School is weird. Man.
Such is what I kept uttering last Thursday when I hopped in the Party Prius to talk to kids at Frederick High School. A few months ago, I was approached by the great Beth Sands to see if I might be interested in speaking to LYNX students about music, production, writing and the difference in political philosophies between Angela Merkel and Ted Cruz.
I was thrilled and honored to be asked, though knowing there’s no way a man could travel that road alone, she asked if I could reach out to a couple other people to contribute. So, I called Jordan Miller, who I love (hire him to film your music video today!), and April Reardon, who I love (hire her for all your wedding flower needs today!).
I figured, what could go wrong? Those are two of my favorite people in the whole wide world. They are enormously smarter than I am. They are forever more accomplished than I will ever be. And, really, both are way, way, way more stylish than I could ever hope to appear. I would just bring them in. They could speak to the class. The kids could marvel at their wardrobes. And with any luck, maybe they would forget about me and the class would end before I was called upon to speak.
That didn’t happen, of course. Jordan screened his amazing sizzle reel, which was compiled of clips from his amazing horror films and amazing music videos. April then showed a video from her band, DaMood, which was created as an entry into NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert contest, and it’s still one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Me? Well, I was encouraged to show a clip of me interviewing myself.
Yeah. That about checks out.
Anyway, while I had a blast talking to the kids, encouraging them to never ask Joan Osborne about her new-born over the phone, my biggest takeaway from the experience was actually the school itself. Color me naive (or, at least a big, old loser), but I don’t have any kids. And the way this life is turning out, I can’t imagine anybody ever wanting to have kids with me. So, outside of the class I’m teaching at FCC, I pretty much have no bridge to The Young People or how The Young People work.
Enter Frederick High School. Walking through the ginormous doors, I felt like I was entering the Taj Mahal Of Education. The ceilings were so high, I was getting vertigo. Upon entering, I immediately had to show someone my driver’s license, a passport, my social security card, three previous cable bills and I had to list my 10 favorite movies in order to continue through the halls.
From there, I was blown away by what I found. Kids, seemingly in the middle of the day, were lounging on couches in long, expansive hallways. The cafeteria had something called “The Chicken Bar,” which immediately did all it could to seduce me into looking at a menu. There was no such thing as that tired, old bell sound synonymous with school; instead there was a calm ring of something that felt like it could only be otherwise found on an episode of “The Good Place.” Before long, I was wondering if someone in a tuxedo would approach me with a glass of champagne.
This was all in stark contrast to how things were when I was in high school. Rather than security checkpoints, they had someone dressed in a Statue Of Liberty costume stand at the end of the parking lot, twirling an arrow, trying to lure people inside. There was no such thing as a couch — not even in the teacher’s lounge, let alone in a hallway. And something like a “Chicken Bar” would mean half a mini Snickers on a plate with one single chicken nugget shaped like a dinosaur.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on what “pizza” meant.
The whole thing forced me to put in perspective how far the education world has come over the last 15 to 20 years. And perhaps more importantly, it also made me ponder which version of high school is better: My version, where if I didn’t show up with snow pants and gloves, I would catch frost bite during second period, or the current version, where the desks presumably have seat warmers attached to them.
The question was mildly broached as April, Jordan, Beth and I took some time after class to convene in a conference room that looked like it could be a set piece on “Billions.” While I bloviated that kids need toughened up these days and the problem is that everyone is too sensitive, the other three looked at me like I was Jussie Smollett at an “Empire” table read. Instead, they argued that the issue with today’s kids is, in short, the cellphone, and all the many complications the advent of such a thing has brought to society.
Hey. You say, “tomato.” I say, “do these people even know what detention is?”
Either way, there was no taking away the notion that we should be thankful The Young People have so many options these days to explore their strengths, their passions and their potential destinies. I mean, there were two whole classrooms filled with keyboards and super-cool production equipment that students can seemingly use on a daily basis. At my high school, they gave me a tambourine and told me to sit in the corner until the bell rang.
It all plays into the most common question we received that day: college. More than anything, The Young People wanted to know if we thought going to college was imperative for success in today’s world. The answer, like most things in life, was and is nuanced. It works better for some people than others. Go for the experience just as much as you go for the education. It can help, but do you really want to be in debt for years to come? You know — all the typical things that go with a conversation such as that.
Yet regardless of what those kids decide to do with their lives, I walked away from that morning knowing one thing for sure: Students these days are set up to succeed far more than I ever even once thought imaginable. And that’s a really good thing, because as I reiterated constantly in that classroom, the one piece of advice I could give to any of them is that they should always be the best them they could be. If your name is Mike, be the best Mike you can be. Don’t be the best Chris you can be. Stay true to who you are, and don’t let anyone tell you that who you are isn’t good enough.
Sure, that’s a cliche, and yes, that’s as cheesy as anything you’ll read in the paper today, but it’s also a valuable philosophy to heed as one navigates through life. What Frederick High School taught me last week is that The Young People are being set up to achieve that now more than ever. And to that, I will gladly take that glass of champagne and toast to our public school system.
Even if that does mean these days, that school is weird. Man.