My stepdaughter left Philly under a cloak of darkness. A year + change of her college experience had rendered her lost and confused. Is that why grown-ups are going to prison on behalf of their kids? Have we lost sight of what education is really all about?
My siblings and the lion’s share of my friends all blasted through college in four years or less. The word “gap year” had not even been invented. Of course now, for the fortunate and privileged, it means touring through Europe, getting high in Goa, or tending to the elephants in Chiang Mai. Time off never tasted so good. That is unless your gap year was born of a burning sense of fear or anomie.
My “steppie,” as I lovingly call her, did not cave to the popular scapegoat of dropping out as a free pass to see the world. Instead, she took the difficult step of embarking on a search for self. Amidst a sea of volunteer pursuits (firefighting training, interning at a South Chicago needle exchange), she allowed herself one luxury – the pursuit of glass.
The hot shop is her happy place. As a recovering art major, her journey led her to a west Chicago studio called Art Reach, the home of Project Fire. Their literature describes Project Fire as “an artist development program that offers healing through glassblowing, mentoring and trauma psychoeducation.” My stepdaughter was more to the point. “We teach dudes who have been shot or jailed –or both– how to get on with their lives.” I assume she didn’t pick this up at college.
She does not get paid for her long days at Art Reach. There are no class credits to be converted when she returns to the more well-trodden path. Each week, after she logs enough hours assisting the instructors or cleaning the shop floor, they let her blow glass. To witness the focus and intensity on the faces of everyone in that hot shop is to understand a little bit more about a little-understood craft.
So as the adults in the room, have we learned anything at all? We look on in horror as the halls of Congress erupt in divisiveness. Our country is locked in a slow motion meltdown that burns as hot, whatever your side, as a kiln fire. Were one to waste fifteen minutes on search, you’d see that the people we have elected to uphold our Constitution hail from the finest schools in the land. Perhaps when you are scrambling to figure out how you are going to pay for your child’s higher education, or treading the uber fine line between help and hindrance on that college essay, consider who you are helping. No one wants a late-night call from the university psych clinic. Shouldn’t we just give our kids a chance to be?