Barry Saunders

Saunders: Hey, high school kids, take time for lunch

By a show of hands, how many of you wish someone would come up right now, tap you on the shoulder and make you go to lunch?

Me, too.

The last time someone made me stop working was in 1989, when managing editor Terry O’Rourke came into the Post-Tribune newspaper newsroom around 1 a.m., saw me at my desk and tenderly said “GET YOUR @#$@&%^% OUT OF HERE!”

The newspaper was a union shop and working after one’s shift had ended was verboten. Calling an employee everything but a Moon Pie was not.

The Wake County Public School System is telling students at Enloe High School the same thing O’Rourke told me, only in a nicer way. It’s telling them to get out of the classroom and the lab and go to lunch. Some students at the competitive school reportedly have been skipping the midday repast so they can take extra classes.

To do less, they fear, might cause their grade point average and class ranking to slip, along with their chance to get into the college of their choice.

Buffalo chips, kids. College admissions directors are not transfixed by your gaudy grade point average. They’re more interested – said Thomas Griffin, undergraduate admissions director at N.C. State University – by what you learn and by how well-rounded you are.

“There are parents and students who will worry more about GPA and class rank. ... Most admissions people are more interested in students actually learning things” and how well they do in classes related to their major course of study, he said.

“We’re much more interested,” he said, “in students being students in high school and in what are they getting out of their courses.”

Anti-intellectualism – a way of thinking that views knowledge and education as overrated or, worse, as grounds for suspicion – has been perversely celebrated for several decades, probably even before Alabama Gov. George Wallace derided critics as pointy headed intellectuals.

Despite what Wallace and others said, education and knowledge both matter. GPAs matter, too, but not as much as you may think. Someone needs to tell these adolescent aspiring Einsteins who feel forgoing food, fun and fellowship in order to boost their GPAs a percentage point higher that, in the long run, it isn’t the most important thing.

Griffin said one’s GPA “is not the end all, be all” in determining who gets accepted. “We don’t just line you up according to GPA and say, ‘These people are in, these people are not.’ It’s much more nuanced than just who has the highest GPA. We use a holistic review. We look at extracurricular activities, work experience, the essays that students write. Extracurriculars and GPAs are important, but they’re not as important as having good grades. That’s the best predictor of college success.

Are admissions directors impressed, I asked, when a prospective student says, “I haven’t had a lunch break since ninth grade”?

“No,” Griffin laughed. “There is a lot of pressure being put on students. From an admissions standpoint, we feel that students should be students first. They need to grow and develop as individuals. They need lunch, they need recess, they need all those other times when they learn quite a bit about themselves and how they fit in.”

Ralph Keyes – author of one of my favorite books, “Is There Life After High School?” – has interviewed hundreds of former students about their lives in high school and since. He has an updated version of the book, which examines how roles in life change after graduation, has just been published. Have any ever, I asked, boasted of their GPAs 10 or 20 years after graduation?

“Never once heard of GPA in memories of high school,” Keyes said. “I've always said that what happens in classrooms pales in memory by comparison with what happens in hallways and lunchrooms.”

Got that, kids?

As the biblical proverb says, get knowledge. But with all thy getting, get understanding.

And get lunch.

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