Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Tests of character are never good. Character isn't forged at amusement parks or birthday parties, but rather in emergency rooms and dark nights of the soul. I mentioned in a previous post a student who is facing a test of character and I wanted to brag a little bit about her, although she will never see this.

JumpShot is an academically underprepared student from a rough social background. A lot of drugs, violence, and death cloud her personal history before she came to our school. She's a tough girl with a lightning quick break, a low cross-over dribble, and a relentless court attack that gets her in foul trouble on the floor. (I love basketball and have watched her
play with great delight.) Perhaps because of her background, however, she curls up and goes into deep denial when
anything is going wrong around her. She withdraws and disengages at the first sign of adversity, as if she is drawing
a curtain between her real self and whatever might damage her ability to get through her life. She has a guarded relationship
with authority figures, accepting counsel only grudgingly. I've heard she's a challenge to coach. I know she's a
challenge to teach -- I'm not sure how to guide her toward learning because I haven't figured out what it is that she wants to know.

So we reached an impasse. She did poorly on one exam, didn't take another one because she lost confidence in herself and didn't get in touch with me directly to arrange something else. At this pace, she'll fail the class. Now I know that she's financially unable to pay for extra semesters beyond her full scholarship -- to flunk this class means, in essence, that
she'll not graduate from college. So I proposed that she stay in the class, do a compensatory assignment, and hang in there to pass the class with a D. I offer the same deal to any other student who comes to me in such a situation, but
most people who are failing drift away and never ask for the help that they are entitled to or that I could (at my option)
provide to them. Her grades everywhere else have been ok and she's not in danger of losing
her NCAA eligibility, so I really didn't know if she would take me up on the offer -- some student-athletes don't care
much about their education per se. To my great surprise (and to her coach's amazement), she has not
disengaged but has battled back, working harder than ever for the "privilege" of getting a barely acceptable
grade because she understands that her graduation is on the line.

There's no pep squad to cheer her on, no band to play a fight song, and no one's going to write her up in the
school newspaper for this victory. In fact, no one else will ever know that in her room late at night, after all the practicing
and the press conferences and the bus travel and the game itself, she's playing a little one-on-one with Benjamin Franklin. And she's taking him to school.

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