“Live Long & Prosper” and Other Platitudes

The final grades are in, and the lockers cleaned out. For our seniors, “school’s out, for summer…school’s out, forever,” to quote the great sage of education, Alice Cooper. All that remains are the goodbyes.

For most people, that’s easy: a few tears, a long hug, reassuring that they’ll remain close…on Facebook…forever. Then, with a brave smile and a wave–“good luck,” and walking away.

For me, though, saying “au revoir” to my seniors isn’t that simple. Philosophically, I can’t endorse saying “Good luck” as a platitude. I could wrap my logic in jargon and causal links, but the core of the reason is this simple: an overwhelming percent of my students believe that random chance, or at best, semi-random chance influenced by the most loosely defined causes, is the determining factor in their progress and success. After 26 years of discussions, essays, and status messages, I’m persistently struck by the variety of ways they credit luck, or some equivalent force, to things like passing the state graduation tests, completing school work on time, and even whether they make it to school before the tardy bell. Deep down, the belief that they are subject to the whims of forces outside of their control pervades my students’ lives.

Of course the roll of the dice impacts us all in multiple ways. As the popular bumper sticker says, “Shit Happens.” I’m sure that every holy book has some variation of that belief, wrapped in the guise of their deity’s  capricious “Carrot & Stick Guide to Garnering the Gods’ Favor.”

But modern civilization–and modern education–are built on the diamond-hard assertion that peoples’ actions and choices directly impact their lives. My students say all the right things about making good choices and controlling their destiny…but when I listen closer, they usually do not take neither the blame nor the praise  for their accomplishments; ultimately, the factors impacting their lives are categorized as “Shit Happens.”

So “good luck” doesn’t slide easily off my tongue as I say good bye. I’ve opted for “May the Force be With You,” in some cases, and “Live Long and Prosper” in others, but generally, an awkward, “Stay in touch. You know how to find me,” may sound diffident and glib, but for me, that’s more sincere than a chorus of “Good Lucks” streaming on banners attached to pegasuses as they fly over a rainbow. I do like staying in touch. I do like knowing “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say.

And as I watch the rest of the story unfold, I notice one thing: whether the student rolls all sevens in life, or is kicked in the teeth, luck only bares a portion of the credit.



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