymore.




    Because the roller coaster on which I’m now stuck is way bumpier than any I experienced as a kid. It’s a white-knuckled ride with metal-screeching hairpin turns, plummeting downward spirals, and careening ricochets of off rickety lattice work of questionable stability.




    And its driver isn’t a qualified computer with a vacant-stare carnival worker at the controls. Rather, at the helm is a sleepy-eyed teen, without benefit of technology or any industrial safety standards. Captained by the horrors of hormonal flux and teen angst, this ride is unlike any other. Although perhaps universally experienced, it’s still unfamiliar to me; I’m not sure where and when the curves come, and I can’t see what’s around the next corner. Space Mountain meets Hotel California, where blindness rules and you can check out any time you like, but you can’t get off the damn ride.




    The only sure thing about my ride is the inconsistency of its terrain. Conditions change not merely day-to-day, but hour-to-hour, minute-by-minute. And although I know I’m not alone, it often feels as if I’m riding solo on the front car, headed for a wall.

    
The thing is I always used to believe that the highs were worth the lows –it’s why we ride in the first place. A bit of anticipation, a flood of excitement, and then a gentle pull into a sunlit station. Now, I’m looking at the kiddie rides with longing. And at those sad and staid skyview gondolas that take in the whole park with a bird’s eye view –from a safe distance. What’s wrong with getting the story from afar?




    Lots, I know. 
    



    But still, it would be nice to occasionally forgo the up-close-and-personal viewpoint.

    
But of course, it is my fault.




    It was my choice to hop on the ride, after all. Not just by having kids, but also by forging a relationship that was different from the one my parents had with me. Honesty, involvement. Not answering their questions with because I said so

    
What was I thinking?

    
Because I said so seems a perfectly acceptable answer to me now. Seriously, it’s not like he answers my questions. Monosyllabic murmurings and grunts are more the norm. This from the kid who came wired for sound straight from the womb. Non-stop chatter was the white noise of my life from our earliest engagement. Now, I’d welcome that staticky repetition of mom, mom, mom, as he tried to get my attention for answer to the query of the moment or to include me in the latest of his world discoveries. Back then, it was as if my input was vital fuel for the exploding synapses of his brain. Now, the less input from me, the better.




    This too shall pass.




    If one more person offers up that sage bit of fortune cookie wisdom   -aargh!




    Because just as it does seem ready to pass, the ride hits its skittering stride and plummets to a new depth. And at the next curve, I wonder  -is this where we skid entirely off track?
 
    
And don’t tell me that I’m going to look back at these days with some sort of revisionist reminiscing that turns all the turmoil into fond memory.




    NOT.




    More likely, I’ll look back and wonder how the hell did I survive the ride at all??