A Rant on high school life guidance

I am certain there is one in every country. In South Africa, it is called Life Orientation. It is a subject which is, in essence, supposed to teach you to become a healthy and balanced individual. It covers sex education, career guidance, social skills and physical education. Life Orientation, much like communism, looks far better on paper.

This compulsory class has the noble aspiration of teaching us all to be well rounded, functioning members of society. I have been force-fed this subject for over eight years and I think I can summarize everything I have learnt into these (obvious?) points:

  •  Don’t have sex
  • Don’t do drugs
  • Eat healthy and exercise
  • Get a job
  • Study

As you may notice, this really does not teach me much on how to live my life nobly and well. The same over-spoken words are droned back to us year after year, term after term and day after day. The teachers are uninspired and those jokes they try to sell as textbooks are poorly researched and hold no appeal to their target market.

Again: whatever you call and whatever part of your school career you had to endure this in, is this starting to sound familiar?

I detest the fact that I have to waste three lessons per week in this subject. I loathe that I am examined on it, and that those results will go on my high school diploma. I shudder at the thought that I am even graded on how fast I can run or how many balls I can throw in a minute.

If given the opportunity, I believe I could create an exponentially more inspiring and worthwhile Life Orientation course (one that would actually orientate you for life). You see, I am a teenager who (like many of my peers) has no clue how to function as an independent adult. While I am sure we will figure it out eventually, this wondering does deal as a large portion of unnecessary anxiety.

So, without further ado, here is my version of how life orientation should look:

  1. Sex Education revisited: We all know what condoms are. We all know what HIV/AIDS is. We all know how straight people go about their business. I want Life Orientation that teaches everyone the proper, polite definitions of homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality (among others). I want a sex education that teaches me about healthy gender identity and terms such as non-binary and transgender.
  2. How to pay for stuff and not die: I know this isn’t accounting, but someone needs to teach us the basics of personal finance. Possible lesson plans could include: how to budget our monthly salary, how to choose a bank account, how to do taxes (I am four months away from legally being an adult and I don’t really think I know what taxes actually are) and how to pay bills.
  3. Life after high school: What does it feel like to move away from home and be on your own for the first time? None of us really know that and maybe it would be helpful if someone taught us.
  4. Religion and spirituality: My life orientation textbook from last year was attempting to teach (through childish cartoons) that people who do not follow religion are evil alcoholics with bad friends. I know better, but maybe some people don’t. We need a Life Orientation which teaches us about all beliefs, INCLUDING atheism. Understanding each other stops us from hating each other. We need a teacher that explains that spirituality does not equal religion and that each individual may find spirituality in their own way.
  5. Health: If you are going to mark us on physical education, at least be reasonably intelligent about it. Do something practical which promotes health and happiness. Don’t count how many balls I can catch. Teach us how to look after our bodies in a sustainable, manageable way. Teach us to reach our goals and teach us long lasting technique.

Right now Life Orientation is being squandered in ignorance, old fashioned mentalities and ridiculous teachers. It has the potential to be a powerful, important part of any teenager’s education, but it is simply not.

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Experiences as a School-Level Overachiever

I do well in school. I do really well in school. I’m not going to cover it up a little bit or try to be modest. It just is what it is and it is necessary for this post.

Since I started attending school, I have always been floating around the top of the class. In grade one, I got the shiny gold thing that told me I was the best at reading ‘the cat sat on the mat’ and reciting ‘one plus one equals two’. This meant that, from the time I was seven, I was labeled as being ‘smart’. I didn’t want that label and I didn’t think it applied to me. It was just that my parents had actually taught me to read before I started school. This label made me feel uncomfortable and trapped. I couldn’t be pretty (so that boys would take an interest) or popular (so that I had someone to sit with at break). I was just smart (which meant that whenever the teacher had a particularly hard question or we got a test back or there was maths to be done, I would be consulted). I didn’t know the answer to the question either. I didn’t think I was particularly smart. I didn’t know why my average remained firmly on eighty percent.

The funny thing was, I wasn’t the ‘top’ in anything. I finished in around seventh every year, yet I was still labelled the same way. I didn’t do my homework and I didn’t do my projects until the night before. The work bored me and so I dragged and dawdled my way through grades one to seven.

I got to high school and even though I knew very few people there, the label followed me. A year ago, at the beginning of grade eleven, I accepted that it was time to embrace the label. I needed ‘smart kid’ marks that year, so that I could get into university. So, I started working hard. I did my homework and I made carefully labelled summaries and I studied. A couple of months later, I got my first term report and for the first time I started to believe that if I kept working, I could start to deserve the label. Second place. That was more like it.

I realised something fascinating and potentially dangerous in those few months. Achievement is addictive, and larger doses are needed each and every time. The eighty six percent in the first term delighted me. In the second term it sent me spiraling into self-hatred. I started pushing myself even harder. I studied for longer. I beat myself up at each and every mediocre result. Term three: eighty eight percent. I told myself I was getting there. I told myself that ninety percent was coming my way. I received my fourth term report after a month of self torture (otherwise known as the final exam period).  I have seven school subjects, and staring at me from that page was a ninety seven, a ninety four and a ninety three. I got very little joy from those though, because all I could look at were the two menacing eighty ones next to English and Life Orientation. Those eighty ones that diminished the final average to eighty nine, instead of the ninety it should have been. Instead of celebrating my achievement, my mind kept whispering to me how stupid I had been. How stupid could I be to let my English mark (my home language!) be so shockingly low. The thing about receiving good marks is that the good ones give you little more than empty relief, and the mediocre ones leave you reeling for days.

Another thing about the label is that you can’t dare to ever complain about your marks to anyone. That makes you ungrateful, see? So you suck it up and say “thank you” at every congratulations, even though you feel like screaming that you don’t deserve it.

Now I’m in grade twelve. I’m a month into my first term and it is starting to feel a lot like hell. From day one, I’ve been working myself harder than I have ever worked before. Taking meticulous notes in class, then going home and practicing the concepts. I’ve been spending weeks on projects which will count a fraction of my overall mark. I’ve been doing every bit of homework assigned, then checking it and redoing it again until it is perfect.

Why am I doing this? I’m doing it because I need another hit. Eighty nine and ninety isn’t good enough any more. I’ve set a target, and I know if I get any less than ninety two percent at the end of this term, I won’t let myself hear the end of it.

Now, I don’t know how I ended up being this obsessed over something which is so ultimately trivial, but I have two hypotheses:

  1. The label got to me and I felt the need to fulfill it. I don’t have any other worthwhile labels to aspire to, and in our culture, labels are extremely important. Maybe I just needed a role.
  2. I am, at my core, a shallow and competitive being who thrives on achievement. Ouch.

I don’t know what the results hold for me at the end of this term but I can feel that the way I am working is not good for me. I can actually feel my body is struggling under the pressure. My back is aching endlessly and my brain is struggling to clear the fog. Worry not, random reader, I am not going to kill myself with studying. Since I almost had a breakdown this weekend, I have committed myself to at least an hour and a half of rest and relaxation every evening. I also realised that if I don’t rest a little bit, I won’t absorb anything anyway.

There is more to life than achievement. There is more to being a person than a pretty certificate. Sometimes, the competitive workaholic in us takes over and takes a lot of hard  (personal) work to draw our real, personal and spiritual lives back into the picture. Remember to speak to your friends and hug your mom. Remember that sometimes you should procrastinate just a little bit and give yourself the weekend off to enjoy life.

Keep safe and don’t do school, kids – it’s dangerous.

Waiting

I want someone to show me the light. I want someone to come into my confused, melancholic life and show me the way.  Someone to calm all my worries and answer all my questions.  Someone to come forth and tell me what purpose there is or why I should stop worrying about purpose.

I want to stop being confused and worried and scared.  I want a day where I don’t feel lost or tossed aside or overwhelmed. A day where I can just be.

I want a day where I can wake up and see only the beauty in the world.  I want a day that will (at least temporarily) squash my cynicism. A day that is awe inspiring and wonderful and filled with love and laughter and happiness.

I need someone to tell me that it’s okay to take a day. I need someone to remind me to appreciate. Someone to nudge me to the garden at sunrise or to the botanical gardens this Saturday.

I need to force myself out of stagnation and into something new. I don’t know how to do that.  I’ve tried and I’ve struggled but I don’t know how to “think outside the box”. I need someone to teach me how to “live in the now” and how to “carpé diem”.

I need someone, somewhere, somehow to say the magic words (what words, I don’t know) that will lift this cruel and unusual frame of mind.

Are you that person?

Greetings once more, bottomless void

This post is in response to the blogging 101 course.

I started blogging years ago (by which I mean I had a blog). I never posted and my only follower was my dad.

I started this blog a couple of years ago and it was a far more positive experience. I wrote rants and commentaries and personal ancedotes to my heart’s content (read: every two months). The important thing was: I had views. Not very many, but there were people who entered the bottomless void of the internet and came up with my blog. That thought gives me the warm and fuzzies.

When I first started blogging,  my intention was to relieve myself of some of my pent up tension and frustration by sharing it with fellow  dwellers. I am scared, angry, confused, uncomfortable in my own skin and I think that is something that many people my age (and many adults) experience. I want to talk about inequality, religion, mortality, life and love but there is no forum for me to accomplish this in my daily life.

This blog is the manifestation of my desire to share my opinions and my insecurities.

I write about anything that touches me and makes me feel out of the ordinary emotions.

If my blog was the best it could be, it would be a place where people could find comfort and entertainment. It would be a place where people would connect over those topics which are taboo and finally find the closure they need. It would be a place of ideas not confined by the limitations of the socially acceptable.