A Tale of Two Students

ED: The following post was published yesterday and then lost in Blogger's crash. I was able to rewrite most of what was here but unfortunately all of your amazing comments were lost, which kills me because they were brilliant and insightful as always. Please re-share if you wish.
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I was an intelligent child. Precocious. My brother was, too. I started off my school career in accelerated math and English, took AP classes through public High School. So did my brother. Except unlike him, I was a terrible tester. He aced every exam that was thrown at him, with little need to study. Meanwhile I would cram for weeks and get a D. For a straight-A student, it was pretty discouraging.

The year I took my PSAT I got a 520 verbal, 520 math (1040 total), which is like getting a D on the most important test of your student life, so my parents hired a tutor to help me improve my scores. I studied with that tutor twice a week for six months. I worked and worked and studied and studied, did practice tests every week, worked and studied.

The day I took the SAT, however, I felt the same multiple choice confusion. Every answer seemed like it could be the right one. At the five-minute "test's over" warning I was still pages behind. So I filled in B. E. C. C. A. B. E. C. C. A B.... until I ran out of letters to bubble with my #2 pencil.

Most likely, those were the only answers I got right.

Ironically x 890898, my SAT test came back with the IDENTICAL scores as my PSAT. 520 Verbal. 520 Math. In all her thousands of years of tutoring, my teacher had never seen that happen, she said. I laughed. I cried, too. But mostly I laughed. 1040 was apparently my jam.

Sure I had a 4.0 GPA and extracurriculars for miles, but none of that mattered because my SAT scores were shit. The only school I wanted to attend didn't accept me. I felt academically defeated. I also suffered (still do) from anxiety in large crowds of peers. College petrified me on a social level as well. So? I didn't go.

My brother did. Without so much as studying a minute, he scored high on his SATs. That combined with his 4.6 GPA got him in everywhere he applied. He went to UC Davis as an undergrad and is now getting his PHD at Harvard, where he will most likely graduate next year with his doctorate in Applied Physics and god willing, I will be there cheering for him like the proud sister I am.

Not because it's Harvard. But because he fucking did it. He did it the way all students should, on his own accord, with his own work ethic and natural ability. Not because he had an uncle who donated the east wing of the library. Not because he went to the right preschool. He did it ALL on his own. With the MORAL support of parents who rooted him on. Who continue to root him on. Who would have rooted him on regardless of where he went to school, much like they did me - alumnus of the University of Life.

David would have gone to Harvard anyway and I would have never made it even slightly close. Why? Because we have different strengths. Different smarts. Different priorities. Because his strengths are my weaknesses. But that doesn't make me less strong. Because I wanted MY life and he wanted HIS and here we are. Because every child is different. Even with rigorous tutoring, I was still a shitty tester. My brother, on the other hand, would have gone to Harvard regardless of what preschool he went to.

And yet, the pressure parents feel to ensure their children get into the "right" schools consumes our parent 'hood. Because we live in a competitive world. Because jobs are scarce. Because we're all afraid of the dark.

But here's the thing. Schools are schools. They do not insure brilliance no matter how many thousands of dollars are paid in school tuitions.

My parents were great parents. Still are. They supported us but never pushed. They were the opposite of "tigers". They understood that we were different students, different people with different goals. All three of us are successful in our (very different) fields because of them. Because they advocated for us to be our own advocates.

This week's Momversation we discuss a mother who sued her child's preschool because it didn't prepare her four-year-old for an Ivy League education and (cue: Carrie Bradshaw) I can't help but wonder who these children are going to become, their success measured not in their ability to perform as students, but in their parent's negotiation techniques. And beyond that, how can a parent blame an institution for her child's weakness? Some of us (me) are just shitty testers. And some of us (David) can sit down and ace a test without so much as cracking a book. And that's okay! Isn't it? I mean... I'm okay with it. I've embraced my inability to test as a good thing! After all, there are no right answers in life. I'm way ahead of the curve!



And also? It's good to understand that one has weaknesses. I don't want my kids to ever be without challenges. Then again, maybe I'm the crazy one because I couldn't give a single shit where my kids go to college or even if they go. Because 1. I don't think college educations are necessary in some cases. 2. BECAUSE THIS IS THEIR LIFE. 3. Because I'd rather they surround themselves with well-adjusted human beings in an environment that nurtures their strengths so that they can go off in the world as shepherds rather than sheep. 4. The most ignorant person I ever met in my life graduated with honors from Stanford and the most successful people I know dropped out of university. Mind you, this is Los Angeles, where academia and success don't always go hand in hand. But the future, I think, this will be the case everywhere. Because in many professions, scissors (savvy) beat paper (diploma) and confidence and "street smarts" are the new PHD. Because for some of us, an entry level position makes more sense than spending our twenties (and thirties) under mountains of college debt care of a "degree" that is nonsensical in today's market.

Do you know how many employers cared that I didn't go to college? Zero. Not the best-selling book series that hired me at eighteen to work as an editor. Not the marketing firm who hired me to pitch six-figure campaigns to Lucasarts. Not the website who hired me to oversee their entire editorial calendar. Not the non-profit I worked for for five years. Not the freelance gigs who hired me to write and photograph for them abroad. Not anyone. Why? Because I knocked the shit out of some doors. Because I worked my ass off. Because I still do. Because a college degree is not the only way to get a job in today's market.

I guess then, my point is that sometimes a parent is so fixated on her child's "well being" that she overlooks her children entirely. That as parents, sometimes, we are so afraid to fail, that we insist on paperwork and GPA's and college admission envelopes to prove we have succeeded.

In the eyes of most parents, I was a failure. I was a promising student who threw away her potential by not going to college. But to me, I was doing what I felt was right and when I sat down to explain this to my parents, they listened. They heard me.

Because they knew me well enough to trust I was right. Or wrong. Or both. (Probably both. Because every decision is the right and wrong one, depending on the day and the weather.)

From the outside, it might appear that we both were raised in different families. The IvyLeaguer and the drop-out, and yet, that is precisely why we are both happy, well-adjusted people. Because our parents believed we were capable of successfully navigating different paths. They believed in our well being above all else. Above society's expectations. Above their own personal fears. Above the judgement of peers, even family members. They were just as proud of my decision to forgo college as they were my brother for getting his PHD at one of the best universities in the world. And ten years later, we are both succeeding on paths we kicked with our own shoes, governed not by our parents' wants but by our own personal needs.

Because we had (and still have) great parents who shaped us to shape ourselves.

Much like my brother and me, Archer and Fable could not be more different and I hope that when the time comes for them to grow into themselves, I will be able to see them as the unique individuals they are, nurturing their strengths so that they are armed with a moral compass and the good sense to stumble confidently in the direction of their dreams.

Because as I've learned from my own mom and dad, a good parent wants "what's best for their children" but a great parent understands what it is that that means.

GGC

73 comments:

Jennifer | 12:23 PM

one of my favorite things you have ever written. thank you.

Amelia | 12:24 PM

AMEN! Ok first off, your SAT story is actually my SAT story...straight A student, apparently deceased at test taking table, poured my heart and soul into my essay and interview to the ONE college that I applied to and that worked because I found a college that was perfect for me.

2nd--I had the good fortune to hang out with a pretty daggone successful musician who was raised by his grandma. He told me that when he decided to drop out of high school to pursue music, she said that it was ok as long as he proved that he was booking gigs and practicing and actually pursuing music. She basically made him treat music like a full time all consuming job at the age of 15, and I don't know how old he was when he first sat on the stage with the likes of Emmy Lou Harris, but it worked. I always think about that story...that it's not about kids being brave enough, it's about us being brave enough to not worry about anything other than what's right for our individual family. My son is only 20 months and I definitely already see myself starting to get sucked into saying things like, "well we HAVE TO..." which is just simply not true. Someone asked me how high he could count yesterday and at first I internally panicked thinking, "he is SUPPOSED to be counting now? Oh no!" but then I laughed at the question, at myself, and said, "he doesn't count. That's not really his bag." Because what was I supposed to say? I'm all for a happy medium between structure and finding your own way...kids that are taught and witness the value of showing up for life, will likely do just that.

Anonymous | 12:30 PM

It is so funny that you wrote this post. I am a "success" story for my parents - they brag about my multiple degrees and my job. And I am miserable. I am under towers of debt and I want out. I want to get the job I wanted before they told me to "think practical" and I can't even remember what that job was. All I know is I never see my kid or husband, I hate my job and dread every second of it, and wish I had an out. Instead I did what my parents wanted and went to school, taking on so much debt I have to work this job for a while regardless.

I have a colleague that feels the same way I do - our parents grew up poor, so the biggest success for them was to raise kids who could make a ton of money. I do, by all accounts, make a ton of money for a woman my age. But I am not happy in my job, and it has affected parts of my life outside my job. I think you are right on - the answer is to encourage your kids to find the path to make them happy - knowing that happy will have a different definition for them than it did for you. As a parent we are all wanting to make our kids' lives "better" than our own - making up for whatever deficiencies we felt we experienced, whether at home or elsewhere - and I think some parents fixate on that - forgetting that what was deficient for them isn't what their child is experiencing. So, while my Dad found great satisfaction in working at a job that made a ton of money, and it took him 20 years to get there and he could stomp out the "poor" memories from his childhood - I was blessed with having a mid to upper income family and don't get the "thrill" of making money. Yes, money is good and necessary, but it isn't the same as happiness.

All this rambling to say - I agree - encourage your kids to be happy, and in happiness they will succeed.

Ana | 12:31 PM

I agree with Jennifer, one of my favorite things you've written.

I wish I had been as brave as you. I don't regret my college education, but I wish I had waited until I was ready - I knew I wasn't ready.

Archer, Fable and your two little ones are lucky to have such a smart and educated mama!

avb | 12:31 PM

From one 1040er to another, GREAT post. So true. xo

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 12:32 PM

"I'm all for a happy medium between structure and finding your own way...kids that are taught and witness the value of showing up for life, will likely do just that."

Amen, Amelia. Thank you.

JMc | 12:34 PM

Thanks for this! I recently found out my daughter has ADHD, not sure I buy it since there's so much talk of it being over-diagnosed and I don't want to make my comment about that, but it has made me see pay attention to her strengths and weaknesses so much more. I look forward to celebrating those strengths as she grows up and am so glad that the diagnosis, if nothing else, has at least drawn our attention to the countless things that she does well and that make her feel good about herself.

Roberta | 12:41 PM

Awesome, awesome, awesome post. We live in DC, in the city, and are constantly told that when our child gets older we will be moving to the 'burbs, "where the good schools are." Bravo to being creative, supportive, open-minded and learning from everywhere and everything the world has to teach us.

Mariah | 12:45 PM

I had the opposite parents. Dropping out of college? the BEST thing I've ever done. It taught me that the world didn't stop spinning when I wasn't trying to please my family or succeed all. the. freaking. time.

I might go back at some point, but up until now? Hasn't made a difference career-wise. Totally support the street-savvy vs. PhD philosophy.

avb | 12:50 PM

Another thing to add. I was an average student, a crappy test-taker, but I knew what I wanted to do and had a passion for it. I went to a decent college, but it wasn't challenging enough academically. The silver-lining on this was that I was so much time to intern and work in my chosen career path very early on. By the time I graduated from college, I had a diploma PLUS four years of nearly full-time work experience.

Socially, college as good for me since it brought me out of my shell, but everything I really learned during those years I learned from internships, work, colleagues, mentors, and my parents -- all things found beyond the ivy-covered walls of a University.

Dahnks | 12:54 PM

Couldn't agree with you more. I was also blessed with parents that let all of us children take our own paths that were right for us. My older brother was the brilliant one. I always struggled in school. My brother would sleep through class and still get straight A's. I would try but couldn't remember anything if it didn't truly interest me. I came from a poor family. Neither of my parents went to college. I had full intentions of going.. but as my senior year was looming i decided it just wasn't for me. I knew i would flunk out or drop-out. So after high-school (public) I got a full time job. The following year I decided to go to Vo-tech school or Trade School and learned advertising design. Before the year was up I had gotten a entry level job at a publishing company.. 12 years later I am still at that same publishing company managing two different departments. I can't say that I LOVE my job, some days I don't even like my job, but I love my employees. I'm 32 making pretty decent money with little debt.. My older brother went to college for 6 years. It was good for him. It fit him. He is only not as far ahead of me, career or money wise, only because he started later in the workforce than I. My youngest brother is not an intellectual.. he is and always will be a blue collar, work with his hands kind of guy. He also went to Vo-Tech school for welding. It completely fits him. And to my mother.. we all are success stories. We followed the path that was right for each of us. None of us with regrets.

I can only hope that I can do the same for my children.. I may not send them to public school depending on where we live.. but whether i pay for their k-12 schooling or not I will not push them into college if that is not what they want to do. It is not the schools responsibility to prepare them for life.. it is mine and my husbands. To support them and help them and give them the tools they need in order to be successful. What ever that may be for them, welder.. CEO.. housewife/husband.

Mandi | 1:01 PM

I REALLY needed this post today, exactly. Thanks you so much for sharing this.

Anonymous | 1:03 PM

I think you might feel differently once your kids are older. Sadly getting into college (any college and not just Ivy League) is way more competitive than ever before. Kids really have to be on top of their grades and have several extra curricular activities that they are good at to even be considered by many universities.

I'm very thankful that my two eldest children are in private schools on the east coast and Europe and will most likely get into decent colleges because they are being better educated than in most US public schools. Schools aren't just schools. Sad but true, whether you are a brilliant student or not, private school prepare students much better for higher education including study skills and test taking.

My youngest is three and there is no way I will put him in a public school in California. The school system in this state is one of the worst.

People can go on and live productive lives without going to college but they have a better chance of success if they have a degree. Why not prepare them for that opportunity?

I am and will continue to push my children towards higher education and keep them out of public schools. Once they are adults they can do what they want but my job as a parent is to give them all the tools and opportunities I can so they can make an informed decision on what they want to do with their lives.

I'm just a little older than you and I have to say we are raising our kids in very different times than when our parents raised us.

crookedlittlehouse | 1:03 PM

You are writing about the struggle my husband and I are having over homeschooling. I think it will be "better" than school, he thinks they won't be prepared for college. But you are spot on when you say it's just school. There are no guarantees when it comes to schooling, there are only individuals who need loving support from their parents. Thanks for saying this so eloquently.

lauren | 1:03 PM

I agree with so much of this, but I think it's important to acknowledge that so much of what you've described in your trajectory is (sadly) only possible due to significant privilege.

I say this through the lens of working with low-income students whom I encourage and, yes, even push, to further their education after high school.

For them, 'opting-out' of college means a world of limited opportunity and choices because of the neighborhoods they live in and the influences that surround them. Those circumstances matter.

I wish more children had the supportive parents you describe AND schools that prepared them in such a way that they could chart their own course with or without college.

Tour a high school in South Compton and it becomes clear that institutions have failed many of our children and that, for them, the only way out is a college degree.

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 1:07 PM

Lauren - OF COURSE I'm talking about families of privilege. Only a privileged parent would sue their child's preschool for 19k. Only a privileged parent would insist her children go to an Ivy League college regardless of the financial and emotional burden, hence the article this post was in response to.

ronckytonk | 1:13 PM

Hi Rebecca - I don't have kids but this post totally resonated with me, it was so well-said and thoughtful.

I too had parents who let me define myself and my successes and while I did go to college, I didn't go immediately and first worked with homelessness and low-income housing. Since school I've worked in a health clinic, been a bartender, a road-trip guide, in book publishing, and am now a music tour manager. Money has never been the defining principle and I hope it never will. My parents always stressed happiness over the dollar and I'm so, so grateful for that. Your mom and dad sound incredible as do you with Archer and Fable. Lucky ducks. xx

Armonia | 11:56 AM

Hi, a have an MD and a wonderful successful private practice, I was NOT stressed out in any of my schooling by my parents and they always just asked me to do my best. So i never did stress about getting straight A's by them even in college, because of what also you have experienced Rebecca, I was not that great in taking written multiple confusion tests, I was great on oral exams and clinical but the written fill the bubble ones no so much.

But with that being said, There were some of my peers who got frustrated with me because I was not an ALL day study person, and did not cry over the A+, I was very confident that my skills ( don’t get me wrong I did study but I am a very organized person )would get me thru, and my parents played a BIG role in that!
And the A+ pushers? well its funny how now most of them are not as good doctors as their grades were. They lack the people skills and the bed side manner that it takes to be a good caring doctor.

So I truly believe and nurturing your child and backing them up 100% in their choices and school projects. BUt forcing study and special schools?? I believe that the inner spirit is greater that that.

Rebekah | 12:20 PM

Hello,
I am a 17 year old girl still in high school. I just wanted to thank you for all you said.
I used to not want to go to college. I had other dreams, other carrer idea's that did not involve college. My parents are wonderful, amazing parent's that backed me up all the way, even if the path of my life did not include college. But whenever I told anyone else that I did not want to attend college, they were horrified. The whole world things that you have to go to college to be someone. But I am 100% college that if I decide not to go to college, I can make something of myself, and that something may even mark the world in a way better way then if I do attend college.

So anyways, THANK YOU for saying what you did. I think so many more people need to have the mind set you do, that encouraging their children and being behind them is way more important then good grades, good schools, perfect careers.

Alison | 12:30 PM

I wish I had been able to read the other comments before throwing my two cents in (I tried all day yesterday but never could get to them), but here goes. First a disclaimer - I work for a federally funded college access program. The entirety of my professional life is to promote postsecondary education to students, specifically low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students. That's where I'm coming from.

I majorly disagree with your opinion on whether a college degree is necessary in today's (of the future's) job market. Your experience is not even close to the norm for most kids in America. You knocked on doors, you got your foot in, and I'm not trying to take anything away from you in saying this, but, as far as I can tell from reading this blog over several years, you grew up privileged in a way that most kids don't. You're white. You're at least middle class. Your parents are educated. Essentially, you knew which doors to knock on and how loudly to do it. Kids growing up poor in America do not. Not even close. Sure, there are exceptions, but they're just that - exceptions to the rule. In this country, today, tomorrow, probably forever, a college education (college being anything after high school - trade school, Harvard, whatever) is the absolute best way to go from poverty to making it. Period.

I guess I'm just saying that I think it's dangerous to equate your personal experience of "making it" with the experience millions of American kids who did not have the same advantages as you and thus need to continue their education beyond high school to even get on remotely equal footing with where you started. You knew that college was an option - the norm, even. For kids growing up in poverty, society says college isn't for them.

All public schools are not created equal. Yours prepared you for life. Great. But according to the Department of Education, 82% of schools in this country are not adequately preparing kids. That's astonishing.

So, yeah, consider a kid's individuality, abilities, strengths, weaknesses. But encourage more.

I don't mean to get on a soapbox about it, but it just really bugs me when people say that college isn't necessary. The average national salary for a HS graduate with no college is $28,290 per year. With a two year degree it goes up to $36,362, and with a Bachelor's it's $47,240. To me, that's a difference that matters. That's the difference between pay check to pay check and the ability to really live - to work at something you love, to take vacations, to support your kids, and to maybe one day have the chance to even consider whether getting your kid into private pre-school is something you should worry about for their future.

chisparoja | 12:31 PM

My test taking ability and SAT history match yours completely. I got a 1080, was grounded by my parents, retook the test and got.... a 1080. I am not sure I agree about the job market though. Especially in these times when there are less jobs than people, that degree will get you the job and usually with more pay.

Blythe | 12:48 PM

First, may I say an AMEN to so much of what you said that speaks to me. Parents who know their kids and listen to them will guide them toward success, whatever success means to that kid.

With that said, I'd like to acknowledge the value of higher education as a means to becoming an interesting and educated thinker, not just a hedge fund manager or an attorney or a professor or whatever label/job that constitutes fame and fortune. College certainly isn't the only means to that end (you, Rebecca, are a perfect example of that), but it's a valid one, especially for someone who comes from a family or a community that doesn't encourage diverse thought. College can be the door that opens the mind. The rub, of course, is whether the price tag has become so inflated that it becomes almost impossible to afford that mind-opening experience.

I fear that all of the hand-wringing about getting into the preschool that puts a kid on the path to Fortune 500 success distracts from the everyday beauty of education - reading, learning, and being guided by amazing teachers and professors and mentors. That can happen at Yale, and it can happen at StateU and it can happen at College X that no one's ever heard of (and it can happen on the train in Bulgaria, too, right?!).

Anonymous | 12:55 PM

Loved this post. Nodded vigorously throughout. I wanted to add my perspective in that I am a person who happened to be saved by the right school (at the right time). I attended K-8 public school waaaay up in the mountains of North Carolina. Suffice it to say that it was rough. A backwards, overly-religious, redneck horror show (though I didn't know it at the time, and loved it as the only thing I knew). My parents made the decision to send me to boarding school for high school and lo, what a shift! I remember calling my mom after the first day and sobbing into the phone "I finally found my PEE-EE-OOO-PPLE!" My spirit uncoiled over the next few months, and the identity coaxed out of my tortured soul by that blessed, blessed school is the same one I'm rocking today. I went on to attend a kick ass college and ended up going international for my doctoral work. Who knows where I'd be without those four years of boarding school... probably still living in my mountain town, selling knives. I'm not saying boarding school is for everyone, but I think whatever path you take should be the one that awakens that deepest part of you and makes you feel most alive and well. That is all! Much love!

margosita | 12:58 PM

And college isn't going anywhere!

I was reading an interview/conversation between Dave Eggers and Junot Diaz, the other day. And in it Juno Diaz said something that I've been thinking of a lot, lately. He says-

"And what’s sort of extraordinary about this is that it’s not fucking rocket science—young people need a tremendous amount of support and they need a tremendous amount of conversation and people to listen to them. And all you’ve got to do is just show the fuck up [laughter] and actually give a shit [more laughter]."

It is the context of a larger point on how adults and children tend to be isolated from each other (outside of families and those who are paid to work with kids), but it keeps resonating with me in other contexts, too. People seemed so fixated on getting their kids into the right schools or building the right resume that they forget that all young people really want is to be heard and taken seriously. Of course I thought of it reading your post, too.

Anyway! Now I'm rambling a bit. You can read the whole interview, if you're interested.

JCF | 1:00 PM

Oh, I have so many other comments that I could make, but I'll just leave it at this:

That mother who sued the school over her preschooler? She (and other parents who were far less controlling and narcissistic, but still obnoxiously so) is the biggest reason I stopped teaching high school. I worked at a high school in an affluent area, and the amount of control that so many parents tried to exercise of their children nearly drove me to the brink of insanity. Crazy.

Gabie | 1:17 PM

I mostly agree with Alison. I live in Jackson, Mississippi and can not imagine how I would be living without my education(Master's degree in Social Work). Even with a master's degree and a license, which is required for most jobs, most social workers can only expect to make around $45,000. I make more only because I have a clinical license and was lucky enough to score a federal job this year. We are by no means wealthy, but we do fine for the norm around here. I worry about my older brother who lives in Huntington Beach, CA and struggles as a bar tender, and I worry about my younger brother who decided(because he gave up trying to pass college algebra) to go to barbering school. A college education is almost necessary in order to live comfortably here.

Uncle David | 1:17 PM

Alison,

I think you make an incredibly important point about the difference between growing up the way Rebecca and I did (this is her brother David, by the way...hello!), which was in middle-class suburbia with good public schools, and the way that many other people grow up, such as in the way you describe.

My comment to you is only that I think you misunderstood the intent of the post. The point made here, as I understand it, is that the most important things are for a parent to be in tune with what their kid wants to do with their life, and not to stress out if that doesn't involve four year college. Not all 18 year-olds have a well defined passion, but those who do should be encouraged to follow it. People have the best chance at succeeding if they are doing something that they believe in.

You are absolutely right that a college education is the most reliable way to move up in the world. But I don't think that your argument and Rebecca's are mutually exclusive.

For instance, lets say a high school senior wants to become a chef, cooks constantly at home, shows real drive toward cooking, and wants to apply to cooking school, but their parent insists that a four year college education is the only option they'll allow, because for the average kid has the best chance of succeeding. To me this seems like a lost opportunity to allow the kid to follow their passion, while forcing them into a situation that they aren't excited about. And I don't think this story is exclusive to any one income level.

Most of the time, the standard, two year or four year college path will provide be best outcomes, but its important to look at the individual, rather than statistics, to see which path that he or she belongs on.

Rebekah | 1:29 PM

Your post made me go "Yeah!" and "No!" at the same time. Which is probably a good thing, right, because you are challenging a status quo way of thinking and your perspective is extremely insightful yet strikes a nerve -- which probably doesn't surpise you. I'm the youngest of seven children and we grew up quite poor. My mom is always so proud that all seven of her children went to college (her oldest, who she had at 19 as a single mom in the late 1950's (!!) ended up going to Harvard and then Princeton for his PHD. And after having seven kids, she worked nights and managed to get her own PHD by the time she was in her 60's. She took an unusual and difficult path, all the time being told she couldn't, and I am so proud that she accomplished that against all odds and now works to help special needs kids in Public schools. My sister had a baby at 17and couldn't go to school, but then years later she went back and got her Masters in Jazz studies, she's a musician and makes no money but that was huge for her as well that she was able to find a way to back to school, not just because it helped her in her work but also because 'they' said she never would, given her background.

I want my kids to go to college, not so they can earn x percent more than if they only graduated highschool, but because I never want them to stop learning. Of course college is not the only way to learn, and many go to college and don't learn anything, truly. However, the opportunity I had to go to Public University is one I cherish and always will. There are so many people that would give anything to be able to afford or have access to higher education. I believe it should be FREE and that the emphasis should be learning not career prep.

Anyway, my two cents for whatever it is worth. I agree college is not for everyone, and that all children are different. My six siblings and I all took wildly different paths and I'm grateful my parents encouraged us in our decisions to be passionate about what we loved, whatever that was/is. It's clear you are also committed to supporting your children to develop their own 'personhood' and that is amazing.

Anyway -- long winded, sorry! Had to post my thoughts!

Sara | 2:02 PM

I have to agree (mostly) with Alison on this one. My parents backed me up with whatever I wanted to do and didn't necessarily make it seem like college was the only option, but they also made it very clear that it would help. Help in the sense of getting a job that could pay to live comfortably (not rich even, just comfortable).

There are a ton of success stories out there about people who have skipped college and gone on to do great things, like you for example, but that is usually the exception rather than the rule. I'm graduating next week from UC Berkeley with a really high GPA that I have worked my ass off for but even still I haven't been able to find a job. I consider myself lucky to even be getting interviews because I know so many other people who have submitted a bunch of resumes with no response. The fact of the matter is that in the current job economy, there aren't many jobs out there for anyone. And the people who do get the few jobs that pay decently will most likely be the ones with higher education.

So yes, push your children to develop the skills and abilities that they are best at, but it would also be wise to give the facts about what a college education can provide. Money isn't everything and it certainly doesn't buy happiness, but it is necessary.

Mammy P | 2:22 PM

I really hope I will be able to encourage my kids towards their natural life paths, but here in the UK they can legally leave school at 16 if they want -- the way it works is that at that age, they decide whether to leave school and get a job or stay on for an extra 2 years to obtain the qualifications that you need for university.

I really think 16 is far too young to be making decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. We plan on encouraging them to stay on and get some kind of higher education -- whether it is something academic or something practical remains to be seen.

BUT - having said all that, I've got 75% of a degree that I will never finish, and at 35 I've not long finished paying it. I'd rather my boys use their early twenties to blast around the world and see a bit more than just our little corner of it.

Having said all THAT... they're just 6 and not quite 2 - and thinking of them old enough to even walk to school by themselves?

*HEAD EXPLODES*

Anonymous | 2:31 PM

I live in NYC and pay $12K for pre-school. I can afford it. I like the school, kids, teachers and parents. My 5 year old goes 5 days a week, 9am - 1:30pm. Next year is private K at $36K.

The reason for the competition is more young families are staying in NYC, rather than fleeing to the suburbs. After accepting siblings (and twins!)and trying to balance the male-to-female ratio; in a 15-kid class there are just so many spots available.

Private school directors have their pick of families. They openly tell you they want parental involvement and are looking at the whole family, not just the kid. So, it's ironic that by suing their pre-school the ERB family has effectively dinged themselves out of the process and are a family no private school needs to deal with when there are at least 25 other great kids from great families waiting for a spot.

It's our family's job to ensure our kid has compassion, kindness, drive and empathy. Private schools in NYC offer a superior education, not a guarantee of happiness. If they guaranteed happiness, I'd go back to school!

Alison | 2:45 PM

Yes, David, fair enough. I agree that what Rebecca and I are saying are not mutually exclusive, and I'll certainly admit to being fairly reactive (overly so perhaps) simply because in this political climate the value of a college education is so often scoffed at and/or ridiculed that I get a little... tense.

I think we all just want to see kids raised and educated in situations that allow them to discover, embrace, and follow their passions wherever they may lead, regardless of how much money their parents have in the bank.

It's brought up another interesting point for me which is that this post and this conversation is so much about the overbearing parent who wants so desperately for their kid to succeed that they push them onto an academic path that isn't right for them, whereas the hand-down most common question we get in my program from the teachers and counselors we work with is, "How can we get parents engaged in their child's education?" So... yeah. Thanks for your response!

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 3:00 PM

First. Sorry it has taken me so long to respond to some of these comments. Been away from my computer all day.

Second. I hate to reiterate what I said in yesterday's comments but feel like I should (for those who didn't read them) specifically to Alison.

My brother pretty much summed up what I would have said anyway but yes, I agree that college education is paramount for MANY but parents are SO quick to box their children into a system that doesn't NECESSARILY work for everyone.

I have a friend who spent tens of thousands of dollars on an education she wasn't interested in. She wanted to do makeup instead. After college she went to beauty school which she should have done from the get. But her parents didn't approve.

There are MANY ways to get an education. I took night classes at UCLA extension and OTIS School of Design when I wanted to learn something. I also read books on informative subjects so although I didn't go to proper university, I would still be educated. I traveled the world. I made my own curriculum...

My point of this post is that (like everything else) this is a complex subject but I think my experience is an important one to share.

I also want to say that this post was in response to a woman who sued her child's school for 19k. So, yes, I am referring to those of privilege.

I grew up (like I said) in a VERY supportive environment and that made ALL the difference. This post wasn't about college so much as it was about parents and support and unconditional love and looking BEYOND their own experiences and into the eyes of their children who might want different things, a different life, travel on a different path than their parents, peers, friends...

I wanted to be a writer my entire life so I wrote. And I was fortunate enough to be published early in my teens. And that gave me confidence that I could pursue writing as a career. I can't even imagine who I'd be or what I'd be doing if my parents told me "no! that is not what YOU should do. That is not WHO you are," which I've found, as I've gotten older is usually the case.

Because parents are scared. Because they want what's best for their kids. And again, the point of my post? Is that WHAT'S BEST for one is not what's best for all.

xo

The Hojo Family | 3:02 PM

When I was looking for a preschool for my son and then for my daughter, I looked for a play based school. At ages 3 and 4, I wanted them to learn through playing. The way I see it, they are going to have atleast 13 more years of school ahead of them (more if they go to college) where they are going to have to work their butts off. I wanted them to start off slow and enjoy school so that they are looking forward to elementary school and not dreading it. They are only so little and carefree for so long, why rush it.

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 3:02 PM

Also, thank you all for sharing. I think this is SUCH an important discussion and I value every perspective.

Also ALSO, I love you, Uncle David.

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 3:06 PM

(Also, I just re-read my comments and there are a million typos. My apalogeeyes.)

Anonymous | 3:22 PM

I was a great student, very curious and smart but bombed my SAT tests. (I think I was a 1040, too). I had early acceptance to UC Davis, and received a B.A., but did not have the confidence to find my way to a rewarding career. I learned a lot at the university but felt very disconnected from where it would take me in 'real life' (after college). Looking back, I realize how much more guidance, mentoring, etc. I needed.

I volunteer at an urban middle school (in SF) and totally see where Alison's comment is coming from: I'm on the front lines where children are 'lost', for a variety of reasons. When these kids are assisted along the way to higher learning, and they need lots of assistance, they then reach a more level playing ground.

It is crucial for all kids to have that consistent guidance along their way- shoot, I needed it and I had an easy time of getting into college.

Today I had a short talk with one of the 6th grade boys who is failing... for the second time...and simply told him that there's no need for him to fail since he's an intelligent person. I added that he has to put the effort into it, but when I told him he was smart, he smiled nervously and backed away from me; no one has every told him that before- that broke my heart.
Karen

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 3:33 PM

Also, Alison I responded to your first comment but not your second and want to tell you I TOTALLY agree. Especially with this:

"...this post and this conversation is so much about the overbearing parent who wants so desperately for their kid to succeed that they push them onto an academic path that isn't right for them, whereas the hand-down most common question we get in my program from the teachers and counselors we work with is, "How can we get parents engaged in their child's education?" So... yeah. Thanks for your response!"


This post was in response to the overbearing parent who is (typically, I would assume) middle/upper class... who sees academic success and success as the same thing. There are so many cases of people thriving in educative environments that aren't universities. Trade schools, beauty schools, internships in fields where experience trumps education (we have MANY here in LA. Lots of incredible jobs for on-set electricians, for example, makeup artists...)

Anyway, I'm reiterating here to say that you and I are (for the most part, I think) on the same page even though we're clutching different books.

Alison | 3:38 PM

This is a great conversation. Seriously. And for the record, I'm a high school drop-out from a middle class family who eventually attended and graduated from a hippie college that doesn't give grades. I also always wanted to be a writer, and lo, I am a person who is paid to write all day. About college. Aaaannnd my sister is a makeup artist who didn't finish a four year degree - she dropped out to purse the beauty thing. So. There you have it.

I think we can agree to basically agree!

Sydney | 3:46 PM

Ah, I *wondered* what happened to this post!

My parents were totally hands off academically; I went to state schools, was a straight A student and went to one of the best universities in the country. This approach worked well for me. Everything I've achieved has been off my own back, although, like your brother I am naturally gifted at exams.

I've seen the pressure that some families put on their children to get into the equivalent of Ivy League over here in the UK (Oxford, Cambridge, Medicine, Denistry and Veterinary Medicine), and I think it is ABSOLUTELY INSANE.

I think it's sets up children for self-esteem issues if they don't achieve these arbitrary goals that the parents have been set out for them since birth, if they don't test well, if they have different ambitions.

I don't think you can, or should, put anyone in a box like that.

I am so glad you're having more babies. The world needs more thoughtful and supportive parents like you.

Anonymous | 5:59 PM

As someone who is JUST NOW finding her footing academically at the age of 26 I have to completely agree with a lot of what is being said here, especially what Karen had to say about kids needing assistance and support. I had absolutely NO pressure or guidance from my mother because she was too busy working a low paying job to take care of my siblings and I and without anyone to nudge me in the right direction I had absolutely no idea how great the value of an education was. More importantly, without that education I had no idea what I would do in order to make it in the world because I didn't really have a clear sense of who I was as a person and no real skills.

What I'm trying to say is, there is a huge difference between someone who comes from a supportive home that enables a young person to grow into an individual who is prepared for the workforce WITHOUT college, and then there are the kids whose parents are too busy (or just don't care enough) to provide the support they need in order to thrive as an adult without formal education. Those kids I believe are the majority of people who don't attend college and as a result end up working menial jobs with low pay.

Everyone has a different story and obviously you were blessed, but I do agree that a college education is imperative now more than ever. A lot of what is being said here hits very close to home for me and I just had to throw in my two cents.

I hope not to offend! <3

Linley | 6:52 PM

Thanks for voicing this. I'm 17, and I think that a lot of parents (mine included) want to convey this, but don't have the words. College has always been the assumed for me, and it's what I do want. However, if I didn't want to go that route, I think my parents would be ultimately supportive.

Also, I'm on track to be valedictorian of my high school class with over half of my classes having been taken at a community college, and I never even set foot in preschool. Take that New York! =P

Anonymous | 6:59 PM

That post was awesome. I too kind of mess up those multiple choice tests. It sounds like you and I have the same past. Now I'm beating my head against the MCAT trying to get into med. school. Let me tell you, I wish, I wish I could destroy the multiple choice test, it sure would make one part of my life easier, but then it probably would complicate the other parts.

Again, thanks for sharing.

Anonymous | 7:18 PM

"What I'm trying to say is, there is a huge difference between someone who comes from a supportive home that enables a young person to grow into an individual who is prepared for the workforce WITHOUT college..."

From Anonymous above- that is exactly right!
Karen

Catherine | 7:57 PM

I totally and completely agree with supporting your children into growing into the person they want to be. I was also a terrible test taker. Honestly, my negative feelings toward the American educational system is inspiring me to strongly consider homeschooling my children (and these feelings do not reflect on the actual teachers but the SYSTEM as a whole. Especially in Florida. Where I live). I do realize, of course, that I have this luxury, being a SAHM in an upper middle class life, and I am appreciative of it every day. I hope, more than anything, that my children grow up realizing how absolutely lucky they have it. The challenge will be finding obstacles for them to face along their own growth and path through education.

Milynda | 9:53 PM

This was like reading my own story. I did very well in school. I graduated with honors with barly cracking opena book but when it came to the ACT I flopped. When I started college I did the same. I could do the homework and understood it but when handed a test. I just went dumb. I dropped out and started working at a bank as a teller. I loved it for a while. Only while it was a challenge but after being there 7 years I was tired of it but could seem to get away. So I decided to take a night class and try to finish college. I have to say when you have a goal to get out of a hole you feel like you are stuck in it is a renewal. made A's and B's and actually enjoyed it. Once I found out I was pregnant it put that on hold, but I have every intention of finishing. Not because of finding a job but because I found something i enjoyed. most everyone i know who got a degree is now working in a field that has nothing to do with what they went to school for. In fact a lot of them are working in positions that do not even require a degree at all.

jonne k | 1:17 AM

Hi Bec, I see where you are coming from and what motivated your post. And I agree entirely with the message of your post from a parenting perspective. But as first generation college student and a teacher I did want to add another voice and perspective. As Alison mentioned, one of the most important issue in our society and globally is people *not* having access to college education. in the US, many if not most people either don't even have that option to attend college or struggle enormously to piece together classes while holding down full time jobs. On top of that, many immigrant students are barred from attending college because they don't have documents. As a teacher, I have seen how heartbreaking and devastating for young people and their communities not to be able to continue their studies. Access to higher education is the key for our next generation -- and our whole society. It is not a question of these students choosing a different path. Higher education a path that is systematically blocked for so many groups in our society. And, as a result of all that lost potential and heartbreak, we all lose out tremendously.

Misha | 7:27 AM

Thank you, Rebecca, for voicing this view, which I know you have before. There is a documentary, "The Race to Nowhere," that supports your view--the pressure and competition does not make our kids smarter, happier, etc.
Here is a recent panel discussion after the film:

http://www.endtherace.org/video/panel-discussion-atlanta

If we want to raise kids who are critical thinkers, we need to question things ourselves. If our parents pressured us to 'achieve,' if a love of learning was drilled out of us by tests and bubble sheets, then shouldn't we try to figure out a better way for our kids? Why become the enforcers of a broken system? Let's help our public schools get better and help our children enjoy learning itself rather than seeing it as an ends to status and a narrowly defined sense of 'success.'

Anonymous | 7:48 AM

I know this isn't about college, but about knowing your kid, or maybe more about believing and listening and realizing that your child may know herself. However, I was wondering, how does this philosophy apply to the young child and children? Do you anticipate sending your children to the same schools or will you seek out elementary schools based on what you think may be right for each child? I ask because when they are young, I don't think one place fits all, yet it isn't the child asking in this case, but the parent choosing.

Nikki | 10:47 AM

I'm a high school dropout. I had a horrible experience in high school with teachers who didn't care to find out why a student who was supposed to be in the gifted program had checked out.

So I dropped out, never took the SATs, went to community college on and off for 10 years (still haven't even completed my 2 year degree). And my life ROCKS. I had a pretty rockin' "career" as a web developer and trainer for over a decade, decided to move to Prague for 3 years (where I taught English) then came back, had a baby and am now working on postpartum Doula certification and going through yoga teacher training. In the meantime, I'm a stay at home mom.

I'm happy, and that, to me, is the definition of success. College never would have helped me figure out what it would take to be happy. I'm considering going back because I'm in the mood to take some classes, but my life doesn't hinge on it.

We've been told by everyone that my son is an exceptionally bright, above average kid (My husband was in gifted, but took a very untraditional route after high school - he's now a director in his position at a company that everyone on this planet is familiar with and on one of the most successful and creative products out there and I was supposed to be in gifted, but didn't want to. I was one of those "rebellious", getting into trouble all the time type of kids.)

I want to foster & support my son's creativity/intelligence/independence, not by making sure he does well on TESTS, but by making sure he is given the freedom to be creative and independent. He'll be starting Montessori school next year and then we'll most likely home school him once he gets to middle school age, possibly earlier.

Test scores are worthless, sorry. It proves that you can memorize things, but it doesn't prove that you have the ability to reason and think for yourself and be creative. It doesn't prove the kind of intelligence that can't be had through just reading text books.

If my kid decides to spend most of his life backpacking through Europe and doing odd jobs to pay the bills, I don't care. What *I* care about is that he's happy - and if that makes him truly happy, that's all that matters to me. That's all that should matter to any parent. This story about suing a PRESCHOOL for not preparing their kid to do well on TESTS??? INSANE. People have really lost sight of what truly matters.

Sam | 4:59 PM

Ironically, 2 of the richest people in the world today, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, both did all it takes to get into Harvard, only to drop out.

Then they dropped out to focus on more productive endeavors like building Microsoft and Facebook.

corrin | 5:01 PM

Heyyyyy...no hating on the 1040 SAT score. I took the test once, rolled with the score, and graduated magna cum laude from grad school. :-P

jessica | 7:54 PM

as the parent of a h.s. junior and wife of a sanitation worker, i just had this fight a few weeks ago. hubby thinks college isn't necessary. he grew up the son of civil workers and took all the city tests and now he's one too. but she doesn't want to be a city clerk, police officer or fire fighter so she needs college. otherwise what is she going to do? get out of hs and then what? work in the movie theater for the rest of her life? she needs college so that if she ever decides she doesn't want to work in the movie theater, she doesn't have to. yes i'm scared and yes i want the best for her and yes i think that's a college degree. i could go on about society and how i know people with degrees who are so stupid and people without degrees who would be a thousand times better at almost anything but it's the reality nowadays that you can't get a good job or your foot in the door anymore without the degree. i mean seriously, my 14 yr old can't get a job in the neighborhood because nobody hires anyone under 16. what happened to the days of working the local deli? well now the mexicans are sweeping so they don't need little johnny anymore. not being racist- this is totally what i see in my neighborhood. and i love the mexican in my deli, he's awesome, i'm just making a point.
i had kids young. went back to college later in life, only obtained a 2 yr degree and am stuck. i never want my kids to be stuck. if i had gone for the 4 yr degree plus masters i'd be making 3 times what i make now with benefits. there's something to be said for loving what you do (which i do) but there's also something to be said for paying the bills and saving money for retirement (which i don't).

Nikki | 8:15 PM

And let's not forget Richard Branson, a high school dropout, worked his way up. And many a Montessori kid went on to become a well known entrepreneur http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/05/the-montessori-mafia/ (Good article on another perspective on that woman who sued the preschool.)

Misha | 12:19 PM

Well, and I have to say that how you make your kids feel and being supportive of who they are is so much more important. Rebecca proves in every post she writes how success and happiness are self-defined. And you will be better equipped and able to find those things for yourself if your parents do love and support you.

While college can be important, it would be a shame to view our children merely as future employees and wage earners. Childhood and education are more than that and should be.

So really the question lies in how do we support them while balancing our hopes and dreams for them, some of which do lie in the land of practical hopes like wanting them to be financially independent? But why spend so much time focusing on that now when what they need from us is love and helping them learn how to learn?

Natalie | 2:27 PM

I had over a 4.0 weighted GPA because of honors classes, but I scored lower than you on the SATs! My counselor said it was "very odd" for someone with my grades to score that low. I am -not- a test taker. I did much better on my ACT and got into where I needed to go and will be graduating next year. Scores are scores, but its how you apply your smarts that matters! My brother did better than me on tests, but he's dropped out of college and is working 2 jobs for a little more than minimum wage each. I've been working and going to school since my senior year of highschool. I'm more self motivated, which I know helps someone get further than just being booksmart. We all have our strengths!

Ray | 5:33 PM

This entry is just all sorts of awesome. I can agree with you and relate in many areas. Especially in the testing area, in a lot of subjects; I was a crap tester. Especially in math, like in the scenario you described: “Every answer seemed like it could be the right one. At the five-minute "test's over" warning I was still pages behind. So I filled in B. E. C. C. A. B. E. C. C. A B.... until I ran out of letters to bubble with my #2 pencil. Most likely, those were the only answers I got right.”

I hated that feeling of only having five minutes left, and knowing that I would flunk so badly. Most of the time I didn’t. Still. It’s a horrifying experience. One I never hope to re-live again. Knowing that you’re so incredibly behind, and being one of the last people to finish the test (I felt dumb).

However I have to disagree with some parts:

Sure, you can get an entry-level job as you suggested, and work your way up. Instead of college debt. I’ll agree with you on that. But…? Life doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes entry-level jobs are dead end jobs that do not give you the luxury of upward mobility. Of climbing up that work-ladder, and getting a raise/being where you wanted to be since the beginning. Because in a lot of places in order to move on up, you have to have that dreaded piece of paper (LOL) we call a “Degree.”

Sometimes people don’t want to give you that chance of granting you with a higher-position unless you’ve attended college. And that’s just that. There’s no swaying anyone’s decision. No changing of minds. This is why I hate looking for jobs, and seeing that, “college degree required” in every ad. It sucks, but that’s just life. And nowadays, sometimes even a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough. Some places now want people to go back for their Master’s Degree.

I think it’s amazing all that you’ve done without a degree, and how much ass you’ve kicked. It’s awe-inspiring. And although a part of me would say, “you’re lucky;” it’s not smart or fair to say that all that you’ve accomplished was based on that “luck” word people throw around. The kind of luck you find when winning the lotto. It wasn’t done without hard work. Still: you were lucky in that people saw to it, to give you that chance. Not everyone can have such opportunities. Well they can, but I don’t think so many.

I’m not trying to be a downer or anything, this is just my opinion.

If only more people thought like you, and didn’t put such a high emphasis on college.

Yes in order to be a doctor, or a lawyer, you need schooling, but other careers shouldn’t be so hard-edged about “mandatory-education.” Talent is what should be of utmost importance. I agree.

As always: Archer, Fable and the Twinsies are lucky to have you. ;o)

Maggie May | 7:33 PM

So awesome and with four kids, my oldest sixteen and smart as hell but so not into school, I need to have this kind of voice in my ear. Thank you.

Erica | 8:22 PM

Your parents sound awesome the way you describe them in this post and in other posts. They will likely be my parent role models when I have kids.

I went to UC Berkeley out of high school but I had no idea where my passion lay (still don't) and no idea what I really wanted to do. At first my plan was to just take a bunch of science and math classes and become a doctor or something... you know when in doubt go the over-achieving route. Except those classes are hard and I would have had to work my ass off. At this point I really wanted to drop out for awhile but my parents didn't approve so I switched into one of the easiest majors I could find but it is also something that didn't fit my personality at all. If I were honest with myself I would have known that. Now, I wish I had stuck out the hard classes just to prove to myself that I could do it. But, I still don't know what I'm passionate about. Well, I know I'm passionate about being a parent someday, but there must be something else as well. And, I think there are things but I'm afraid and out of touch with myself. Anyway, in conclusion your parents seem awesome.

Deidre | 8:50 PM

I am much like you - I had a super high GPA and 1040 SAT scores. I didn't get into the college I wanted and so I went to just any other school I got into...It was a big mistake. I hated every second I was there.

Of course, I love school. I love learning in that type of environment, so I moved to Australia to get my Masters degree.

What I've found since is that while I have a great academic record no one cares because I have such little practical experience, and getting a job has proven a challenge.

You're so right there isn't a right or wrong way there is just a way.

Loukia | 9:06 PM

Stupid, stupid Blogger.
Anyway. I don't have this worry because are not allowed to go to any university except for the one in this city! They can't go anywhere else! They just can't live far away from me. ;)
Honestly, though. I will support my boys no matter what they choose, no matter what.

Vanessa | 2:04 AM

I think there's another fine line to notice here as well though, from the perspective of someone who wants to be an educator as a career. While I am all for embracing individuality and appreciating that each child in the education system has something to offer, I think some parents go too far by insisting that their child not be forced to ever fit a mold.

As someone who is training to be a teacher, of course I've been taught different learning style and approaches to deal with them, but there's only so much customization that can happen when you're trying to teach 20 kids at a time. I've heard homeschoolers or un-schoolers rail about that over and over, but in some ways, its preparation for the so-called "Real World." Working relationships, friendships, partnerships and even jobs themselves aren't going to bend over backwards to suit the individual most of the time and too many kids are unprepared for that.

I'm not saying that being able to score high on an SAT is the end all be all (I work in the Canadian system, so we don't actually have that here - but any standardized testing is flawed). But what frustrates me is when parents push for their child to only do things they're passionate about, to the detriment of giving them the ability to take the mundane but necessary with the fabulous. That's also an important part of adult life - learning that sometimes, you have to do things you don't enjoy to get ahead.

I'd just like to see a better balance between the two from some families. I think society swings wildly between the two sides: the individual at the expense of the whole, or the whole at the expense of the individual and I wish we could find that balance.

Pretzel Thief | 7:15 AM

I LOVED this post. You rock for having such a refreshing, understanding attitude, and your kiddlies are blessed to have you as a mama!

I, too, was a smart, precocious child and always a straight-A student. My parents never had to make me study; I always loved school and learning and what have you. I think they thought I would end up studying medicine or law or something "important" like that, though I knew they just wanted me to be happy no matter what I did.

My dad died tragically in November 1993 during the Fmr Yugoslav wars (civilian death) and mum, my brother and I were utterly devastated and inconsolable...we came to Australia in July 1994 and one of the ways in which I endeavoured to make mum happy (i.e. take her mind off her grief) was to continue being an awesome student in a new country with a new(-to-me) language. If I always did awesomely, mum would be happy. Dad would have been happy.

So when my final year of high school rolled around in 2002 (at the end of which we got our "ENTER" scores), I was convinced I would get over 90 (the highest you can get is 99.95). EVERYONE was convinced. It was where my academic road, if you will, had been leading to all along.

I got 88.00 and was shattered. Still a fantastic score (and based on four As and two Bs for the year), but it wasn't good enough for me. I was sooooo close to getting an ENTER of 90 and above (a few measly "study points" off, in fact), and that's what pained me the most. I remember going to a nearby park that day so my mum wouldn't see me bawling my eyes out.

(I KNOW, right?!)

I ended up getting into one of the best universities in Australia, anyway, starting a teaching degree, then ended up switching unis the following year and finishing a degree in International Studies.

Thing is, the ENTER score was always just a status thing, an insecurity thing...to be able to say, if someone happened to ask, that yes, I got over 90, OMG PRAISE ME I'M SMART!! Or some such crap. I mean, how pathetic, am I right? So when I juuuust missed the 90-and-over mark, I suddenly...was no longer smart and capable? That was pretty much my shitty reasoning back then.

I'm now 26 and I'm still not entirely sure what I want to pursue long-term...I've always been a writer and, ultimately, that's something I'd love to make a career out of, but...we'll see. Hopefully, all going well!

And one day when my husband and I have kids of our own, God willing health, we'll encourage them to follow their dreams, be they studying at university or learning via other means...as long as they're happy, that'll be success.

P.S. Late last week, I got a delivery from Amazon.com...your book, Rockabye! I'm almost halfway through and loving it. You're such a gifted writer (and then some)...!

boosmom10 | 8:46 AM

I think you hit the nail on the head. I was not/am not the acidemic type. Show me what you need me to do and I WILL kick it's tail. I was not a good tester either.

My husband on the other hand very book smart! I prayed and prayed my son would have his smarts and THANK GOD he does. Our son has chosen college... so far. He just finished his first year. He is like your brother... to an extent. School comes easy to him for the most part. He has to put little effort in to do well. I am beyond thankful for that. I would have been fine with whatever child Blessed us with.

You are such an increadable mom that no matter what your children want to do you will support them. You already do. I can't see that changing anytime soon.

As a parent it is our job to encourage our children in their strengths. Allow them to spread their wings and be there for them in case they fall. Dust them off and put them back on the path again.

I love my son. Wish I could have had more. You are truely blessed!

Nikki | 9:02 AM

Vanessa,

I know several teenagers (our babysitter & her sisters) and adults who were home schooled and who are perfectly adapted to and ready for "the real world." I bristled a little bit at the idea that having an education outside the box = being taught that the world will bend over backwards for you.

Adjusting a child's education and the attention that they get is HARDLY giving them expectations that the real world is going to bend over backwards for them.

And I'm sorry, but yes, trying to teach 20 kids at a time and being unable to attend to them individually IS one of the big problems with our school system. Again, Montessori is a great example - many of the entrepreneurs and innovators of our society come from a Montessori background. Not because they were taught that the world would bend over backwards for them, but because they were given the freedom & encouragement to think for themselves and to explore and were not drilled to believe that the best achievements are test scores. The real world doesn't actually care about test scores. There ARE no test scores in the real world.

Intelligent, independent, creative children need to be encouraged & supported, not taught to ignore it in favor of memorizing things and doing well on tests.

Linda H. | 10:44 AM

I absolutely agree with you. College may be a necessary means to certain goals (because our society is set up that way,) and it may have some things to offer in itself to some people, but schooling and education are not synonymous, and success isn't inherently dependent on schooling (nor is it always a result.) Schooling can also be deleterious in many ways and interfere with a person's ability to find their right livelihood. It really does need to be looked at on a case by case basis.

Hespyhesp | 1:51 PM

I agree with A LOT of what you said here. I really like your parenting style and I try to apply something like it to my teenage stepsons and my 2 year-old son. I do, however, disagree somewhat about the college degree. Think it has a lot to do with where you live, honestly. I am in FL and my husband and I both work for a well-known medical institution. I am an admin assistant (stuck where I am now because I don't have a degree yet) and my husband is a photographer. You wouldn't think he'd need a bachelor's, right?! Well, he was recenently promoted to manager of his area and he has been working the job before the position has been officially created. This has been going on for months and they love the job he is doing, but now suddenly they are giving him grief because he only has an associates and a certification in graphic art. It looks like they are going to try to downgrade the position soley because of his lack of a degree. They will expect him to do the same job at a lesser pay. Can you believe that?! We are still waiting on their offer (4 months later). I am about to go down there and ring some necks myself!!

Sarah in the Sun | 11:13 AM

So.. I didn't even go to preschool. Haha. But I grew up in a small town in New Mexico where 19,000 bucks is considered the average household income. Sad but true. I basically was sent to kindergarten when I was 4 and I just went to the school up the street from our house. It was the same elementary school that my mom and all 4 of her sisters went to. Then I went across the street to the junior high, later up the street to the high school. But now that I have babies on the brain and are taking mental notes about our plans for the next 5 or 10 years, I a wondering, should the go to preschool? Should we move somewhere like California where there are more choices? Or just move to a state where the public education is not ranked LAST nationally? Umm yeah, I am thinkin we need to start making some of these decisions. Now I really don't see myself spending 19K on preschool, I'm an engineer so I do better than my parents did but not that much better, good grief.

Jessica | 9:15 PM

I think it all depends on your preferred field/occupation; sometimes education (and more than just an undergraduate degree) is required. I don't know what I'd do without my education and despite having two BS degrees, I knew I had to get a Masters to keep up with my co-workers and peers.

It's extremely competitive out there. I'm looking to start my second masters program.

But, if you can find something that makes you happy (and may not require a college degree), go for it.

Stephanie | 1:23 PM

I am with Allison here. I am the first and only person in my family to go to college....EVER. Including extended family as far as the eye can see. I come from a low income hispanic family in which alcohol abuse, substance abuse, time in prison, and rehab were the norm. College? Now that was abnormal. Now, I am a successful real estate investor, my husband has a PhD in engineering and we have two small sons. My children WILL go to college. No question. Does that mean I do not support their individuality or embrace them as people? NO.

When talking about success without an education you are talking about an extreme minority. That is like saying being a black female in America will make you rich - just look at Oprah! It's just not reality.

I have seen, felt, lived the results of poverty and lack of education. I refuse to let my children ever experience living on food stamps or having the electricity shut off just so that I can say that I nurtured their individuality.

My job as their mother is to ensure that they go out into the world prepared. Part of that is knowing themselves and their strengths and weaknesses and part of that is an education. It is irresponsible to tout off this anti-education stance to teenagers who are more than happy to have an excuse not to do what is hard.

Liz | 10:08 AM

Reading this gave me the little boost I needed to pursue my own path. I have an A.S. in Multimedia/Web Authoring, but don't use it, and don't really want to go back to school. I mean, I sort of do, but not enough to rack up another several thousand dollars in debt. I'd much rather spend my time writing. My family, however, is convinced that I should go back to school immediately and keep living with my parents. My fiance and I have been living with my parents and, while another couple of years wouldn't be horrible, I'm really just ready to go out on "my own" and do what I love: write.

Like you, I don't test very well. I can study my brains out, or even know the material very well, but when I sit down to take a test, I start to panic a little. I didn't hate college, but I didn't love it, either. I think it's because I wasn't sure of what I wanted to do, and only went because my family pushed me to go. I've finally learned to follow my own path, but it's not always easy. Reading this gave me the encouragement I needed right now. Thank you so much.

Jme | 11:24 AM

I could not agree more!
And I too was lucky enough to have parents like yours that encouraged but did not push us towards a certain path. From as far back as I can remember it was always " We don't care what you do as long as you're happy & not a drain on society "

If I even come close to being like my parents to my three boys, I'll be lucky.

Mairead | 12:34 PM

Hi Rebecca. I stumbled across your blog midway through your twin pregnancy and I have read it every day since. I truly enjoy your writing style, your creativity and your spunk. We have some similarities on the family front. I too have 4 kids and,like you, got the 2 for 1 deal when we decided to try for number 3! (My boys are 7 and 5 and my twin girls are 3.) I just read this post and felt compelled to comment for the first time.
I was diagnosed with Leukemia on my girls' 2nd birthday and have gone through the chemo/ transplant mill for the past (almost) 18 months. It is not being forced to contemplate my own mortality that has brought me my darkest hours in all this. The anguish that comes with the thought that my time as a parent may be shortened is exponentially more difficult than any fear of death itself. I often lie awake at night wondering how best to 'instruct' my husband, you know, just in case. My head is often wrecked thinking about finances, practicalities and of course college. What is our best plan? How can I make sure my children can attain all the things I desire for them? How can I mold and influence them posthumously? Then I read this post. It has stopped me in my tracks and made me smile. I now see that the only 'instruction' I need to give is to love them and support them regardless of what type of niche they carve out for themselves.
I read that you had a rough time last week and I wanted you to know that your writings envoke thought and re-evaluation in, I imagine, many people. You certainly touched my soul today in a way that was sorely needed! Thank You!