Today in the UK, students will be collecting their A-level results. Every year this prompts a slew of media coverage as excited 18-year-olds opening their envelopes to great delight.
Of course, we never see or hear coverage of those young people who are less excited, or even disappointed. This is held from us - rightly, perhaps, to save them from embarrassing exposure, but also perhaps to shield us from the uncomfortable truth that normal people also don't get 'A-star' grades.
There is also media focus on the transition between A-levels and the University system. The effect is to create and perpetuate a myth that A-levels naturally lead to University. I have been wondering about this today. How have we created a rite of passage that narrows so much at the completion of formal schooling?
It occurs to me that the link has been artificially fortified, perhaps for political reasons, since people in higher education do not place a burden on employment statistics - and of course, higher education itself has become a growth industry with fee-paying customers.
The flip side? It creates a cultural script, and sometimes a family script, which then falls upon the young person to fulfill. What happens, then, if a young person isn't ready, academically or personally, for University?
An impasse can be created - one part of the personality says "I want (need) to go to University, as that's what is supposed to happen to me". Another part - the inner, maybe quieter voice - says "I can't," , or "I don't want to".
Experience and T.A theory tells us that when people find themselves in conflict with their cultural or familial script, they can experience a deep sense of shame, as if something is wrong with them. The inner critic - sometimes called the "Pig" Parent - is the engine of this feeling of shame.
I remember coming face-to-face with this cultural and institutional script, when I went back to my school to collect my results. I knew I hadn't done as well as I had hoped; my two years had been dogged by glandular fever and depression. I knew my results had suffered. So it wasn't a surprise when the face of my biology teacher dropped, as I walked up to collect my envelope. He conveyed a kind of collective disappointment with his expression and his words. But I was determined that he wouldn't make me feel ashamed, as I had done already many times in that two-year period.
I made a quip about John Major (the Prime Minister at the time) who had 'only' 5 O-levels, and I observed that it seemed to be enough to get him along in life. I willed a smile to my face, turned, and left... and haven't been back since.
My thoughts today are with the happy ones, yes. The ones who have their future mapped out nicely. Great!
But my thoughts are also with those whose maps aren't so clear - just as mine wasn't. They will tread a different path, but it may be better - more autonomous - for them. The road less travelled, perhaps.