What Glee Got Right

What makes football players cry? Maybe losing a game, but I haven’t seen that…often. In fairness, that could be because my school’s team has more than their share of experience at dealing with loss.

No, the television show Glee got it right tonight, which is something I have only very rarely been able to say. Finn, the football player and Rachel’s boyfriend–his only two identities–doesn’t know what he wants to do after high school. He’s surrounded by people with dreams, but he just can’t figure out what his next step is. In a heart-rending speech, he admits to his teacher that he doesn’t want to graduate, that he believes he has little talent and that once high school is over, he’ll be lost in the crowd, destined to a mundane life watching others succeed as he lives on past semi-glory.

The actor playing Finn nailed the range of emotions, and the writers got the speech down almost exactly to how I hear it, every year, sometimes multiple times. They were basically right about the context, too–just the senior and the teacher, alone in a classroom, fairly certain that no one will wander in–it’s usually after school, or during lunch, a time it’s easy to predict who’s around.

The first few times I had these conversations, I was stymied; even kids who sit in classes enthusiastically counting down days till graduation with their friends have been among the ninjas who sneak in my confessional to unburden themselves.

I’ve taught 26 years. In that time, there have been very few years that I haven’t had the “I don’t really want to graduate” speech, sometimes from a kid who seems to have the world by the tail, sometimes from a kid who is sabotaging his/her graduation in amazingly passive-aggressive ways. The reasoning and emotions are nearly the same: the kid feels unprepared in some way (intellectually, socially, emotionally, financially) for life after high school–even if there’s evidence that he/she is ready to cope–and the kid feels that his/her high school years may be their peak. It may be the smartest, the most popular, the most talented that they will ever be.

I could whistle a happy tune and tap dance the platitudes that spout like dandelions in May throughout the school, attempting to “encourage” these kids. Instead, I listen, and just listen some more, often as they choke up and look for tissue to wipe their tears–and yes, the males cry in this conversation as often as the females. They cuss and get angry, too–they’re not ready to go on, and they’re pissed that they have to. And I admit to some of them that yes, they probably will remember high school as a golden time, and depending on how they handle the next few years, it could be downhill after they wear their cap and gown and walk across the stage to shake hands and get their diploma.

I have a lot of issues with Glee, and have gone through times of only half-watching because my daughter wanted me to. And I have plenty of comments to make about Rachael’s cover of “How Deep is Your Love” tonight–it was not a perfect show. And I don’t want to give spoilers, so I’ll just say that a couple later scenes with Finn have no ring of truth resonating. But the scene when Finn finally tells Mr. Shue how he feels–that was real.

I could prove it….I’ve had conversations in my room in the last month that the writers of Glee could have been scribing for that scene. Bravo for writing it right…for once.





Playing Poker in Lima

First: I am going to NOT write about school this summer….as much as possible. Although this is based on Lima student mentality, I’m even limiting how often I blog about that. I’m tired of school, of teaching, of education sucking my soul and asking that I tithe my creativity and intellect at a proportion not commiserate with my job description.

HOWEVER,….gotta write this one. The elephant in our school is the Lima Mentality, a special blend of learned helplessness, entitlement, resignation, and eensy-teensy locus of control. It’s not just the kids–it permeates the city. We’re limited by “our population” and “our situation;” we don’t name the elephant, of course–confronting the issues of underclass, acceptable loss, and racism head on. We’re in an elegant do-si-do of enabling and whining, with a soupcon of schadenfreude thrown in for the barely middle class among us.

I’ve been in multiple conversations over the last few months about this problem, with a variety of people who all deal with it (and fall victim to it) in various contexts. I could analyze and sympathize and sermonize, but I am beginning to belief that my generally warm fuzzy, empathetic encouragement is not the best way to deal with the Lima Beast, even when it shows up in myself (which I will cop to…reluctantly).

Instead of helping with problem-solving, encouraging baby-steps, holding their hands through trials and risk-taking (and some of those “risks” are amazingly small and normal, by middle-class standards), here’s what I think I’m going to adopt as my new attitude:

“Yes, you didn’t get dealt a fair hand in life. If you’re going to whine, make excuses, and be a victim, leave the table. Otherwise, play your cards as smart as you can, work harder than everyone else at the table to learn the game–and maybe the next round you won’t lose your stake. If you’re not willing to play harder and smarter than the people who were born with aces up their sleeve, don’t pretend you’re playing the game.”

There are valid reasons and situations that add a great deal of strife and complication to my students’ lives. No argument. But reasons for failure shouldn’t be excuses, they should be incentives for success. And it bugs me more than I can express that I can see that phrase on a t-shirt, turned into a damn motto for happy people to chant as the cycle of enabling and failing continues.