As my son nears the completion of his senior year of high school, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with his sixth grade math teacher years ago. It was a conversation that, at least to me, revealed a lot about what it must be like to be a young kid in today’s America.
“Mr. Young,” she said as she peaked over the top of her glasses, “studies have shown that as early as sixth grade children are thinking about becoming architects and engineers. It is very important that they complete high school-level algebra during the seventh grade.”
“You have got to be kidding” I replied. “Sixth graders want to be architects and engineers? Is that so?”
“No Mr. Young, I’m not kidding, and yes, they want to be architects and engineers,” the teacher said as she leaned back in her chair and peered down her nose at me. She was serious.
“That’s funny,” I said. “Because when I was in the sixth grade all I wanted to do was be Spiderman and marry Olivia Newton-John.” Then I folded my arms across my chest and gave her my game face.
You should have seen the look on the woman’s face. It was the last thing she was expecting to hear.
“And how did that work out for you, Mr. Young?” she said, making little effort to contain her sarcasm.
“Well,” I replied as a grin worked its way onto my face. “I haven’t foiled any bank robberies lately.”
“And Ms. Newton-John?”
“I managed to find and marry the one woman that I love more than Olivia Newton-John.” I then turned and winked at my wife who was sitting next to me.
“Well then, I take it you never went to college?” Her tone had a snarky air to it. She thought she had me.
“Oh yes,” I said. “I went to college. I have a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. But when I was in the sixth grade if someone had asked me what an engineer was I would have told them that an engineer drives a train. And it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Like I said, life in sixth grade was all about Spiderman and Olivia Newton-John.”
I could see the woman deflate right before my eyes. I had just debunked all those fancy studies about what a sixth grader has to do to be successful academically.
“Well, I, uh…” The poor lady was speechless. I decided to give her one more little jab.
“Yep,” I said. “I went to college. But not before I served four years in the Marine Corps. Talk about an education… The Marine Corps taught me things I would have never been able to learn in college.”
The woman inhaled a deep breath and then exhaled sharply. She obviously could not believe what she was hearing. Not only had I not taken high school algebra in the sixth grade, I had not gone to college immediately after graduating high school.
The point of my story is that kids nowadays are not allowed to be kids. What is wrong with wanting to be Spiderman when you’re in 6th grade? What’s wrong with daydreaming about a pretty singer with an angelic voice like Olivia Newton-John? I was just a kid. And thankfully my parents let me be a kid. They didn’t feel the need to rush me by making me finish half of my future high school classes while still in elementary school. They knew I only had one chance to be a kid so they let me daydream about foiling bank robberies as Spiderman while having a crush on Olivia Newton-John.
It was the best childhood a kid could ever have.