Dreams are free

 Cost: valuation in terms of money of (1) effort, (2) material, (3) resources, (4) time consumed, (5) risks incurred, and (6) opportunity forgone.

When I was  at school I had schoolyard dreams.  They were pretty silly, but they existed.  My large, over-riding dream was to become a rock star.  I have prattled on about this quite a lot so I won’t revisit it now.  My other shorter term goal in seventh form was to work for a year after I finished school and then go to Europe and… er, hang out?  I can’t remember what that plan was for when I got to Europe, but I was pretty convinced everything would work itself out in an extremely cool (but completely unspecified) way.  However when the awesome wheel of fate ground against the little cog of my goal in 1991, New Zealand was experiencing its highest unemployment rates for the century (outside the depression).  Unskilled, slightly frumpy looking, inarticulate 18 year old boys with no work experience weren’t exactly being snapped up at this time by desperate employers.  After spending six months sitting around on the dole I enrolled in University, which is what I should’ve done in the first place.

I learned all kinds of things in this six to seven month period in 1991:

  1. The world doesn’t fall at the feet of  “unskilled, slightly frumpy looking inarticulate 18 year old boys”
  2. Vague goals formed in the heads of naive adolescents are hugely unrealistic, but adolescents are totally blind to this
  3. Despite my previous five years of hormones telling me the opposite, it turned out I actually didn’t know anything
  4. Being on the dole sucks

Even though these things seem obvious now, I have to be honest and say that finding out all of these things was a real shock, and sent me scurrying back to school for another six years.

I have been reflecting on all this recently because the unreality of youthful dreams is a  recurring theme with many of the boys I deal with at school.  Generally there is a point in my remonstrating with the recalcitrant youth where I try and find out:

  1. What they think will happen if they get kicked out of school, and
  2. What they want to do when they leave school for real

Unsurprisingly I suppose, my four points at the top of this post come up a lot.  Take being on the dole for example.  I have had quite a few conversations with students who think that they’ll be “sweet” if they take off from school because they’ll get the dole.  Aside from the fact that most of them aren’t eligible, my experience of the dole was that:

  1. It was quite cool for about a month
  2. After that it was quite clear how little money it really is if you want to be independent, and pursue dreams (let alone if you had to support other people), and
  3. The whole institutional process  of the dole office and employment agencies was just terrible, and filled you with despair

Can you explain this to a 14 year old?  No.  It fits with all other speeches on all other related topics (smoking is bad, drinking is bad, etc).  Efficacy of middle-aged man telling boy they shouldn’t be bad = zero.

So, what do boys answer when they are asked: What do you think will happen if you get kicked out of school?  On the whole it’s something like: “I’ll watch TV and hang out with my mates.”  In their heads I think this is like the ultimate fantasy.  Presumably they haven’t watched a lot of daytime television.  As for hanging out with your mates, well in my experience in 1991 when all your mates go to school/uni and you don’t it starts to get really hard to maintain those friendships.  School is more of a social cement than people realise.

Then there’s question two: What do you want to do when you leave school for real?  Of course a lot of people don’t know.  I didn’t know.  I realise I said before that I was going to be a rockstar, and/or live in Europe, but even in my teenage brain there was a space reserved for the idea that I would probably need to get a real job at some point.  Unfortunately that part  of my brain was empty.  Schools have come up with various solutions to this problem; it’s usually called something like careers guidance.  I used a careers advise service when I was having my six months off in 1991.  The service was called Quest.  They made me fill out a lot of surveys to find out what sort of job I should do.  I can’t remember what the end result was (dog groomer?), but the actual conclusion was that I should probably be at uni getting some actual training instead of bumming around at careers advise services.

Occasionally a kid does know what they want to do.  About half the time this involves playing football.  Now that sport is professional I suppose that I can grudgingly accept this as a dream, but I have to say it’s about as realistic as my dream of becoming a rockstar.  Aside from the fact that you need loads of talent, you also need to work very, very hard at it for a long time and know how to take ten years of set backs.  Unless you are a freak of nature like Jonah Lomu a professional contract with a sports team is unlikely to fall into your lap.  Still, at least it’s something.

So what is this “something”?  Looking back at my list at the top of this post I think that:

“Vague goals formed in the heads of naive adolescents are hugely unrealistic, but adolescents are totally blind to this”

Is the most  relevant point.  Because you have no real life experience and know nothing about the real world, and how utterly indifferent it is to you, your dreams as a teenager are built out of what you have seen in movies.  The basis of my dream of being a rockstar was largely built out of watching the movie The Doors.  Bumming around Europe and being cool was probably something to do with Before Sunrise.  They are dreams made out of smoke and mirrors.

What is the solution?  You can’t tell a boy with a dream no matter how silly it is that their dream is silly.  It’s mean, and they won’t listen to you.  You have to support the dream and try and put some reality into it.  The cost?  For every 99 students out of 100 that follow their foolish hearts it will be the 1) effort, (2) materials, (3) resources, (4) time, (5) risks incurred, and (6) opportunities forgone.

My job I suppose must be to try and make sure that education is not one of the opportunities forgone.

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