• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


The Boy on the Campaign Trail

Growing up.

December 10, 2014

“And by ‘listen,’ I mean really try to understand your concerns, so that I can represent them to the school. This isn’t a position of government; it’s a position of representation.”

                        - The Boy, from his campaign speech this week

The Boy is running for student government this week, which means he’s giving a speech to each of six different classes. (He did three on Wednesday, and will do three more on Thursday.) He’s one of several candidates in a competitive election.

He asked me to help him work on his speech.  

The lines above are entirely his. He wrote them before asking for my feedback. My only contribution, really, was to listen to several run-throughs and suggest paring some language that sounded a little too written. Everything that remains is his, and his alone.  

I’m insanely proud.

Eighth grade can be a painfully self-conscious time. For me, it was probably the single worst year. But TB is navigating it with uncommon grace. He even handles stage fright well, which is no small thing at any age.  

At home, we see him every day, so it’s easy to lose sight of how he stands out among kids his age. The height -- six-one and counting -- is only the most obvious way. He’s smart and funny, with a sense of humor that’s entirely his own. He’s much, much more outgoing than I was at his age, but not in a dominating way; as his speech indicates, he actually listens. The kindness comes through. And with a younger sister who takes no prisoners, he has learned not to fall into some of the sexist habits that many of his peers have.

He’s aware of girls -- some more than others, inevitably -- but so far has made the choice to occupy the barely-contested “gentleman” niche. (The “knucklehead” niche, by contrast, is amply represented at school.) I’ve been encouraging him to stick with the “gentleman” niche, since it plays to his strengths and attracts the ones you’d want to attract. So far, he’s on board. I’m hoping that sticks. The “tall, handsome, smart, funny gentleman” role may be cliched, but it still has its fans.

His campaign speech has given me a chance to fill the role other Dads play with sports. I’m entirely useless at helping him with basketball, and baseball is out of season. But public speaking is another matter. For once, I get to be my version of a coach.

Watching his creative process at work is a hoot.  He has good focus, for his age, and he understands the concept of revision. (I know some adults who struggle with that.) He also has a pretty good ear. When he reads his script out loud, he usually spots the clunkers even before I point them out. I’m mostly an excuse to read out loud.  

He reports that the first day of speeches went well, and he’s looking forward to a second one.  

In the eighth grade, “politics” consists of speeches and a few posters. It would be lovely if adults could say the same. The school even provided poster papers and markers, so there would be no issue of some kids not being able to afford them.  

Whether he wins or loses, whether he sticks with student government or not, watching the wheels turn as he writes and rewrites is great fun. I may not understand what he does on the basketball court, but this, I get.  He’s rapidly emerging as a recognizable, and very impressive, young man. I’m lucky to have a front-row seat to watch it happen.  



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