Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Running in Circles

For about two months now, I've been a regular runner. My running route has changed quite a few times throughout, sometimes in the park (we have two nearby), sometimes through various neighborhoods and most recently I've found a track that I've been using.  I assume it belongs to the school nearby, but I rarely see anyone in there.

This morning as I was making my way around the track, I started thinking back on my high school days.  I ran track in high school, so while making my rounds it brought back memories of practices (running laps) and track meets (the feeling like you're going to vomit waiting for the shot gun to go off at the start of the race).  I wasn't an especially good track runner, but none the less it was part of my high school experience.  The only medal I ever won was for Javelin and that was because there were only two teams competing (so we were bound to get either gold or silver).

In addition to track I played soccer, was part of the Italian club and sang in the Choir my freshman year.  I also coached an indoor soccer team for the Winter seasons at the Boys and Girls Club and was the director of a youth drama group all throughout high school.  I also worked part time at a pizzeria.

The thing is, I don't think that my experience is all that unique or extraordinary--at least for American high school students.  I feel like it is the norm for American students (and perhaps some other nationalities might be able to relate) to be expected to do it all.  The "All-American Kid", who takes AP/Honor classes, plays sports, volunteers, is the editor of the school newspaper and works part time. 

Its not that I don't remember enjoying doing all those things--I did--but when I compare this experience to what I see in the young German students that I work with, it seems so totally different.  For them, its all about school work.  School is the priority and extracurriculars are things that you do on your own time but don't really relate to (or shouldn't interfere with) school. 

For American high school students, schoolwork is only one small piece of the puzzle.  Volunteering and sports and playing an instrument are AS important as getting an A in your Biology class, at least that's what they tell us we have to do if we want to get into a good college/university--and we all have to want to go to a good university otherwise you'll end up working at McDonald's. 

The German schooling system is set up so that a very large percentage of students by the time they are 16 are already getting ready for the workforce.  (Okay granted, they will spend three years in an Ausbildung (or apprenticeship) with part time schooling--but none the less in a grown-up environment where they are expected to be responsible young adults.) For this reason, I think the majority of German students are fairly mature.  I say fairly because the sample I have gotten to know all seem to be, but I'm not about to assume German teenagers are a bit more sane or stable than any other adolescent around the globe today.

So the stark contrast makes me wonder a bit.  Are American students running circles?  Or are Germans not opening up their horizons enough?  Or is it possible both could use a little readjustment?

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