Allegedly it was George Bernard Shaw who said that “youth is wasted on the young,” though it sounds more like Oscar Wilde. The young do not appreciate the energy and vitality which they can bring to a task, nor do they appreciate the time they have to do with as they like, or the faculties that vanish as they age and take on more demanding responsibilities. That is a part of the care-free exuberance of youth – vivre d’amour et d’eau fraîche. We should not encourage our children to hide from the adult world like Peter Pan, but neither should we intentionally drain away all that is enjoyable simply to prepare them for the plainer fare that awaits. As the Spartans had it, the more one sweats in training, the less one bleeds in battle. So it is here. Tractori – of an academic variety, but also one intended to reveal life as it is, swept clean of empty-headed fantasies.
The new mantra of the first-world has been balance. The balanced life, for which there are countless books written to inspire us and lead us towards a zen like life. Even “life coaches” are available for a fee (a rather large one) to direct us along a proper path. Magazines talk about the simple life, religion promises to clarify, psychologists tell us we are overly anxious, trying to do too much, control things beyond our control, blur the distinction between need and want, and life is lived in a hurried succession of satisfying imaginary obligations and the center cannot hold.
We can do whatever we like, but much of it is simply self-indulgence. Many of the activities people take the greatest pride in, devote the most time to, are the ardent about, moved by, etc. are not life-affirming, nor are they moments of honest self-examination, etc., but are largely about nothing larger than themselves. They transcend nothing (and the world wants for a transcendental truth – find quotation). One can run in place and become quite good at it, but to what end? So much of what we do, ardently do, seems like Chesterton’s description of inanity (making hammers to make hammers to make hammers). The ancients trained for war because there were great costs associated with winning and losing wars, and there were many side benefits to this training. They did it for something, something greater than themselves whereas the man who runs in place does it for himself, to while away the hours until his end. We can barely conceive of a good life let alone a good death. Not a life in defense of anything, not for a greater cause, not because he put himself to some cause other than indulgence, etc., but for himself.
There is no claim that the examined life will be a happy life, or that it ought to be. That is not its purpose. Nor will it be an easy one, and thus not for everyone. There are enough who will not leave a mark on the world, which is realism; they cannot be chosen in advance by others, which if we attempted to do it, would be elitism. We direct our days, choose our purposes, make our lives. Education is an opportunity – nothing more. We can choose to avail ourselves of it and make something of ourselves, or we can squander the opportunity in self-indulgence. The moment to decide is every moment. Our lives are what we make of our time.
Balance though is evanescent, the pursuit of it largely a fool’s errand. The happy man is the one who has achieved something, principally excellence, and in order to do that, the objective must be accomplishment rather than balance. There is a certain truth in the line from Lone Survivor, “Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing, moderation is for cowards.” Of course, one can overshoot the Aristotelian golden mean, but moderns tend to err on the side of deficiency rather than excess.
Americans have an ambivalent relationship with public schooling. On the one hand, they want it to be “everything the rest of the world leaves undone,” as Jacques Barzun noted as long ago as the 1950s. On the other hand, they do not want “school” to dominate their children’s lives, and what they mean by “school” is academics. In other words, the real reason for going to school, for requiring taxpayers to provide for other people’s education, for it being public at all, should be the least of our concern with school. Its real purpose, its opponents claim, the thing which should dominate our attention and the time of our students, are the extracurriculars, and this is what “student life” amounts to because it is always relative to a badly degraded world, always comparative to the frat party and the perpetual adolescence of the modern college experience. Whatever they learn by this it is not grit, it is not mettle, it is not perseverance, or work ethic, or diligence, or punctuality, or dependability, or integrity. Instead, they learn a lot about self-esteem, a sort of banal, navel gazing, solipsistic individualism, not great or profound ideals, but common and tolerable ideas that play at social provocation but are really the safest and most correct social and political conformism. Conformism, of course, being the chicest breed of radicalism in the age of mediocrity and egalitarianism.
Our search for a superficial happiness, a life of ease, material satisfaction, vanity, whether physical or intellectual, self-confidence, the endless pursuit of fun, sexual, chemical, or physical, has given us a very shallow world, and our youth are left to wallow in the wading pools of mediocrity.
Ridgeview attempts to distinguish itself by being more difficult than simply college prep because we perceive ourselves as being life prep and life contains more than college. To do well here should be to be well prepared for life – not simply a series of academic exercises.
It’s often the smaller things, the ones that go unnoticed by the doer, that have a magnified importance to the observer. If we put no work into these things, the world will judge us no matter how many times we tell it to reserve judgment. We all make judgments, because we are human, because we are the descendants of survivors who in order to flourish must make judgments.