Is the Point to Aim For College?

Is it possible to talk about the negatives of an institution without demonizing it? Is it possible to bring up in conversation that kids don’t have to go to college without the assumption that I mean kids shouldn’t go to college?

It doesn’t get talked about much in the grand homeschooling and educational discussion that there is always, and I mean always, more than one way to learn something. I don’t mean that there’s more than one way to teach something (which is, of course, also true). I mean that learning is not reserved to the time that a person spends reporting to someone else, even thought that is one possible way to learn. Learning happens in many different ways for many different reasons, including school-like environments. This premise is very important because it brings individual freedom to the homeschooling and educational arena. Homeschoolers needn’t feel boxed in (or out!) by an educational model because other options exist.

As homeschoolers, we have the freedom to step outside of the known educational realm and look at the available choices both in and out of our schools. We can see what our opportunities are, put our hands to our chins and make an unrushed, uninfluenced judgement on what is the right course of action. We can do this because we know that even if we “miss” an opportunity, there will always be another one right behind it. Sometimes, the course of action which will give us the most effective (or most desireable) path to our goals is to enter into an instution. But coming from a place where we know that we do not have to choose that path if it were not the right one for us gives us freedom.

Say, for example, you have two people who enter college at the same time, the same major and have the same overall career and life goals. The person that has entered college feeling bound to graduate, feeling like he does not have any other options or because “that’s just how things are done” is not free. The person who enters college because he’s looked around at other options, considered the difficulty of the task at hand and knows that at any time, he could put his college work on hold to focus on other life issues (without having to give up his education altogether) – he’s the one who is free.

One of my main concerns for our children when it comes to college stems from having gone to college myself purely due to momentum. And fear. I didn’t know anything else than school. I was good at school. I didn’t want to ever leave (even as my momentum took me onto a swampy path that led into even deeper and muckier swampland). Fear and not knowing any other way of life is not a good reason to go to college. But I would argue that it is the most common reason. And I woudl also argue that it is the most common reason for people not to succeed in college.

Back to my original argument though, about demonizing college. I think the American college/university study is one of the best educational models in existance. If I could wave my magic wand and turn K-12 into a college-like entity, how happy I would be. I have nothing but high esteem for what can be learned there and the potential for greatness derived from higher education. I think colleges are where we should be, at the very least, focusing our attention when we think of how to make high school a better place.

The problem is not the university. It’s the idea that there is no other choice – that in order to be considered a successful person, one has endure even MORE school. 12 years of (en)forced schooling is not enough. Even if you make it through that, and you become an adult, you still have to endure the pressure to keep going and continue to “be a better person” through education.

When it comes time to think about these things with our kids, college will be very high on my list of suggestions on how to go about meeting adult goals. In fact, I’m hoping my kids will start college classes as son as they are old enough to take care of themselves in a large classroom. But, I also want to emphasize to them that they have other options. They do not have to do the “4-year” college thing. They can do other things and still be successful. They can take 6 years to do college and start their career while taking courses. Or they can travel. Or they can go to a specialized school for a particular trade. Or they can do the 4-year college thing.

My goal is not to down-play the awesomeness of what can be gained by going to college, but to put the power of decision into the hands of my kids, so that they know that they are going to college for their own reasons. My hope is that they know what they want in life, and if they go to college, it’s to get that.

Or, if it ends up that they go to college because they just think it’s a grand ole time, I’m fine with that too. Whatever their reasons, they weren’t sucked into it by momentum. Their movement into higher education will hopefully be intentional and purposeful.

Our system of educating adults is, in my opinion, the best in the world. Given that, our approach of pushing kids through it is one of the worst. We treat college as a guarantee to success, or at least a ticket to the higher paying jobs. But it is not a guarantee, and can even, in some cases, create a barrier that wouldn’t exist given a different life experience. Obtaining career and life success is not cut and dried. We put a lot of false hope into the kids who mindlessly wander into college thinking that when they are done, and have that degree in their hand, that a career and six figures will miraculously fall in their lap. Freedom has to come before we get that degree in order for us to understand the freedom that comes after we get it. It’s difficult to know what to do with the the responsibility of being free to learn what we want, when we want when on has been pursuing that far away dream of “being done with education” for so long. In other words, we can’t cry “freedom” and “take care of me” at the same time. Although with college, that’s what seems we’re trying to convince people is possible.

We are lucky enough to have the freedom here to choose when, how and why we get an education (as opposed to other countries in Europe and Asia where, really, if you don’t do school exactly in order the right way, you cannot ever go back. Three strikes you’re out!). We have an awesome freedom to take our time and be who we want to be when we want to be it. We can get ten B.A.s if we want, or obtain 300 units without ever satisfying the requirements for any level of degree. There are very few (if any) places in the world that can claim the same level of educational access for all adults.
Schooling, of any kind, whether it be through an institution or through life experience outside of a brick and mortar school, should look to the future and be ready for anything. And by anything, I really do mean anything. Not just college. Preparing our kids for college is like making our kids study Spanish all through school because it is the most likely candidate for job utility. But what if a kid grows up and decides he wants to be localizer? Japanese and Chinese are much more in demand in the realm of technology. We can’t ever know what our kids’ futures will be like. We need to focus on training them to be ready for *anything*. And by “anything”, I do NOT mean “everything”.
Preparing our kids for “anything” is not training them for “everything”. It’s impossible to train for everything. In fact, preparing kids for anything, is the exact opposite of preparing them for everything. To train a child for everything is to control and coerce – to make sure everything is covered – to make a child work very hard to get every little detail in his brain “just in case” he needs it. To prepare a child for anything is to let go, and let a child be who they are, letting each day happen as it comes, and allowing the “anything” to happen every day. If we face each day ready for anything, it’s because we know ourselves and we know we can learn whatever we need to get the job done. If we try to prepare for everything, we’ll never feel adequate, and live afraid that something might come along that we (or our kids) not prepared for.

Is college in my kids’ futures? I don’t know. And I’m not going to stress out if that’s not in their plans. Nor will I stress out if it is. If any part of K-12 school was like college, I would feel the same way about that. College is a choice, made by the individual, even though often times, it doesn’t seem that way. So, whichever path my kids take to attain their life’s calling, I’m ready for anything.

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