When I first saw the speech that will be discussed and saw the title, my reaction was similar to your own. Calling high school students not special, that seems really harsh. But when one watches the video, and really thinks about what is being said, there is a lot of truth to this, and it is kind of hard to look at, especially when examining America as a whole. The speech was delivered by an English teacher, David McCullough Jr., who teaches at Wellesley High. This school is in Boston.
It’s not a mystery that America really panders to its youth. The “It Gets Better” campaign, the need to not make any student feel bad ever, the constant assurance that if a kid works hard, everything will be okay, and that they are just the best thing since sliced bread is all over this culture. It’s not a mystery that Americans are force-fed this day in and day out.
But McCullough makes a lot of very good points.
Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians … 37,000 class presidents … 92,000 harmonizing altos … 340,000 swaggering jocks … 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs…
A good point. These numbers add up after a while. While America’s education system is a joke compared to the rest of the world, perhaps that irons even more the fact that so many get through the system that it takes the special away from them. They are all given a test that in some states, like Florida, are getting stupider and stupider.
All over the country, more and more students are being told about how great they are, even when they have accomplished nothing, and aren’t looking to accomplish anything. Graduating from and American high school is no great achievement.
But yet this gives me pause, as well. I have conflicting feelings. What is special? That is an interesting question to ask McCullough. He seems to believe that it is people who have real accomplishments. Though he also credits those who follow their passions with all their heart. If one is going to say that a group of people isn’t special, it only stands to reason that they have standards as to what makes on special.
There was a comment on The Young Turks YouTube video about this, stating that every accomplishment does serve a purpose. So perhaps the better fact of this speech is that it has gotten people talking.
McCullough says that to do what one does for the purpose of passion and belief of its importance is what is truly an achievement, along with actually accomplishing something. He calls the “relevant life” an achievement. This, however, brings up another question – what is relevant? Who determines it? How can one be relevant?
A person makes an incredible new car design that saves gas and makes no emissions, we obviously would consider that an accomplishment. What about the person who discovers a way to control your entire home with electronic interface? What about the guy who designs a new kind of vacuum that is ten times better than the other vacuums? Where is the line on what is relevant or not?
Perhaps the greatest thing that McCullough has done is that he has done with this column tries to do every single day – get people to think. His mission was to get the seniors who were graduating to take a really critical look at themselves, and from most reports, he was well-received. America does need to really look at what an entitled nation we have become. But at the same time, don’t lose sight of the fact that there are kids who have trouble with school, and getting out is an accomplishment. Those who aren’t lazy or stupid, just not made for the academics.
Be open to new ideas, and new thought. That is an accomplishment, for sure.