I often drive my 11-year-old son to school; before he exits the car to walk into the schoolyard, to beyond the metal fence common to so many schools built during a certain period, we talk for a bit in the car. During once recent conversation, he explained why he didn't want to be known as an exceptional student. “Then, kids would think I’m weird; Dad, I want to fit it; I want to have friends; you said that friends are important.”
That I did. My son then told a story how one particularly bright girl conformed to that idea, and all the kids thought her “weird.” Time was running out, and the first bell was about to ring. I quickly explained how the three ideas: 1) working hard and liking school and 2) being accepted for yourself; and 3) making and keeping friends were not mutually exclusive. He listened, shrugged his shoulders, and said “I have to go.”
As he walked off into the gates of the elementary school, I shouted, “we'll continue this discussion later.”
And we will; it will likely be a continuing dialogue for the next decade. And yet this conversation raised questions in my mind. Am I so out of touch with modern schools, modern psychology, modern thinking that I am giving the wrong advice to my son? Is conformity and fitting in more important than educational excellence? than academic success? than the establishment of an unique identity?
My son undoutedly knows more about the needs of today's young people than I do. Fitting in first; individual identity later. Such is today’s culture.