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Guest Post: At the Conclusion of High School, A Choice

Should high-school graduates embrace academic freedom or remain loyal to academic structuralism?

THE FINAL DAYS of a thirteen-year odyssey move by with painful fluidity. Bound by shared hardship, old friends and new friends join together to cry, commiserate, lament, laugh, reminisce, recount, celebrate, and love. Grievances and awkwardness remain but are shelved in the knowledge that soon, very soon, the lives of these graduates will begin afresh.

Amid the transition, memories of high school’s thankless tasks and insurmountable expectations might fade, the discomfort erased by time. Yet, at the dawn of college, many a student might hope to discover a more dynamic approach to measuring intelligence, away from the rigidity of high-school curricula. Indeed, with high school coming to its long-awaited conclusion, each and every college-bound student is given a choice: break free from high school’s inflexible academic grasp, or become ever-more tightly squeezed.

Both have their merits. Academic freedom can breathe new life into a student disillusioned by the oppressive redundancy of high school. It can empower her to pursue ambitious projects in a way never before feasible. Most certainly, it opens up new paths of inquiry outside of a six-period framework. Still, burrowing deeper into a rigid academic structure—let’s call this “academic structuralism”—can keep rowdy students in line and give direction to the directionless. Academic structuralism promotes methodical thinking which can, at times, be more appropriate than the alternative: freewheeling contemplation.

But how to determine whether freedom or structuralism is the right approach? The question is fair-minded but misleading; it implies that your academic career is a binary, irrevocable choice, when it is precisely the opposite. The resourceful student must experiment and find which approach suits both her life and her aspirations.

The choice between academic freedom and structuralism is, at its core, a personal one. But the folly of many well-meaning parents arises when they attempt to make this choice for the student. Encased in the bubble that is our minds, no one else—not even the closest friends or family—can know our hidden desires, our starry-eyed dreams, our crippling fears. A free-spirited young man might secretly yearn for more structure and form in his unanchored life. A quiet young woman who, by all accounts, is meticulous and methodical in her work might have an as-of-yet-unrealized creative side begging for a taste of freedom.

So fear not, high-school graduate. You, who surely underwent considerable growth throughout your adolescence, once again have the chance to reimagine yourself by finding the right balance between structure and freedom. As your high-school odyssey reaches its final destination, embark once more on a whirlwind journey of radical reinvention. ▣


Ethan Wu writes at his blog Middle Ground and will be attending Cornell University in the fall.