SELF-SERVICE SCHOOL?

Will Johnson came upon the test paper quite by accident. His eighth grader had left her stack of school books, gym equipment, notes, purse, and miscellaneous effects on the back seat of the car, and when he stopped suddenly to avoid crushing her bike in the driveway, the pile cascaded to the floor. The red pencil marks caught his eye as he was collecting the debris in a basket.

The test covered a unit on personal adjustment. Pamela had not done well on it. Was it best to study: (a) on the floor in front of the TV, (b) on the kitchen table while mother prepared dinner, or (c) in a quiet place with good lighting. Incredibly, Pam had chosen (b).

What should a student do about a course he does not like? Pam had lettered briefly, “drop it.”

Only one question received full credit. “What are your social needs?” Pam answered, “Acceptance, affection, achievement.” Each was defined; achievement meant, “doing something better than others.”

In the interview between father and daughter which soon followed, Pam explained that she had goofed deliberately. Writing the test, she said, had given her a wonderful sense of achievement. Even her teacher had overlooked the advantages of study in the kitchen, for example. What could better satisfy Pam’s hunger for acceptance, affection, and a little food before dinner? It didn’t interfere with achievement in anything but math, and a remarkable combination of low interest and low aptitude made it clear that math was not an area of achievement for Pam. Her advisor had admitted as much. Why should it interfere with her delightful kitchen adjustment?

Her father’s response furnished Pam with a vigorous social experience of authoritarian parental control. She now studies in her room. At ...

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