The problem with delinquents is not that we don’t want to do well in school, it’s about priorities. A Stuyvesant delinquent will excel if given the freedom and support to be who they are. Focus Sentence?: Stuyvesant needs to be more accepting and understanding of the individual and work around flaws, instead of trying to morph everyone in to the valedictorian. Repeated listenings to Kanye West’s “Graduation” have got me thinking—the end is near. While most seniors are glad school is going to be over soon, I think most are still dumbstruck by the idea.
But I don’t have to worry about that, because my “graduation” came months ago, when I put my signature on my discharge forms. The transition from student to dropout happened in phases. At first I could still come to school if I wanted, not really a change from my last few years of delinquency. But then the unthinkable happened: the cancellation of my student Metrocard. Now that $2.25 ($4.50 round trip) serves as an everyday reminder: I am a high school dropout.
I’m not going to blame other people for the fact that I dropped out; I’m admittedly a guy with lazy tendencies and a lot of personal issues. I have nothing but love for Mr. Teitel, but I’m a truth speaker, so it has to be said: Stuyvesant is a school with zero idea of how to deal with delinquency and uninspired students.
Stuyvesant is a good school, but how much of that success is the result of the fact that we are a naturally gifted group of students? Most Stuyvesant students I’ve known over my years are the kind who will succeed no matter where they’re put – the kind who will get an A on a final even in a mediocre class. But an uninspired student in Stuyvesant is like a disaster in the Gulf—no one knows what to do, or no one cares enough to do anything about it.
Stuyvesant’s arsenal of weapons to deal with delinquents is the educational equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight. The first weapon is punishment—if you don’t do well in school, you can’t be on your sports team, you can’t be in plays or Model UN or what have you. The school has even gone so far as to slap a minimum average on college trips, a sort of “Why even bother? You can’t get in any of these places” sort of message.
The next weapon is isolation. Students who fail enough classes as early as freshman year are moved to the “delinquency” homeroom, ZD. Call me stupid (I am a dropout), but taking an impressionable freshman and surrounding him with delinquents is counterintuitive. Not to mention the sheer chaos created by these homerooms—delinquents float among the different delinquency “ranks,” and never get any of the papers they need. Students who are technically juniors will be signed up for regents they took two years ago and seniors will enjoy being signed up to take the PSAT for a third time. Stuyvesant should want these students to succeed – so why are they putting them in an environment that cultivates failure? I was in 1ZD, for freshmen with promotion in doubt, from second term freshman year until the first term of my senior year – well after I got the credits needed to at least join a higher ZD. And don’t even try online programming while you’re in a ZD homeroom. Need two senior electives? Sorry, your schedule is full of the freshman art and sophomore history classes you already passed.
And once those extremely effective weapons have been used, the strategy is to wait. Wait until the student miraculously has a change of heart, finds a work ethic somewhere in the back of his closet and becomes a good student. The real strategy for dealing with delinquents at Stuyvesant is to sit back and hope they transform into good students overnight. And when that fails? Give up.
My philosophy on education is that a school’s performance should not be judged by its best students, but by its worst. I’ve spent too much time with the school’s “delinquents” to subscribe to the “bad apple” theory. Stuyvesant’s “bad” students are just as smart as its “good” students; it’s just a question of motivation. Some found their passion in music, some found their passion in art and I found mine in theatre. The problem with delinquents is not that we don’t want to do well in school, it’s about priorities. A Stuyvesant delinquent will excel if given the freedom and support to be who they are.
I had an assistant principal in middle school who always used to give me trouble. I didn’t do great in middle school either, but after I got in to theatre and performed in my first play, she told my mother: “Oh, so he’s an artist. If we let him be, he’ll succeed.” I also had an assistant principal in high school who used to give me a lot of trouble. I’m not going to doubt that she cares; I’m also not going to say I dislike her. But I will say that she, or perhaps just the policy that she enforces, is misguided. I remember once telling her, near tears over being pulled from a show, that what I really cared about was theatre, and that academics was second priority for me. And what was her response? “You should’ve gone to LaGuardia.”
How is that supposed to help a struggling student? What purpose is served by the academic equivalent of what-ifs and I-told-you-sos? When your mindset stops being “How will we make you succeed here?” and starts being “Why are you here?” you’ve failed in your job as an educator.
Skill is not about developing a technique that works most of the time, it’s about adapting your technique to overcome different challenges. Stuyvesant applies cookie cutter, “what works for most” solutions to individual people with different passions and situations. There’s no skill involved in that. Stuyvesant needs to be more accepting and understanding of the individual and work around flaws, instead of trying to morph everyone into the valedictorian.
Now, there’s a lot of rumor and hearsay going around nowadays, so I also want to take the time here to set the record straight about who I am. When I was 11, my father had a stroke. The time consumed by having to take care of him, and the emotional weight of losing my father were naturally a lot for an 11-year-old to handle, and since then, I haven’t been a great student. But I finally found a place where I could succeed—in the Stuyvesant Theatre Community, SING! and Stuyvesant’s writing communities. These were places where I could do something I was good at and people would respect me for it. While losing my father hurt my life, having everything I cared about snatched from me by the administration hurt more.
I may be a high school dropout. But that’s not all I am. I’m a comedian struggling to stay funny in a life of tragedy. I’m a son who spends his free time taking care of his disabled father. Sure, I failed out of Stuyvesant, but Stuyvesant failed me too.