Susan's Blog

Friday, February 27, 2009

Max-imum Potential

Yesterday Max came home with his high school course catalog to tell me what courses he would like for first semester of next year, his senior year. Senior year!! I listened and expected to nod and then go back to what I was doing (grading papers, of course) but his list of choices sent up the unaccustomed red flag. Max wanted to take “Film and Fiction,” as well as “Meaning of Life,” “3D Animation,” and possibly no AP math or AP English. He was thinking about an AP Computer course and of course he was going to continue AP French. But that was it for the AP!

I proceeded diplomatically. I was not used to directing Max this way; he really so often chooses well in most things. He has the innate good sense of his father. And so I was worried about what to do because I knew he would not like what I had to say. He’s almost 17, after all.

“Max, I’m concerned that you have so many courses that are — well — just kind of fun,” I began, referring mostly to the Film and to the philosophy course. I was willing to let him take the Animation, because he has been with that teacher for his entire high school career, and he loves animation and graphics, always has. I would love him to take those other classes but it seems to me that colleges would be looking for the students who really stretch themselves. And Max is fully capable of taking those classes, too. Moreover, he could take the film and the philosophy in college, once he has been accepted. This is what I told him.

He looked at me, not pleased. “Well, those are the ones I really want. All the AP ones are a lot less interesting. Besides, I don’t want to do things just to get into a college.”

I am so proud of his integrity. I told him that. But I also told him that in this case, I felt that it was not just about integrity. “It’s about planning so that you can get the things that you need, the things that are important to you for your future, ” I said. “And not closing doors too soon.” I have essentially told Nat — or his team — the very same thing. I hate closed doors. They are often stuck for good, and then you can’t get out. You leave it open, and you never know when you will use that opening. (Excuse the extended metaphor but I am in a rush to get to the gym and then to visit Nat at his school! I missed him last week while I was in California and my heart is just sore for him.)

“You really can take the film course at college; that’s what I did,” I continued. “Frankly, even then it was not very highly thought of — it was called ‘Monday Night at the Movies.'”

Max frowned, but didn’t dispute this. He then found that philosophy, on the other hand was being offered also as a AP History course, with classics such as Kant, Sartre, and Plato. What could be bad about that?

He also figured out how to do his 3D animation as well as the AP Computer class, which he had been leery of because he has not yet had C++ or Java. But I told him that there was no one at Brookline High who was more capable of figuring out the AP Computer class than he was. I knew from when I was on the School Committee, that at BHS the school policy was that any kid can take any class if he thinks he can handle it. No one is turned away from AP, etc. I told him that Ned could help him figure out C++ and Java this summer. “You’re the kid who takes apart computers and puts them back together so that they work! You’re the kid who created a server in our attic. You built a computer for your little brother. You design whole new lands for Uru (the online version of Myst.)!” I wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer. I did not want to see him thinking he could not handle something.

He eventually came up his list of courses, this time mostly AP and Honors. I don’t like pushing Max, but sometimes you have to. I don’t want to see him cut himself off when really the sky is the limit.


That’s why they call you “Mom”.

Good for you.


— added by Anonymous on Friday, February 27, 2009 at 9:47 am

Hi Susan,
you did the right thing.I eased up when I was a senior and it has taken me 25 years to undo the damage of not challenging myself to my potential.Max will thank you when he sees what your input helps him achieve.

— added by Anonymous on Friday, February 27, 2009 at 3:14 pm

I’m sorry, but I feel this mindset can be hurtful and goes against what you’ve said in other posts about the importance of never assuming that developmental windows are closed. It works this way for people with and without disabilities. I can just imagine someone whose high school classes or grades were not good (due to any number of circumstances) being discouraged by this, because it implies that those things largely determine one’s fate for one’s career.

— added by Anonymous on Thursday, December 24, 2020 at 1:05 pm

Yeah, I see what you mean. It was 11 years ago so I’m trying to remember what I was getting at. I believed at the time that he was capable of taking more challenging classes and that yes it does matter to colleges what you take and how you do. But, actually, Max got into his top choice school doing exactly what he decided was right.

— added by Susan Senator on Thursday, December 24, 2020 at 1:11 pm

Thank you very much for your response.

— added by Anonymous on Monday, December 28, 2020 at 5:19 pm