An Open Letter to the High School System

One of my students has just finished her first two weeks in high school.

I am disgusted.

Not with my student, of course. She is brilliant. Vibrant and vulnerable, yet stronger than she seems. She’s dealing with it. She has a strong support group. She has people who listen to her.

I am disgusted with you, high school.

Not with everyone who works for you, of course. There are fighters in there, people who believe in those kids and a better future, people who see the value in them. I’ve never even been to high school so I don’t know who to point a finger at, but I know something is wrong. Really wrong.

You have just been entrusted with the lives of a whole class of thirteen- and fourteen-year-old kids, young people just tentatively reaching for the first step of adulthood. Kids who in four years will be facing enormous decisions about what they’re going to do with their lives. In your halls, they will go from adolescents to adults. On your playgrounds, they will learn the ever-increasing complexity of social interaction. In your classrooms, they will be taught what you think is necessary for them to know as functioning adult members of society. They will now begin to be bombarded by all the ugly, evil things that they were sheltered from as children.

But you’re not terribly worried about that.

You’re too busy with initiation. A pointless tradition, designed to belittle the already-vulnerable grade eights, to place the matric kids into a false sense of importance. In other words, to reinforce exactly the negative social structure that teens find themselves drawn into. The peer pressure that’s responsible for more social problems than I really want to list here. Including substance abuse and teenage pregnancy.

You like numbers, right? Pass rates and who knows what else. Here’s some numbers for you.

According to these two studies in the UK and USA, as many as 26% of young people have suicidal thoughts. In 2013/14, more than 1800 teenagers were admitted to hospital in the United Kingdom alone for eating disorders. 50% of mentally ill adults’ symptoms first manifested around the age of fourteen. The numbers are on the rise, relentless and exponentially (by 70% in the past 25 years).  In England alone, 160 people under twenty years old commit suicide successfully every year. And here’s the most terrifying number of all: suicide is the third highest killer of young people.

Our kids are sick. Our kids are dying.

They’re dying right in front of us. In those high schools.

Shouldn’t it follow that their first week in high school should include extensive counselling? Well, no. You’re too busy putting Vaseline and peanut butter in their hair.

I don’t know if you realise what you have there. I don’t know if, beyond all the pointless patriotisim and flaunting of your “school spirit”, beyond the colours and the cheerleading and the songs, you realise the biggest truth I know about young people: they are created in the image of God. Thousands and thousands of created, holy, eternal spirits are walking those halls, terribly vulnerable, poised on the brink of the abyss that is adulthood. I don’t know if you get that they’re not supposed to be there for you. You’re supposed to be there for them.

“We have to pretend to be invisible tomorrow,” my student confided in me as I tightened her horse’s girth. (Did you know that about my student? She’s just another kid in green in your class, but she controls a half-ton animal and gets it to fly for her. Isn’t that incredible?).

“Invisible?”

“Yeah.” Her smile was almost apologetic, but I could see the dread in the set of her shoulders.

Won’t she have enough opportunity to feel invisible, high school? Won’t she be made to feel inadequate and unimportant enough times in the coming years? Isn’t it going to be hard enough to face the onslaught of approaching adulthood?

You’re telling them they’re invisible. But these kids are the light of the world.

This is not okay, high school.

And that’s all I really have to say to you.

 

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On Burnout

Bible study this evening yielded advice from thousands of years ago that is oh so applicable to us today. Thanks Lord, I really needed to hear this truth from You in my exhaustion today. You’ve called me not to be superhuman but to be Yours, and while I am willing to stand alone for You, there is a whole Body of Christ out there. I don’t have to carry this alone. But if I had to, I would, Sir!

 

When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?” Moses replied, “Because the people come to me to get a ruling from God. When a dispute arises, they come to me, and I am the one who settles the case between the quarreling parties. I inform the people of God’s decrees and give them his instructions.” “This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives. But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. Let the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. If you follow this advice, and if God commands you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.” – Exodus 18:14-23 NLT

A Hug From God

Today just kind of wasn’t my day.

It started early, or rather, it didn’t. I startled awake five minutes after my alarm went off, suddenly remembering I had to pick up our junior groom at 06:00. It was 05:25. In a whirlwind, I flew up and got dressed before charging off to pick up the poor chap five minutes late alongside the road on an ice cold morning. By the time I was back and had helped push our head groom’s dead car into the safety of the yard, we were late. “Late” in my life means skipped rides or skipped meals. Also, something had stung my heart horse’s nose and given him hives and my favourite schoolie had trodden on my foot. Did I mention the ring was super boggy? I nearly wrote my youngster off lunging him in it.

And then, cantering around a turn towards a fence, my top horse fell. Almost on me. She’d slipped on the equally boggy arena footing – I can only blame sleep deprivation for my poor judgment. She bounced up like a rubber ball; I groaned to my feet. Nothing major, but I knew I’d be feeling it tomorrow. Coincidentally the day of my first lesson in preparation for my coach’s exam.

I dragged myself through the rest of the day, sore, grumpy, tired, whining, and decidedly ungrateful. I snapped at my sister and gave a sale pony a reprimand she didn’t really need, and it took every shred of my remaining patience to finish my first two lessons.

In short, I needed a good slap.

But God gave me a hug instead.

I was trudging through my last lesson, feeling the steady ache in my neck, wondering how I was going to do it all again tomorrow and trying my best for my client because they always deserve that, when I heard it. A high, surreal sound, thin and bright as a rapier blade catching the sun, and so pure and piercing that I stopped dead and stared into the sky. I half believed it was a dream. I’d only ever heard recordings. But then it came again, thrown joyously across the mighty sky.

The cry of a fish eagle.

It took me a second to find him, but there he was. A noble shadow cut into the sky; tremendous wings thrown wide in sharp silhouette, the white head outstretched. He wheeled on the dizzy heights with fearless grace. Higher than I could comprehend.

I have never seen a fish eagle here before, and I’ve lived here almost seventeen years. And you know I love to look towards the sky. The haunting cry rang out again, straight into my soul. My clients stared, but I couldn’t stop looking at that bright wingshadow, knowing exactly what lay so far beyond and yet closer than my breath. I reached up and wrapped my fingers around the cross I wear, fighting to keep down the tears.

 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31

I didn’t know what to say except thank You. I was a bit tired, so I’d scorned and snapped and sulked and stumbled, pushed away His commandments and whined about my small miseries to the God Who’d died a gruesome death to pay the price for me. I deserve punishment.

But what I got was a direct reminder that no matter what, He’s with me. That as long as I hang on to Him, exhaustion will fall away. My freedom, my flight would mock that of the majestic eagle who threw wide his sharp-edged pinions on the rising wind. My strength would be renewed because it wouldn’t be mine, but His in me.

I deserve death. But what I got was an embrace from God. Such is the inexplicable and inexhaustible and unlimited love of our Holy King.

So I fall to my knees and I surrender to the One Who will lift me up on eagle wings.