Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I'm not supposed to work this year as a condition of my grant, but my advisor told me about a job opportunity, and I'm thinking about taking it. It's just a short-term thing, it sounds easy, and it pays ridiculously well. And it has me sort of creeped out.

The job would involve tutoring a fourteen-year-old kid in writing. He is, according to my advisor, "brilliant," and there's nothing really wrong with his writing. But his parents, who are academics and friends of my advisor, want it to be perfect, and they don't feel that he's getting adequate instruction in writing at his $15,000-a-year private school. This is only part of the academic work the parents have lined up for the kid this summer. My advisor mentioned in passing that his parents required him to read The Origin of Species, so I know they're assigning their own homework. And they apparently want me to run a pretty un-fun writing class for him. Their idea is that I'll have him read documents from U.S. history and write essays on them. Then we'll go over his essays. I'm sort of tempted to tell him to watch T.V. or play soccer or something for a couple of hours and then write an essay on that. I have a feeling that's the only way he's going to have any fun for the rest of the summer.

My immediate reaction to this is to be horrified. I remember what I did the summer I was 14. I had a job babysitting a 3-year-old kid three days a week. I took a slightly strange, left-wing acting class which I think was probably based on the theories of Augusto Boal and the Theater of the Oppressed. Through the acting class, I heard about auditions for a local teen-affairs T.V. program, and I got a part playing a punk rocker whose best friend is shot by a drug dealer. (It was every bit as absurd as it sounds. And it was both my first and last acting gig.) I went to a bunch of punk shows in parks and church basements. I went to the library and checked out books about South Africa and American history. I made mix tapes for my friends. I listened to the mix tapes they made for me, and then I ventured to the three record stores in my area that sold music from independent labels and bought albums, all the time hoping that the clerks thought I was cool and not a poseur. I dyed my hair. I spent evenings sitting in a park drinking peach schnappes with my dead-beat friends until the cops came and chased us away. (And yes, I am aware that this is probably not the best use of one's time when one is 14. Actually, I wouldn't recommend that anyone, of any age, drink peach schnappes.)

My parents paid for the acting class, but otherwise they had pretty much nothing to do with any of this. I read a lot, but it was because I wanted to read. During the school year, I spent a lot of time doing what I was told. Summer was when I did what I wanted and when I figured out who I wanted to be. It looks like this kid's parents see summer as the time they can mold him into the little genius they think he should be. And I'm not sure that I want any part of it.

I should reserve judgement until I meet the kid, though. Maybe he's crazy about the idea of reading documents from U.S. history and writing essays about them.

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