Monday, August 28, 2017

Is it luck, or do we make our own luck? (I AM an adult, dammit!)

I recently read a tweet, which I tried to copy as an image, but was unsuccessful. The tweet stated, "It is never too late to become what you want to be when you grow up."  I'm not sure I agree with that sentiment if only because there comes a point by which a person probably should have grown up. If the statement were tweaked a bit to say instead something like "it is never too late to learn," or "It is never too late to achieve a dream," I could get behind it. While this seems to be a bit non sequitur, it actually relates to the bulk of this post.

Last week I attended three educational meetings in my capacity as a medical professional. I was privileged and honored to have done so. Attending educational program meetings on behalf of students with medical needs that potentially impact the educational process for them is valuable experience for me. I'm not certain how often I will be called upon to attend similar meetings once I have gained expertise and am practicing in my field of expertise, but if the need for doing such arises, I will be better equipped to do so because of the guided practice opportunities that have been extended to me. For that I am most grateful.

On the other hand, unexpected challenges sometimes present themselves in such real-life situations. I shall share with readers a particular challenge that presented itself at all three meetings last week. Because essentially the identical circumstance presented itself at three of three meetings last week, I'm not at all convinced it should be considered a coincidence. Allow me to describe the sequence of events as it unfolded at just one of the three meetings I attended, as it happened so similarly at all three meetings that to share all three interchanges would be redundant. The offense was most egregious at this particular meeting, but the essence was the same.

At educational program meetings, participants  introduce themselves and state their titles and roles. When I did so, my title of "medical school student in clerkship phase of education, acting on behalf of XXX Medical Practice under the direction of XXXXX XXXXXXXX, M.D.," it wasn't taken at face value. Other participants felt the need to suggest that I was possibly a student in a paramedical program, or perhaps a nursing school student, though even that, to one questioner,  seemed to stretch the bounds of credulity. One member of the individualized educational program team wasn't shy about directly stating that I was embellishing my credentials for the purpose of making myself appear more 
credible, educated, successful, professional, and a few other adjectives I won't bother repeating.  

Once my role and qualifications were clarified  --  once the more skeptical members of the team were convinced that I was as I represented myself  --  I was treated to lengthy dissertations from other team members as to how very lucky I am to be going through the education that will lead to my professional certification at such a young age. First and foremost, such discussion has no place whatsoever in any child's Individual Educational Program meeting. The meeting is about the child, and not about me. I'm more than willing to provide whatever documentation is necessary in order to assure a child's parents that I possess adequate knowledge in the areas of which I have been called upon to report. I'm even willing to humor the members of the team other than the parents with regard to their skepticism concerning my expertise. That, however, is where it should end. Individualized Educational Program meetings are not an appropriate venue for venting as to how very arduous was the task of returning to college to complete one's education after having become a parent. If a parent of the child for whom the meeting is held needs for some reason to share difficulties in his or her own life, which may included the difficulties of having returned to higher education, as they impact the child or the family, such is entirely appropriate. Where the rest of the team is concerned, on the other hand, their personal lives have no bearing on the subject matter at hand except as it is an attempt to demonstrate empathy for the parent. Otherwise, our personal lives are just that -- personal and therefore not pertinent in a professional setting.

So the director of special services and I stared at each other with wild-eyed What the fuck? expressions as an administrator and a special education specialist blathered about the experience of having returned to the university setting with few college units that were transferable, with spouses or ex-spouses who were virtually useless as co-parents, and with several children for whom they were almost solely responsible. The administrator and special education specialist went on to tell me how very lucky I am to be completing my education without the difficulties that they faced. They told me how very easy it is to get through any level of schooling if one has merely schooling on which to focus, and one isn't up to one's neck in domestic responsibilities. They complained that I came from a more privileged background than did either of them, and that [for the record: untrue] my parents had paid for my education, while they had to secure their own grants and loans. "I even had to run my own
household!" one of them practically hollered. "Where would you be if you had that responsibility? Not very far, I can tell you!"  I sat silently while shrugging my shoulders. There was nothing I could have said that would not have compounded the level of un-professionalism of the supposed professionals in attendance at that meeting.

My detractors added insult to injury by saying that they had finished school as adults. What in hell do they think i am, a two-year-old?

I won't address the obvious begging of the question as to why these women would feel that it was safe to assume that I had never been on the receiving end of adversity. I didn't feel the need or obligation to share my personal history at a meeting for which the purpose was to detail an individualized education program for a child. Moreover, how would these women who, by their own admissions, had struggled to complete their teacher credentialing programs (the administrator in the charter school held merely a teaching credential and not an administrative credential, which would have been mandatory to serve as an administrator in a standard public school). Why would they presume to have any knowledge of the relative rigors of a teacher credentialing programs as opposed to those encountered in medical school?

While the lack of professionalism at the meeting was baffling, that is not my primary complaint at this time. While the circumstances under which these educational professionals chose to air their grievances with the system and with me were deplorable, my grievance is not the platform they chose in which to complain. Instead, I take exception to what it was that they said.

I've been blessed with a few advantages that not everyone can claim. My mother stayed away from booze and drugs while she was expecting me. My parents were college-educated. They talked to me when I was a child. They exposed me to books. I had parents who, in my earliest days of schooling, fed and groomed me before sending me to school, and, in the later years of my schooling, would have noticed had I failed to do the same for myself. Most of my schooling took place in a school district that demonstrated high rates of success with students in numerous measures. My parents ensured that I attended school all but five days of my entire kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade career unless I was too sick to be at school. My parents accepted nothing but my best efforts in school.  My brother and I were able to skip one grade of elementary school, and my parents provided the support that was needed to make that early promotion successful. 

Beyond that, I had no particular advantages that the two professionals who lamented the lack of a level playing field would likely have had. Furthermore, odds are that they had some of the very same advantages I did have. Most people who are reading this had parents who expected them to do their work and to stay out of trouble at school. Some parents were more involved than others were, but one can have too much of a good thing. A parental expectation of a child maintaining a certain degree of independence in school is not necessarily a negative. In the days before video games acted as babysitters, most parents, regardless of their levels of education, interacted with and talked to their children to some degree. Neither professional presented any compelling evidence that she had clawed her way up from the very direst of the projects or the barrios to solid middle-class status.

The primary difference in how life unfolded for me as opposed to how it happened for the two ladies who essentially derided me for my level of privilege was in the choices we made. As hard as it may seem to believe, I could have gotten married at the age of eighteen or nineteen. While the pickings for me might have been slim, surely someone out there would have married me had that been my goal. I'm not sure about my state of fertility, as I haven't yet attempted to conceive, but no available evidence indicates that I am infertile. I am childless at this point of my life either through abstinence or through some other effective form of birth control; I'm not saying which.

The ladies who lambasted me for having had such an easy and uncomplicated life were not brought up in the dark ages. One is probably in her early thirties, while one is more likely in her forties. In the years in which they attended school, even if parents didn't talk bout the importance of paying attention, making good choices, and doing well in school (and most parents did), teachers talked about it. If they chose not to listen and to get married and to begin reproduction without having completed college degrees or vocational programs, they were exercising their own powers of free will in doing so. They had a right to make the choices they made, but that doesn't give them the right to excoriate me for having made different and perhaps better choices.

In many ways, it would have been easier for me to have done things in the manner in which the two professionals had done them. Completing homework at midnight, then being at the pool for diving practice at 5:45 a.m. three days per week, was not easy for me. All the reading and homework I did in high school, including taking one university class each semester in addition to the advanced placement classes I took in school, would not be considered to be the course of least resistance. It would have required far less effort to have taken a general college-preparatory curriculum without university courses and advanced-placement classes. I could have spent afternoons with friends or with a boyfriend. I could have gotten a couple hours of additional sleep each night. A less intense course of study would have been so much easier on so many levels. It wasn't as though I was born some sort of a genius who didn't have to expend any effort for my achievements. I worked hard for everything I achieved. Beyond that, I even had a few major hurdles thrown into my path, which I could have used as excuses not to achieve, but I worked around them.

I'm not claiming that my level of achievement is highly unusual. I'm two years ahead of where I otherwise would have been in school because of having skipped a grade and because of having taken AP and university courses while in high school. Some students have skipped more grades than I have, though. Others I have known have been far more successful than I. I'm not laying claim to any superhuman accomplishments. What I am doing is speaking up for all of us who have done things in the most prudent order: who have taken care to complete ourselves to some degree before bringing others into the world who are dependent upon us for every need.  

The University of California system in which I received my undergraduate education is relatively cognizant of and respectful of the sacrifices those of use who have done or are doing things in the most prudent order. The same, however,  cannot be said for all systems. My cousin was a finalist for the outstanding student award for her graduating class at her California State University campus, which is a lower-tier of the university system in California. 
My cousin is one of the students who did things in the most prudent order. She graduated at the age of twenty-one with a 4.0 grade-point average in an engineering program, while simultaneously holding a part-time job, while also serving in a leadership capacity in a charitable honor society related to her future profession, and while participating in religious education for children and in charitable works through her church.. One of her competitors, who was, in fact, the eventual recipient of the outstanding student award, was a young woman who had been one of my cousin's high school classmates. The young woman had made an unfortunate choice or two in her earlier years and was, as a result, raising her young child with the help of her parents. This young woman was not from a skid-row family. Her parents were both teachers, as were the parents of my cousin. This young woman, despite having made a few mistakes earlier in her life, had defied the odds and had managed to graduate from high school and had managed to, at the age of twenty-two, complete a liberal arts degree with a near-perfect 3.9? grade-point average. It was made clear through the speech given by the chancellor in the presentation of the award that the [self-created] adversity faced and overcome by the young woman had factored heavily in the decision as to whom to give the award. 

My cousin's resume (as may have been several of the other finalists' resumes; I have knowledge of my cousin and of her former high school classmate, but not of the other finalists) was far more impressive except for not having created and assumed responsibility for a child. While I don't believe that the other young woman should have been penalized in the award process for having become an under-aged parent, neither do I think having done so should have worked in her favor. My cousin wasn't entitled to any sort of a morals-clause bonus for not having been knocked up, but neither was it fair that, for the purpose of determining the final standings of the award, her lack of child-bearing status counted against her.

This essentially sums up how I feel about the administrator and teacher who felt so vastly superior to me because they finished their educations under far more adverse conditions, while I was somehow magically gifted with the opportunity to coast through life. I see the matter from  different perspective. I would say, rather that I did things the difficult way earlier in my life so that I might have a less adverse path later in life. It's  matter of choices. We all have them, to some degree, and can use them as we see fit.

You have my sympathy, but don't blame me for your adversity.

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