Fact? or Fiction?
The story “I Just Wanna Be Average”, written by Mike Rose offers up a personal account of how a testing mistake early in his high school days could have changed the course of his life for the worse and how these events and those that followed solidified his perception of the educational system as an adult. The author tries to establish credibility by writing in a first-person narrative of his life as a teenager growing up in early 1960s Los Angeles and also with his complex sentence structure and big words as an adult in reflection of his life during that time period. This authority is also emphasized by the intro to the piece about his misfortunes as a teenager and his many accomplishments as an adult as an award-winning author and college professor. By putting such a glowing review about the author in front of the piece, it sets up the belief that what you’re about to read is righteous and true.
Whether in whole or in part, I believe this piece is a work of fiction. I have done research of my own into this story that is supposed to be a recount of the author’s own history and found several untruths. First, there is no high school in Los Angeles called Our Lady of Mercy. The only school by that name in California is located in Merced, California. It is in northern California, a few hundred miles from Los Angeles. If the author wanted to change the name of the school to protect the privacy of the students and staff, then it should have been noted somewhere in the piece because now that I know that the school name was fictitious I am left wondering what other facts about his life are suspect.
Which brings me to my second finding. In the author’s own words for a piece he did for The American Scholar, he says: “Most of the guys who attended our school—Catholic schools were then segregated by gender—came from blue-collar families. Some of us, myself included, were poor, but the parents of others had worked their way into a comfortable version of 1950s middle-class life; a few came from families headed by professionals.” (“When the Light Goes On” 72) The author mentions in the original piece and in the article for The American Scholar that he went to a very small school. If the bulk of the student body is from a middle-class background, then the picture the author paints of a school in crisis, a wasteland of forgotten souls like he states in his original piece “No matter how bad the school, you're going to encounter notions that don't fit with the assumptions and beliefs that you grew up with - maybe you'll hear these dissonant notions from teachers, maybe from the other students, and maybe you'll read them.” (“I Just Wanna Be Average” 3) or “If you're a working-class kid in the vocational track, the options you'll have to deal with this will be constrained in certain ways: you're defined by your school as "slow"; you're placed in a curriculum that isn't designed to liberate you but to occupy you, or, if you're lucky, train you, though the training is for work the society does not esteem; other students are picking up the cues from your school and your curriculum and interacting with you in particular ways.” (“I Just Wanna Be Average” 3), would only apply to a handful of students. So if most of the student body came from “families that worked their way into a comfortable version of 1950s middle-class life” then statistically these kids would represent a sample of middle-class America that is also the majority of the workforce in the United States which happens to be the most law abiding and prosperous in the country. They would most likely be ordinary teenagers, not drug dealers, pimps, and street fighters. The latter of these two examples from the original piece says more about the author than the school. He implies that being working-class is something to be ashamed of, that “society does not esteem”. If this is how the author feels about the working-class, then...
Cited: Rose, Mike. “I Just Wanna Be Average.” Lives On The Boundary. New York: Penguin Books, 2005. Print.
---. “When the Light Goes On” The American Scholar. Academic Search Premier: Spring 2010, Vol. 79 Issue 2, p72-76.
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