Here’s an essay written by 17-year-old Ruby LaRoca, winner of a Free Press essay contest. There’s a lot in it, but I was particularly struck by this:
As I head into my final year of homeschooling, I often think about the dilemma in American education, which perhaps should be called the student crisis (it’s also a teacher crisis). Students and teachers are more exhausted and fragile than they used to be. But reducing homework or gutting it of substance, taking away structure and accountability, and creating boundless space for “student voices” feels more patronizing than supportive. The taut cable of high expectations has been slackened, and the result is the current mood: listlessness.
I like that phrase “the taut cable of high expectations.” It reminded me of something that Antoine de St-Exupery wrote, which I had previously cited in a post and had been thinking about referencing again.
In St-Ex’s unfinished novel Citadelle (published in English under the unfortunate title Wisdom of the Sands), the protagonist is the ruler of a fictional desert kingdom. One night, he goes to the prison in which a man who has been sentenced to death in the morning is being held. He muses that this man may well contain an inward beauty of some form–perhaps he should commute his sentence?…but goes on to justify his execution:
For by his death I stiffen springs which must not be permitted to relax.
The context in which I had been thinking of this passage was the present situation in San Francisco. Failure to enforce laws–while endlessly searching for ‘inward beauty’ in the perpetrators of a wide range of crimes–had resulted in a relaxation of those springs of which St-Exupery wrote.
Our society at present suffers from both the loosening of Ruby LaRocca’s ‘taut cables’…which act to pull people upward…and St-Exupery’s ‘springs’…which reduce the incidence of disastrous falls.