BY ABOUT SIXTH grade, a set of kids in the professional middle-class suburb where I grew up stopped doing homework, or really much work at all. They’d goof around in everything from math class to gym period. Getting average grades or being sent to the principal’s office for misbehavior didn’t seem to bother them that much. And their parents seemed to greet it all with a shrug.

It looked like good fun to me, so I figured I’d give this not-giving-a-damn thing a try. My parents greeted my Bart Simpson attitude with something stronger than a shrug.

I remember their fury after a school meeting where the teacher must have explained that my grades had fallen because I spent class time chatting with friends rather than focusing on worksheets. Right before the hammer came down, I attempted a weak protest: “But none of the other kids are doing work in class either,” and ticked off a set of names that my parents knew.

“You are not like them,” came the stern response.

This confused me. I thought I was like them. I played sports and video games, watched MTV and worshipped skateboarder Tony Hawk, just like all the other 12-year-old boys.

“If you are not head-and-shoulders above the next candidate in a hiring process,” my mother sternly said, “they will not give you the job.” She repeated: “You are not like them.”

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