Way Down the Line

I was on Facebook and happened to see something from a really old friend, going back to elementary/middle school. Being fried after 12 hours of work, I poked around and looked at their friends, and found a lot of people I haven’t so much as remembered the existence of for close to a decade. And after looking at the people I knew, I looked at the people they knew, and found more people I knew.

There were a few little things I found interesting. A lot of people who were in my peer cohort are now married. That freaks me out. A lot of people I know from back then joined the military, too. Not a single person I’ve talked to in the past decade is in the military, so the discrepancy is interesting. Politics also interest me. People who had similar childhoods to me and who grew up in the same socioeconomic status as me developed wildly interesting political opinions. Some are Glenn Beck fans, some are hippies who blame Bush for 9/11. It’s interesting that having so much in common, people can still arrive at such varied political leanings.

But what really spurred me to write this isn’t the changes… It’s what hasn’t changed. With zero exceptions thus far, everyone is basically how I remember them. The people that I thought were good students now have successful careers. The people that I thought were total burnouts/losers in my youth are still that way. The people who were friendly, easygoing people have pics of them smiling with friends; the people who weren’t nice have photos of them shooting guns or looking mean.

On some level, I think this is neat. My childhood opinions of people from more than a decade ago turned out to be accurate predictors of them after college. But at the same time, this is horrifying to me. Based on superficial opinions of how studious a second-grader is, I can predict with astonishing accuracy whether they’re going to go to college, graduate at the top of their class, and land a great job, or if they’re going to become potheads with a minimum wage job. Surely, though, a person’s post-college career isn’t predestined before they turn 10, and certainly, someone can change a lot between the time they’re learning the alphabet and the time they’re studying calculus. But no one really has.

Why is this? Does it become a self-fulfilling prophecy, where those who aren’t good students in elementary school just assume they’re bad students and don’t try to advance themselves? Is it a simple question of class? And how important are the first few years of elementary school — was that just a manifestation of something else, or would forcing your 3rd grader to be an A-student mean they landed an awesome job? Surely, you’re not powerless if you have a 3rd grader who’s a bad student? It really boggles my mind that there could be such a strong correlation?

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