At some point, our village elders decided that a teenager becomes an adult at age 18. I am convinced this was determined by folks who had never met any 18-year-olds.
My son left for college this week, and I have to learn to temper my expectations for his tenure at his chosen institution of higher learning so we do not kill each other. He started early with summer school, a strategy adopted by colleges to steer kids away from actually working at summer jobs. Too much reality detracts from the soft, theoretical la-la land of college.
There is a societal pressure for parents to ride kids hard to make good grades, and I wonder if we are not just driving ourselves and our kids nuts by doing so. Kids have to have a light on and want to learn something. It is at this point that they get interested and absorb information that they seek out themselves. Certainly, it seldom has anything to do with reading Chaucer.
We in the U.S. overeducate many kids well beyond their interest in school and, in many cases, their abilities. The reality is that college is often a place to store a kid in the hope that he or she grows up by the time they are done. They learn many life lessons there, such as how much liquor they can hold and how to pay speeding and parking tickets.
My son took a less difficult route than my daughter, who is at Vanderbilt. He wanted to go to a big, state SEC school, and Georgia, our state, which is 49th in education, was a bit ambitious. So he went to Mississippi — securely ranked at number 50.
He is leaving nothing to chance by letting hard classes get in the way of his college experience. At his age, some kids drink from the fountain of knowledge, but he will only gargle and spit it out — probably on a fraternity pledge.
On the bright side, he does have some college ambitions, aside from dressing well and dating lots of co-eds. He knows that Ole Miss is ranked the second-best party school in the country, and he feels strongly that he and a few kids from his high school who are going there with him can soon get it to number one.
In fairness, most of a student's education in college occurs outside of the classroom. And with all the tenured liberal professors being harbored on today's campuses, that is sometimes a good thing. And Ole Miss is not as bad as most colleges; I understand it has one professor who once voted for a Republican.
In the end, we have to let our children go and discover life on their own terms. By the time they're 18, the die is cast, anyway.
My son's view seems to be that the sooner he gets behind in school, the more time he has to catch up. It will be fun to see if this pans out for him in college.
We seem to agree on very little these days, even on issues like which way his baseball cap should point. He says that if an 18-year-old can fight in Iraq, he ought to be able to drink in the U.S.A. I told him that we agree, and if he wants to sign up for the Marines and serve in Iraq, I certainly would allow him to drink.
A friend reminded me of a scene from Sanford and Son, one of my favorite shows from my youth. Fred Sanford said to his son Lamont: "Didn't you learn anything from being my son? What do you think I'm doing this all for?"
Lamont answers: "Yourself."
Fred: "Yeah, you learned something."
Parents who push their kids too hard are usually doing it for themselves and not for their kids. All we can hope is to keep our kids safe until that light comes on someday and they find something that they really want to pursue. It is rarely what we had in mind.