If I’ve learned anything from my media-consuming procrastination initiatives, it’s that adults love to romanticize the teenage experience. Directors such as John Hughes (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), Rick Famuyiwa (“Dope”), and Mark Waters (“Mean Girls”) try to relive moments of pure teenagerism through the stories they tell. Their protagonists offer us nuggets of wisdom such as, “All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you,” and “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Rafael. I’m no straight-A student. I write a webcomic and a hip-hop geek. And I don’t want to miss a moment.
Recently, my English class got these packets that were meant to train us for AP Lang. At the beginning, there was a letter from the teachers saying that they wanted everyone to join AP Lang next year and that people sometimes choose American Lit because it’s easier – which is apparently not the case. The letter failed to mention what AP Lang is or why you should take it. So I asked my teacher why we need to spend a month prepping for a class we might not take. My teacher gave a long speech about how the packet prepares me for AP Lang, which prepares me for senior year, which prepares me for college so I might be able to graduate early.
I had a few more questions: Why is the busywork now always justified by “It’ll be like this next year” and then next year I get the same answer? Does anything in school have intrinsic value, or is my only purpose to move through the bowels of this system? Does anything here exist because of who I am and where I am right here, right now? Give me some time to try to solve the problems in front of me.
In From Other Shore & Russian People & Socialism, Alexander Hertzen says, “We think the purpose of a child is to grow up because it does grow up. But its purpose is to play, to enjoy itself, to be a child. If we merely look to the end of the process, the purpose of life is death.”
In my experience, what is considered to be a “good class” can usually be sorted into two categories. In the first are open-ended, student-driven, meta-cognitive classes in which you learn how to question, think, and research. Then there are classes that teach stuff you’ll actually use in life as soon as you evolve from a worthless mini-human – like forensics, debate, and Spanish.
The issue with “un-good classes” is that they are neither open-ended nor practical. These classes are possibly a product of a terrible compromise between two reasonable but fairly different philosophies of what constitutes as a “good class.” The result is a class built on memorizing the specific, often useless information the teacher tells you to. But what if students weren’t just treated like computers programmed to repeat information until they short circuit? Can we maybe move from planned obsolescence to grand adolescents? I don’t want to wait for my demise. I don’t want to sit for hours in forced anticipation for when I will lie down for centuries. I have so much I can be doing with my life.
I think not being a straight-A student has liberated me in a sense. Growing up with two much older siblings who went to UCs, I had always assumed I was going to go to a similarly elite school. This started to change when I was a high-school freshman and began to understand the kinds of things my siblings did in high school to get into their colleges. I am not that kind of student.
In a tornado of adolescent chaos and academic bureaucracy, I began to do what I’ve always been good at – planning the future as a way to escape the present. I began to imagine myself in the film world. I wanted to launch a career as a director, which meant film school. My dad showed me a list of the best public film schools in the country, and I looked at the names thinking, I’ve never heard of that school (or it has the word “state” in its name) – why would I go there?
It was a stupid question, as I’m now obsessive about SFSU and CSUN, two California State Universities on that list. Not long ago, I took an official tour of SFSU and heard something that was, indubitably, hella dope: If I maintain a 3.0 GPA on my A-G requirements, I can get a zero on the SAT and still be accepted into SFSU. Not only that, but they determine eligibility simply by a math equation. No pandering and running around in a stress blizzard. Just clicking a box and getting in.
I know that I don’t have to stuff my schedule with APs. I know I can get B’s as long as I get A’s in the classes I care most about. I know that I am not a computer so I am bound to make some miscalculations. But I also know that, while I don’t have a whole lot of freedom in my life right now, I do have choices. So the best thing I can do is make those choices that will ensure that I live life to the fullest, now and in the years to come. Because really, if I’m ever going to make a teen dramedy that looks back at my high school experience, I’m going to have to stop and look around once in a while.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.