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JANUARY 7, 2013 12:39PM

College Bound or Bound to College?

Rate: 7 Flag

When you have children, there is a good chance that as a parent, you might be interested in their education. I grew up in a family that was first generation immigrants. My grandparents were new to this country and while they were from somewhat humble backgrounds in Europe, they were not without some experiences and worldly aspirations. They came here to do it better, "it" being living. They were motivated by politics and opportunity. 

My parents had their own achievements. At the time of their rise, the greater aspirations for young people was completing a high school education and then getting some kind of job and being self sufficient. Often expected to assist their families financially, this was also seen as just part of what was done at the time. When WWII rolled around, there was also an expectation. This came in the form of the government calling for enlistment. So, many did that too. My parents among them. My mother was a Wave and my dad in the Air Corps.

The expectations for us, their children, was a measure of success in something, and that included the current idea that higher education would equate to success.

All of us attended some form of college. My grandmother, bless her heart, wanted to be a great-grandmother and so my older sister, her eldest grandchild, was her project. She did not feel that she needed college. She tried to convince my father that it was unnecessary. My sister neither completed college, nor ever married. I attribute it to the mixed messages of the time, the role of women, the thought of the old country, mixed with women's roles in the sixties, the throwing off of traditions, as the women of that era tried a form of emancipation.

My brother, golden because he was a boy, did of course go to college and under all sorts of extenuating circumstances, graduate. He certainly got into his share of mischief and mayhem and did not stay out of football as my mother had hoped. She selected an all boys, Catholic college for him with the express interest of keeping him out of harms way and he merely started a tag football team instead. This was done because of injuries he received in high school. Blood clots and being laid up aside, he made it and married to someone he met at the nearby Catholic girl's college who was a nursing major. My sister who did not graduate from college managed to get him his first job...

My other sister went to junior college, then on to a major Catholic university where she had to repeat several courses which did not transfer. She managed to get her degree in nursing, get a job and get married. She married someone who did not finish college, seemed to have difficulty managing to stay employed and did not manage what money he did make well. She is deceased now and he seems in the money.

I, the supposed wunderkind, chose a state university, admitting into their honors program, merely so that I could live away from home right away. I could have gone to a number of smaller, private schools, as I had been accepted, but at this point, my mother had the idea that I would be better off under a program she designed, stay at home for the first two  years, etc. and I declined.

I did not come out of school with immediate job prospects, I did not get married that summer nor did I know what I was going to do. I punted. I had a variety of experiences which influenced my world view and those ideas led me down a path which still unfolds today.

When I did marry, I married someone who I felt was smarter than myself. I could have it no other way. He had an undergraduate degree and an MBA from a major Catholic university. He however was not a Catholic. He chose the road of his owning his own business. 

The long and short of it was two things. I did want my children to have the opportunity for higher education. I also wanted them to be able to support themselves in any situation. So each child had to have a job to help them understand what work was and how to do it. They also had to learn some kind of skill which would allow them to make money if there was a need. I can say that each did this. All attend or attended college, one is a graduate with a job, the next is a senior in college and the third is a junior. They each went to private school. They each attended on a combination of academic scholarships and grants, plus their own money, minor student loans and our assistance. They went to the school of their own choice for their own reasons. We stressed from the moment of understanding that this was their life, they needed to live it and to do that successfully, they needed to understand that they would be making their own decisions, their own paths. We told them we had their back but they needed to steer the big ship.

When I had my children, my first goal was to give them experiences which would indicate some kind of direction for them. I helped nurture what I thought was important. I invested time with them. We gave them a second language from their earliest years. We did not necessarily speak it, but it was familiar and cultural for us. We wanted them to have the language, so we worked on it by using technology available to us. We let them watch foreign language cartoons designed for children, we used bits and pieces of the language in their every day life, we took them to children's language classes at the local community college. We took them to the country where it was spoken. They continued on with this language through their academic years. Each used the skill in a different way.

We gave them a life long understanding of the value of reading. For many years their summers were full of page goals in reading assignments. Discussion of those assigned books, all under the guise that if we did not attain the goal, we would not be able to go on vacation. This worked for many years. We have two avid readers. We have one exceptionally skilled craftsman, who is an artist and writer. We have one academic over achiever already published in an academic field as an undergrad and one with a successful start in a foreign owned business.

I would say none of our children are geniuses. I used to tell them not to drink (when they were underage) or to do drugs. I told them their brain cells might get damaged and that everyone in this family was working with what they had, so no use throwing any away. There was no exceptional brilliance to begin with, only hard work, interest and self created opportunity. Interestingly, all three kids listened and understood. We did not have the issues with alcohol and drugs that other parents did. We also made sure we set a reasonable and good example. It was pretty easy to do that. It was also easy to point out to them at family gatherings the kinds of behaviors that we did not necessarily condone, and how following along that path could possibly throw you a curve in life. 

The New York Times had an column by Frank Bruni today ( on How to Choose a College. It is full of good advice and thoughtful ideas. Globalism is here, so selecting a college experience which embraces diversity and gives at the minimum a taste of that idea is probably better for a college bound person than not. College can provide a great deal of experiences that when bundled together make a huge impact on life direction of an individual. Live at home, live near home, go far away, go across the ocean, all of these kinds of determinations are just as important as how large the school is, will you be a number, or a person? Expense is a factor, where you can get in, what kind of reputation does the school have for your area of interest? Is it all really about the parties? The connections?

How do you make your life meld into this important experience? Do you go at it full throttle? It is a tool or is it the achievement? Think about that for a moment. It can be both. It is better however for college to be the tool in a lifetime of ongoing achievements. What education has to offer does not really make the person. In my idea, the person is enhanced by education, experience and the abiltiy to grow, adapt, change and innovate. Some of that is not on the course list. To passively suggest that higher education, your connections in Greek life will make or break you as a successful or content person is the wrong perspective. It involves much more, it is really about how it all comes together, and you can steer that ship so much better if you are the captain.

Teach independence, offer control to the individual and that person will achieve and do more with any education. College bound implies so much, it implies a readiness. Some students are not ready right out of high school and sometimes, learning other life skills is more important. Not everyone needs to go to college as much as we think they might. It is up to them, providing the opportunity, the access is what we can do.

Bound to college is something that is an individual choice. Our connections to our education can be forged by our parents and the influences of our teachers, but when it comes time for college, above all, we need to be bound to our our decisions, bound to college, the idea, the thought, the endeavor of our own educational experience. That is where the successful experience lies. 


 Copyright 2013 by SheilaTGTG55









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Just something I have been thinking about since this is the time of year when students start worrying about what schools they might be getting into. Higher education is not for everyone, but opportunity certainly is. We all need to understand that kids need the opportunity to be successful in life, to have work, and the ability to be self reliant.
An excellent column, parenting of young adults is SO difficult beause the world is so difficult. However it was also difficult when I got out of school in the last great recession in the late seventies and early eighties. most of us manage to muddle thru.
Amy: Yes. I got out of school in the late seventies and it was no picnic. We did the best we could and it is often not measured in income but in action. I am hoping that my children can contribute to society in remarkable ways, even if it is to be just being a good parent, a responsible citizen and a compassionate member of the world community.
I fear for any future generations. Our children are not in our world that had jobs right after HS and could go to college no problem. Colleges in the US are too $$ and when I see that Canada offers 30% off to already low tutitions one has to wonder how colleges and university really care about educating our youth.
Linda: Our system of education is so messed up. I think you can get an almost free education in most of Europe.
Having a positive outlook or being optimistic here would be dishonest at best. This is one smart and elegant thread, Sheila. R
Thoth: Thank you. I hope it can reach some people who need to help their children through the higher education process.
I bounded to college because it was expected, and after a couple years left and joined a mime troupe. Eventually I returned on my own terms for specific experiences I wanted and needed based on my work projects and interests. So I've taken undergrad, Master & Doctoral level classes, and was an artist-in-residence instructor for two year Masters of Education Program on Arts Enhanced learning, but have no actual degree. I would never advise anyone to do that. I can't believe it has worked out, but I'm three years from retiring and don't plan to get a degree now, though maybe I will...just for fun.
Mime: Everyone takes a journey, they make their own choices, they own them. Come what may, we live the life, no one else does. So, best to make the decisions based on who we think we are, what we think we need to do. There is so much to be said for building something in our own way.
Happy birthday! Funny how we spend so much time thinking about this subject, and is it not wonderful to have options that our grandparents never dreamed of? All six of us graduated HS and College - All of our children have had the chance to do both as well. Before WWII this was not the case for most of the US. Choice is the key word here - lucky to have one!
Snowden: Yes, choice and responsibility. The world has a lot of opportunity, especially if you think outside of the box and one way to do that is to get as much knowledge as you can. The school part is never enough. It just enhances the beginnings of all discovery. It frames understanding.
I admire your spirit and ease of encouraging our youth to pursue independence . College isn't for everyone. Some of us are bound to old ideas and these include education in higher institutions that often leave our children with massive amounts of debt and no real chances of gaining meaningful employment.

The fact that every child doesn't have the same opportunities for success bothers me and I think you've presented your perspective eloquently and you've also set forth what some parents have failed to realize before sending their kids off to college: challenges come with compromises.
Belinda: Thanks for reading. My hope is that parents realize long before college that the path includes them, the preparation for independence begins with them, and their courage to allow their children to make decision, to express their interests and to listen to them.
This really resonates.
My bright son has not yet wanted college. He throws himself into physical work. He knows (and he's pleased that) there's money held for him for higher education, if/when he's ready. I think he will.

Jon: It all comes when it comes. He has time to learn himself and become who he wants to be. College is a tool.