writer, listener

Skip college and move directly into your parents’ basement. It’s cheaper

on September 27, 2012

I don’t really think everybody should skip college. I’m just being squirrely. For real though, should we broaden our concept of what a successful adult is, and really mean it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this while working on my MS and trying to get into my characters’ heads (including the adults). It’s a coming-of-age story, of sorts. The protagonist is the kind of 14-year-old guy I’d like kids to look up to for lots of reasons. He’s flawed, for sure, but he’s got a good heart. And he already knows he has no real intention of going to college.

WRITER ME doesn’t care about the college thing and actually feels like I’m doing something positive. But WANTS-TO-SELL-A-BOOK ME worries parents, teachers, librarians, and therefore editors in a position to acquire the story, might discriminate against my guy on some level. It seems like a stupid concern, but commercial book land is a tricky place to navigate for everybody involved.

Because isn’t it sometimes true that, while we want our kids to practice tolerance and grow up to be progressive, non-judgemental adults, we hope they’ll do that from the security of what we’ve decided success will look like for them?

Parents are acting out of love, most of the time. Of course we are. Our insanity about college stems, in part, from a desire to protect our children from the disappointment of an adulthood during which they’ll struggle financially. And we also want them to feel good about themselves. We want them to be able to say I’ve made it, I’ve arrived.

But is it a different world now? I mean, sure, they can’t even check their own oil (let alone change it) or install a storage shelf in their apartment in your basement, and they could’ve bought a house with all that student loan debt they incurred to get that degree in business management. But, by God, our kids went to college.

For the record, I happen to think college is awesome. I loved it in small doses over many years and graduated from a few places. I even taught it for a while. I don’t think I’d be doing what I love without my college experiences–not because a degree is required to be an unpublished author, but because college gave me focus and purpose outside of my role as a teen wife and parent. It sort of saved me in that way. And I can’t help it, I hope my kids choose it, too (college, not teen parenting).

What if what’s really right for some kids (including mine) has nothing to do with going to college, though? What if there’s a skilled trade at which they’d excel or a life path down which they’d fucking rock because they’re genuinely passionate about something? Is that a message we want our kids to hear? I hope so. I hope we’re not afraid to talk about that–about how there are all different ways to work hard toward success. How many unemployed 22-year-old unspecified business moguls can one planet hold, anyway? Look around. Most of the people making a living in this economy REALLY KNOW HOW TO DO SOMETHING.

When we pretend there’s no such thing as a decent future unless you go to college, are we really trying to help our kids avoid some of the disappointments of adulthood? Or are we condemning them to that disappointment–something they may never have suffered if we hadn’t imposed our concept of success and happiness on them? Do you want me to stop asking rhetorical questions yet?

Maybe we should worry more about our kids’ character development and less about their career development. I think a teenager with a healthy self-image and decent character will do okay for himself. He’ll figure out what’s right for him. And if he doesn’t, I doubt college would’ve made all the difference.

What do you think? Have I simply been exposed to too much end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stuff, thinking we need to screw college and raise the next generation to wrestle wild animals for survival? And what about books that make heroes out of people you might not actually want your kids looking up to (in your heart of hearts, even though you wish you didn’t feel that way)?


P.S. I do not know (as of this moment) how to change the oil in my car. Don’t tell anybody. I blame college. Also, I’m sorry for picking on business majors. What, you expect me to pick on liberal arts?

11 responses to “Skip college and move directly into your parents’ basement. It’s cheaper

  1. Before we had kids, my husband and I agreed that we would rather have children who were nice than children who were smart. Turns out (says the objective mother), we didn’t have to choose one over the other. But I still believe that the world needs more people with good character. If that’s your book’s underlying message (as much as it has a “message”), I can’t see why anyone would object.

    Also, I can’t wait to read it.

  2. Emily Saso says:

    I don’t know $#it about parenting, but I do know one thing: you write really, really well about it.

  3. Awe, shucks! That’s so nice of you to say. And hey, I have a bunch of extra kids (all sizes) if you want to try the parenting thing without the commitment. We’re open to short-term leases.

  4. Sally Oh says:

    You are making the right choice. I can say that because that’s what we did. HA! College is for people who have to have it: doctors, lawyers, like that. Otherwise, find your niche and work in it. Business majors need to WORK! That’s how you learn business. College doesn’t teach you anything except what you have to know to pass the test. Like public K-12 (said the home school mom!)

  5. Rick Boettger says:

    As a retired college professor, I strongly agree that college is the WRONG option for most people. Some of my most intelligent and successful friends did not go to college. The degree is becoming a false promise of future success for too many who end up with lifelong crippling debts while ending up in jobs they could have gotten without the degree.

    Your main character will be a true hero if he bucks the conventional wisdom and follows his heart and his skills into a non-degreed profession.

  6. Barb Gurnee says:

    My goal in raising the loves of my life was to get them to participate in at least 2 years of college. Participate is to experience. If they did more, it was just a bonus! 4 out of 5 did just that from the start. One needed a little extra help to realize that you aren’t going to go anywhere without some sort of education or training beyond high school. It was a learning experience for both of us, but I believe he is on the right track now! Coming from a “vocational education background/experience” I believe we need to teach character skills; communication being on the top. I consider Vocation Ed college or advanced training. It isn’t always the degree that gets you the job, it is the college experience; I can’t remember an interview where they ask what my degree was in!
    I love to read what you write; you are entertaining, talented, you relate to everyday life, and you make me think! III laugh every time you use a ‘word” that I don’t expect! You rock girl!

  7. kristi says:

    On the flat global stage, among those professions in which Americans are now competing with hyper-educated Asians and Indians, a 4-year Amercian degree is the equivalent of a foreign “high school” and is simply indispensible. But I’m with you: engineering, information systems, & medicine are not the Be All End All of the available options for today’s youth. Frankly, I’d love to have one of my friends or their kids become a da#n plumber so I don’t have to pay so much and wait so long next time our stupid powder room toilet won’t quit running. And whatever happened to the brother and friends who could fix my car in exhcange for a 12-pack and a cute girlfriend spectator?

    Some of our firm’s clients who are the most fiscally profitable business owners are first and foremost tradesmen: plumbers, electricians, builders, mechanics, and Agricultural Professionals (this is Bay County, afterall, and farming is still one of the strongest segments of our economy). Probably because they didn’t start out their careers six figures in debt. And this post brings to mind another person I admire immensely for his passion, creativity and contribution to a dynamic business: a chef who never spent one day in college. He worked his tuchus off in restaurants from age 19-42 and now heads a boutique winery kitchen. He was recently featured in Forbes.

    So, obviously your perspective is shared by many. The question is how does this (perceived minority) message get conveyed to the masses and become an acknowledged, valuable counterpoint to the college-centric discussion? I’ve been wondering that exact thought for a while now…. Thanks for putting it into words and hitting ‘publish’.

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