High Stakes in School

School in all of its dimensions inevitably marks our later efforts at community living. So, as another school year begins, it seems worthwhile to revisit this foundational experience in everyone’s life. The lessons we did or did not learn there can shed light on how we deal with present and future community realities.

There is in each of us a basic reaction to our time in school, which in a most obvious way colors all future engagement in community. Either we liked school or not. The years we spent in and around classrooms affirmed us or caused us pain. If it was the latter, then my guess is that all subsequent tries at community living have proven an enormous challenge for us, if indeed we had the courage to attempt them.

All of us can remember the classmate who, for whatever reason, went through school pretty much as an outsider. In my own experience, it was one loner who balked at some fairly mild freshman hazing in college, thereby attracting more of the same from insensitive upperclassmen. In the end the poor fellow suffered a breakdown and left school.

Much more positive is the memory of a well-adjusted kid who delighted in school, despite mediocre academic work. He loved the daily give and take with the rest of us, both inside and outside the classroom, and of course got voted "most popular" at graduation.

One needs no graduate degree in educational psychology to surmise which of these students may later have thrived in a community setting. However, between such extremes stand the rest of us for whom school, and its effect on our lives, have proven much more nuanced.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1997
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