Tough Luck, Tough Love; Both of Them Come to Jersey

I could hardly wait for the season opener of Real Housewives of New Jersey! Those gals are brassy, and I like a little brass. But ballsy Jersey gals aside, I was particularly interested to see what became of Albie Manzo and his law school dilemma.

For those who didn’t follow last season’s RHONJ, Albie, the older son of Caroline Manzo (the mama piranha of the NJ housewives), was booted from law school for bad grades, the result, according to Albie and his mother, of his difficulty with reading comprehension.

Albie seems like a very nice young man and throughout last season I applauded the support his family gave him in dealing with the pain of failing out of law school. It was clear that he is loved, and that is wonderful. BUT, I had a real problem with those moments when support seemed to flirt with denial. Particularly when Albie or Caroline would suggest that Albie’s dismissal from school was somehow unfair, stating that his difficulties with reading comprehension weren’t his fault and should be accommodated.

Albie wanted to be a lawyer, I understand that. I’m an attorney and that fire was lit in me as a young teen. But wanting something doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. I wanted to be a country and western singer when I was young (cute, right?). I sang ALL the time, I wanted it, I dreamed of it, but no amount of hard work was going to make up for the fact that I’m not a good enough singer to do it professionally. That lack of golden talent wasn’t my fault, but that doesn’t mean somebody owed me something to compensate for it. Lack of aptitude in certain areas is just part of life. I grew up and began to move toward things I was naturally gifted in; finding your natural gifts is, in fact, a very big part of growing up. My desire to pursue a career in the law didn’t just come from my personal dreams of helping others achieve justice, it came from my natural aptitude for reading comprehension. After all, that is a HUGE part of what lawyering is: reading comprehension.

I’m not a powerhouse singer, I’m not likely to win a spot on American Idol. Albie struggles with reading comprehension, he’s not likely to complete law school or be an effective attorney. It is disappointing, but it is part of life. We are not all gifted in what we want to be gifted in and there’s a term for thinking that just because you WANT something it should be yours: entitlement.

Because Albie is good natured, it’s probably hard to view the position he took on law school last season as one of entitlement, but that’s exactly what it was. He couldn’t perform the requirements of his law school, so he was not entitled to stay. He was also not entitled to have the school write a letter saying that he could perform well at a different school, which is what Albie’s attorney requested that the school do, especially when the school probably knew full well that Albie wasn’t likely to perform better anywhere else.

We fail our kids (well, you know, kids in society and such, I don’t actually have kids) when we tell them, “You can be anything you want to be!” Because it’s just not true. You don’t have to low-ball your children; you should encourage them to be the best they can be and, in particular, to use their natural talents to the fullest. My short, uncoordinated 18-year-old neighbor kid ain’t getting drafted into the NBA (no matter how much he might want it) and his parents would be doing him a disservice by encouraging him to put all of his eggs in that basket.

And that was a very real problem in Albie’s case. A law student with a 1.9 GPA (Albie’s average at the time he was asked to leave school) is not likely to pass the bar of any state (the bar exam is, after all, basically nothing but reading comprehension), and is not likely to be an effective attorney (again, the skill most relevant to the foundation of lawyering is reading). In light of that picture, law school is just one small hurdle on the path to an effective career in the law. If that first hurdle is too much”¦? It’s time to be real. And real support means being honest.

I read an article last year in which Albie was quoted as saying GPA and LSAT scores aren’t good predictors of success in law school. As a former admissions committee member at my own law school I know this is wrong. GPA and LSATs are actually very good predictors of success in law school, they’re not the only predictors, but they generally indicate very well how a student will do academically. One might ask whether it was a mistake for Albie to be admitted to law school in the first place if his grades and LSAT scores weren’t where they ought to have been. That may be the real failure on the law school’s part.

But what of failure? Why would Albie perceive adjusting his plans and going into a different profession as failure? That wasn’t the failure, the failure was in not choosing a prospective vocation very well and in failing out of law school. But, you know what, failure, like discovering where you’ll flourish, is a part of growing up, part of life. And that’s why I was happy to see, in the RHONJ season opener, Albie saying with a smile that the setback had been tough, but that he was ready to move on, a pretty sharp turn from where we left off last season.

I was worried after last season that Albie would try to finagle his way into another law school, thinking there’d be no shortage of unaccredited or barely accredited schools willing to take $100,000 from him. Which probably wouldn’t have been what was best for him, or his future hypothetical clients. It wouldn’t have solved his problem. What does a graduate of a dubious law school with no bar membership do? That should have been the question on Albie’s mind when he was considering trying to attend another law school. Not, “How do I get back into law school?”

This single-minded focus on a goal that, as it turns out, was not meant to occur, is the part of the story that I was disappointed to see applauded. There’s a difference between determination and the mere byproduct of telling a generation of children, in unqualified terms, “You can be anything!”

Caroline seems to have come around on this point. In the season opener while discussing Albie’s change in direction, she was obviously hurt and disappointed for her son, as any good parent would be, but I was happy to see that she had gracefully accepted that Albie’s future wasn’t going to be what she and he had hoped, but that there would be some other valuable path for him to pursue.

Flunking out of law school, that was tough luck. I’m glad to see the next step was tough love. The Manzos appear to have accepted a hard defeat, but moved forward with the knowledge that a new, worthy challenge will come. Onward and upward, Manzos!

And since I’ve been so positive about this, can I be invited over for spaghetti dinner?

One reply on “Tough Luck, Tough Love; Both of Them Come to Jersey”

As a parent, I HATE it when kids and parents won’t accept responsibility for bad grades. It makes me crazy. I’ve had my boys tell me that they’re doing badly because their teacher sucks and I can’t accept that. Generally I can tell, from seeing them do (or not do) homework and from their past performance in a given subject, if they really are having trouble because of the teacher, but it doesn’t matter. Learning how to deal with a teacher who you don’t like, or one who doesn’t explain things the way you are used to, prepares you for dealing with bosses you don’t like. It’s all a part of learning how to do the best you can, no matter what.

And the parents who blame their kid’s failures on the school system? Forget about it. I’ve tried talking to some of them about how they aren’t doing their kids any favors with their attitude, but it never works. Now I just keep it simple with a “Really? I didn’t notice a problem when my kids were there…”

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