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Redefining High School: The New College

As the search for high schools got underway, my friend and her 8th grade daughter had to endure what I think of as an emotional root canal.  Minus the anesthesia.  First select your institutions. Shadow visit each high school that you might want to attend.  Fill out multiple online forms for each school.  Write an essay on why this or that high school, not university, should seriously think about accepting you into their prestigious institution. Answer personal and invasive questions, especially if you apply for financial aid, which you will because tuition may run about $30,000 a year, more or less.

Now it’s time to upload, download, scan and perform other technologically time consuming exercises. These are put in place to streamline the process no doubt, but often serve only to make you question just how much you really want to attend said school.  Then there’s the test preparations. One must first be tutored to increase test scores which are inevitably too low no matter how high they are. Once you have paid a lot of money and spent every weekend and evening of your eight grade fall semester learning how to take the  test, you take the test.  Then you take it again to see if you can raise your score even more. This process increases your adrenaline, burns all your B-vitamins and reduces your self-esteem.  Now that you’ve increased your test score by a full 9 points, you wonder if maybe becoming a dentist is really worth it.  Especially since you could become an academic and administer an equally challenging admissions procedure without the needles and extra years of dental school.

It’s necessary to point out that this friend of mine lives in one of the largest and most vibrant cities on the West coast. An international destination. A city full of competition, culture and limited parking.   Not a place where public school is a sensible option.  This 8th grader has spent nine years in an independent, all girls school.  Naturally, she has been exposed to the extreme diversity a private school offers.  She was surrounded by the offspring of upper crust, Ivy League grads whose social connections resemble the Forbes Top 50 Most Successful People list.  The academic training was top notch.  Expansive and inclusive.  Mind-broadening and spirit-enhancing. Who wouldn’t love it.

By contrast, my friend’s daughter is a gal who’s parents are acupuncturists.  Chinese medicine gurus. Healers.  They don’t own a house let alone live in one.  A city flat serves as both a home and an office depending on the time of day. This allows them to afford the private K-8th grade school, ballet lessons, and vacations.  These friends of mine are hard working, college grads who want their daughter to have a shot at a reasonably secure and fulfilling future.  Who can argue with that?

And so the frenzy to select a private high school continues.  And that high school better feed into a name brand university which produces graduates who may or may not know themselves well enough to function in the world that is being defined and redefined as I write this.  Some reports indicate that as many as 50 percent of college freshman have to take basic math and English to regain skills lost to the SAT testing monster or to the merciless pursuit of extra curricular activities that they may or may not even enjoy.  Or, they may know the facts, but can not apply them to real world problems.  I recently heard that seven out of 10 jobs that current 8th graders will have available to them upon college graduation have yet to be created.  How can one prepare for that?

My very own 8th grader may have some insight.  She recently gave me this sage advise regarding technology:  “Just click around.  That’s how I’ve learned. By clicking the wrong button.” She is telling me that one learns by making mistakes?  Maybe she will be okay in this new world that has yet to be created. Maybe that age old wisdom will still be true in another six-10 years. But just in case, I think I’ll have her apply to a few carefully scrutinized private high schools.

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