• 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.


Escape Velocity

A son moving forward in high school.

September 15, 2016

This week The Boy’s school had its back to school night.  He’s a sophomore in high school now, and things are starting to change.

The school is starting to use language for which I’m not entirely prepared, like “driver’s ed.” TB is 15, and the minimum age even for accompanied, supervised driving in NJ is 16, so I still have a bulletproof excuse to keep him from driving. But when I say “still,” I mean “for less than a year.” After that, things get trickier. I’ve read that millenials and younger supposedly aren’t interested in driving anymore, but apparently TB hasn’t seen those pieces. He can’t wait. I most certainly can.

In junior high, teachers routinely checked students’ notebooks and graded them on how well organized they were. At this point, they don’t, and even made a point of mentioning that they don’t. They’re encouraging the students to take responsibility for their own materials. “College is only a couple years away!” they explained brightly.  


The teachers are right, of course, despite many of them seeming implausibly young. Next year (!) the college search really kicks into gear. They’re offering a “practice” PSAT to sophomores; I’m just old enough to remember that the “P” in “PSAT” used to stand for “practice.” Now they practice to practice, I guess. They’re hitting subjects I clearly remember taking. They’ve even added some new ones, like “financial literacy.” That one involves some basic consumer math, but also skills like “how to write a check.” Despite the best efforts of the big banks to convince us otherwise, paper checks still exist in the world.  Kids still need to learn how to use them and how they work, even if they’re less used than they once were. They’re not dead yet.

The major change from my high school years is (unsurprisingly) the communications technology with which teachers can keep students and parents updated. Group texting apps are ideal for sending out reminders about due dates and exams, and most of the teachers use them. Earlier this week, TB mentioned getting a reminder text at 9:00 for some homework he hadn’t noticed. In my student days, that sort of thing wasn’t an option. Now it’s an expectation.

Junior high felt like a taller version of elementary school. Maybe they opened a few windows, but it was still recognizable. High school feels like pre-college. Which implies college.

(sound of crickets)

I’m not worried about TB. He’s a smart kid, conscientious, sociable, outgoing, and funny.  He’ll be fine. He’s the kind of kid that colleges fight over.

It’s just starting to hit me emotionally that he won’t be here that much longer. He only has two more back to school nights before he’s done. We’ve been going to them for what seems like forever, and now there are only two left.  

TB both does and doesn’t see it. In the matter of fifteen-year-olds everywhere, he experiences time more intensely than the rest of us. It goes fast, but it’s action-packed. He’s hurtling headlong towards the future and enjoying the ride, just as he should. He’s on track to become a capable and good man, which is all we can ask. We have the unbelievable privilege of being along for this part of the ride.

But this ride will end soon. And while I’ll never stop being proud of him, I’ll miss him something awful.  

Keep hurtling, TB.  I just need a minute to process the fact that you’re nearly at escape velocity.



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