December 20, 2010

College On My Mind

How important a factor should academics be in a child or young adult's life? The answer seems to be universally that grades and college should be top priority. I'm not convinced.

How many of us actually become rocket scientists, attorneys or veterinarians? Not many. Most of us live our lives in the middle class spectrum. We go to the office from 9-5 and do the best we can to pay the bills, save money, enjoy our lives and raise our children. With this lifestyle the most important factors become - am I happy? Do I feel fulfilled? Is my life making a difference to anyone else?

Our society focuses so much on earning more money that we overlook living a meaningful life with what we do have. The current state of the economy has taught me this lesson, and I only hope others are learning it as well. My family has had to whittle away luxuries until we are left with basic cable being the only real indulgence we have (and that only because we're locked into a contract).

But we laugh all the time. We work hard at the jobs we are fortunate enough to have. We donate to charity. We hug and we go for walks and we spend as much time together as we possibly can. The most valuable treasure I could ever hope to have is the love of my husband and my daughter.

What saddens me, and frightens me, is that there are so many families who don't have that. People who were, perhaps, raised to believe that happiness is contingent on how much you can earn. People who feel like failures because their house was foreclosed on, or they had to declare bankruptcy, or they can't afford to buy their sixth grader an iPhone.

Materialism is learned. We raise our children with the absolute best of intentions: I want my kids to have it better than I had. We push them into taking Advanced Calculus, we pay them for good grades, we scrimp and save so that they can attend college and then we are devastated when they choose not to go. Or drop out. Or get pregnant at 19.

Why is college so important? Because, to many people, it represents financial stability which translates to a happy life. Why, then, don't we just teach our kids how to live a happy life? Instead of Advanced Calculus why aren't we pushing them to volunteer at the homeless shelter? Instead of paying them for good grades why aren't we encouraging them to get an after school job so that they can begin learning a good work ethic?

As a bank officer I had many opportunities to participate in mock interviews at the local high school. They brought in managers from several fields twice per year to conduct interviews with the sophomores and give written feedback.

I would estimate that 85% of these kids, while they may have been intelligent and sweet, did not have the slightest idea what it takes to live in the real world. They'd show up dressed for prom (or, worse, dressed casually) because nobody had told them what constitutes appropriate interview attire. They mostly had vague ideas about what they wanted to do with their lives, and if there was a plan it was huge: "I want to get a medical degree from Johns Hopkins." When I'd ask what steps they planned to take to achieve that goal they stared at me blankly.

Most of the answers were along the lines of "I'd like to go to such-and-such university." When asked what they might like to major in, or (again) what their plans were to get into that school they had no idea.

We're teaching our kids that college is the magic pill that will lead to a happy life. How many people with college degrees are out of work right now? Many. My experience in the workplace is that work ethic and ambition get you ahead no matter what your academic background may be.

Please do not misunderstand me. I love college. I've taken countless hours of courses because it is wonderful to learn! I respect and admire someone who has the discipline to obtain a degree. I recognize that a person with a college degree statistically has a much higher earning potential. 

I would love to see my daughter devote her life to becoming an oncologist or a computer programmer. We've had a 529 college fund set up for her since she was born. If she gets less than a B average in high school she is going to hear about it.

But that is not even close to my top priority in raising her. If I can teach her to be happy, whole, caring and ethical I will consider my job well done.

-Kim     >>NEXT Check Out: Homeschooling?! Wait. What?


  1. Amen sista! I think people think Shawn and I are CRAZY because I am staying at home with the kids, which greatly affects our earning potential as a couple. Like you though, we laugh and love. Education is important, but so is reality and a happy balance is the key.

  2. Ditto what Sara said. I am so glad you are putting much thought into the details of raising your kids. Too many parents aren't thinking it through and parenting with intent, you know? Your kids already have an awesome advantage because of what you and Jerry are doing.


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