Stupidity

When I saw Josh on my morning schedule for a college physical, I was surprised. Pleased, but nonetheless surprised. Josh was a good kid with a quick intelligence for things he could touch or build, who always made it clear he didn’t care for school, but who had never been in academic difficulty, getting by with mostly Cs and occasional Bs. He worked some in his uncle’s electrician’s business, and I had always thought this was a good match for him. College was something he had never expressed interest in.

When his appointment arrived, clipped to the door with his encounter form was a pre-employment physical form for a local manufacturer, but no sign of forms for college. When I asked him about forms for college, the reply was a terse ‘Not going’ When I asked, why not, all I got was ‘Didn’t graduate.’  At this point his father volunteered that he had failed most of his classes senior year and didn’t have enough credits to graduate. He was going to live at home, work part time and take night classes to get his GED. After two years, they would charge him rent unless he was enrolled in the local community college.

I asked Josh what happened, and he shrugged. Since he was healthy the ‘physical’ part was quick and straight forward, so I decided to try to sort this out with the time left over. It turned out that he had done well with what he had done, but had not brought books home, done no assignments at home, and not studied for tests. His teachers had tried to rescue him by offering the opportunity to retake tests or turn in the assignments late for enough credit to pass and graduate, but he had not followed through.

I asked him why? He looked at me, puzzled, but didn’t answer. “I don’t get it Josh. I know you can do the work. You did well on everything you did. Why just walk away? Was there a problem with a teacher. Trouble with a girl friend?” He said, he just didn’t like doing the work. I pointed out that he wasn’t lazy, that his uncle worked him far harder than school did and he seemed to like that. “Yeah. My uncle, that’s good stuff. But the stuff at school. It’s just fucking stupid.”

A part of me was tremendously sympathetic. Lots of high school course work is pretty pointless. And certainly I have to do plenty of stupid things every day. I started to try to explain to Josh that stupid is an unavoidable part of life and that he would have to suck it up and learn to live with it. But I stopped. His parents and teachers had clearly had this conversation with him and he was immune.

I looked at the pre-employment paperwork in my hand, and at Josh, and then at his Dad. And I shrugged my shoulders and said: “I guess I agree. If something is really stupid, there’s no point in doing it. You can go home now. We’re done.” And I tossed his paperwork in the trash.

“Aren’t you going to do my papers?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“We both know you are healthy. Filling out the form is stupid.” And I opened the door and ushered them out, catching Dad’s eye on the way with a half a wink.

After they were gone, I retrieved the papers and filled them out. At the end of the day, I called him and asked if he was still interested in having his papers filled out. He was. I told him they were ready for him to pick up the next day, which he did. He got his GED with no trouble and two years later he was in the office for a physical for the local vocational school, planning to take courses for an electrician’s certification and start working for his uncle. He said he wished he had not been so stupid.

 


 

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