The Case for Character

Since moving to the east coast, I’ve been really stunned by the amount of private schools. It seems that plenty of parents opt for Catholic schools (even if they aren’t Catholic) in place of public schools. And though I still haven’t quite figured it out, I do understand what a difference a good high school experience can make. And for that matter, how important it is for high schools to adequately prepare their students for 4 year universities.

I know this because it’s what I didn’t have. 

If you know anything about California, you’ll know that as you drive inland you enter a whole different state. You know that sunny beach you have in your head?  That was always about a 2 hour drive for my family. The Central Valley of California is surrounded by mountains (that you can’t see) and is mainly agricultural. Fields and fields of green (and pesticides). It’s really not what you’d picture at all.

Like this. Really.


Schools here focused on very different objectives than preparing their students for college. Often districts allocate lots (super specific, I know) of their money to ESL (English as a Second Language) courses. And these are totally necessary, they really are. But it changes the priorities and budgets of the schools in general. And for this reason and a number of others (gang violence, anyone?) I would say I got a less than stellar downright crappy high school education.

The thing is, if you asked most people about high school, I bet they’d tell you it was awkward, crappy, or just plain sucked. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say mine sucked more than a normal high school experience should have. It just did. A few physical fights on campus per day? The norm. Being actively afraid to go to school each day? Definitely. Consistently fearing for my own safety? Oh, absolutely.

And while I wouldn’t take a million dollars (yes, a million) to go back and do it again, it certainly shaped me. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t been drastically in the minority (not PC, race reference right there guys) for those 4 years. If I hadn’t ever felt safe enough to walk across campus by myself (again, remember that gang violence?). If it hadn’t been so easy to be at the top of my class because the quality of the education was so low. And if I hadn’t gotten such a crappy education that freshman year of college, as I’m sitting in a 500 person lecture hall, I  realize that not only am I completely unprepared but I am not nearly as smart as I thought I was.

Well damn. But it sure built character. Right? 

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  • As a teacher, that makes me upset with your school district. Ugh. School is supposed to be a safe place. A place where kids can come and know that all the problems from home can be put aside, and definitely NOT have to worry about their safety. Either way, I’m glad you choose to put a positive spin on it and say it built character. I enjoyed reading and thanks for sharing. :o)

  • I grew up in the Central Valley of California as well! Should mention that you can’t see the mountains because of all the smog!
    My high school wasn’t quite that bad, but for sure parts of my town were.

  • I had a very similar high school experience, aside from the gang violence (although physical fights were a regular occurrence). I went to a small school in Oklahoma, and graduated with 56. At the beginning of our senior year there were 74 of us…that many people dropped out before graduation. I was always at the top of my class, and then when I got to college I realized in order to stay on top I would have to work incredibly hard, and go back and learn a lot of the things I should have learned in high school. I wouldn’t trade the friends I made there for anything, but I absolutely will not allow my children to have a similar experience. It leaves you completely unprepared for the real world…unless we’re talking street smarts, which I feel like I gained plenty of, unfortunately 🙂

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