In this age of hyperbole, here is something that actually is amazing. It’s an essay from Ruby LaRoca, who won the high-school essay contest at The Free Press, with her article called “A Constitution for Teenage Happiness.”
Ruby recommends reading old books, memorizing poetry and inviting senior citizens to parties. (Which of course made me think, “That’s what a good church does!” We read from a really, really old book every week. Occasionally, we invite people to memorize stuff. And there are plenty of senior citizens to be friends with.)
Anyhow . . . get a load of the opening paragraphs of Ruby’s essay on why she bailed on high-school: “When people ask me why I sacrificed the sociable, slightly surreal daily life at my local school for the solitary life of a homeschooled student in 2021, I almost never reveal the reason: an absence of books.
“For many students, books are irrelevant. They ‘take too long to read.’ Even teachers have argued for the benefits of shorter, digital resources. Last April, the National Council of Teachers of English declared it was time ‘to decenter book reading and essay writing as the pinnacles of English language arts education.’
“But what is an English education without reading and learning to write about books?
“Many of our English teachers instead encouraged extemporaneous discussions of our feelings and socioeconomic status, viewings of dance videos, and endless TED Talks. So five days into my sophomore year, I convinced my mother to homeschool me.”
Without ever saying it straight-up, Ruby’s five-part prescription for teenage happiness is a stirring protest against the ruling gods of contemporary culture, deities that are driving so many teens (and adults) into a ditch of depression and chronic anxiety: speed, competition, information, convenience, and self-absorption.
She compares always having a phone in your pocket to always having a glazed donut handy. “Having a phone in your pocket is like always carrying around a glazed donut that constantly tempts you to snack on it—but if you do, you know it will ruin your appetite.”
In her final paragraphs she quotes a friend who wishes “there were higher standards for us.” She doesn’t mean having a resume that outdoes every one of one’s peers, or winning the rat-race by getting into one of “the best” most-competitive colleges, followed by a six figure job (or more) in the tech world. She means learning and loving to learn. She means becoming a humane human being. Here’s Ruby:
“My roommates at Latin summer school, a group of some of the kindest and sanest teenagers I have ever met, agree that most of their friends are unhappy and anxious.
“‘I wish there were higher standards for us,’ said one. Another declared, ‘I wish we had higher expectations for what we learn.’ Teenagers actually crave self-guided, unstructured time and the kind of rigor in school that makes you feel energized, not enervated.”
Thank you, Ruby LaRoca, for being a teenage truth-teller.