Monday, October 15, 2007

Is this what we want for our kids?

Okay, so maybe this caught my attention because I have an eighth grader this year, but I saw this article today in BusinessWeek: I Can Get Your Kid into an Ivy.

It's the story of how parents are paying up to $40,000 to people like Michele Hernandez to coach their kids into attaining entrance into the top college of their dreams.

Yeah, I would love to have someone guide me and my child through the college entrance process - you know, writing essays, choosing courses in high school, etc. - but this is a bit ridiculous:
She selects classes for students, reviews their homework, and prods them to make an impression on teachers. She checks on the students' grades, scores, rankings. She tells parents when to hire tutors and then makes sure the kids do the extra work. She vets their vacation schedules. She plans their summers. And through it all, she is always available to contend with the college angst that can consume whole families. Parents value her confidence; kids, mostly, appreciate her enthusiasm.
An interesting thing Ms. Hernandez does is take a child's interest and basically turn it into what marketers call the "Brand Me imperative," or as the article calls it, "Finding the Selling Point." She tells kids to drop activities that don't look good on their application, and to take harder classes that colleges will recognize as difficult so they will stand out.

I thought this was a telling statement:
Families pay Hernandez as much as they do because she promises not just substitute parenting but parenting in the extreme.
Is this the foundation for adult life I want my kids to have?

That success in life is just a matter of finding a way to "sell yourself" to the right people?

That family vacations and activities that are "just for fun" are without value if they do not contribute toward making one "look good" for others?

That attending the "perfect college" sets one up for a perfect life later on?

Even the article admits:
The intense pressure to succeed is a big reason the incidence of anxiety, depression, and drug use is as high among children of the affluent as it is among children of the inner city, according to Columbia University psychologist Suniya S. Luthar. "Young people perceive that their whole lives are building to this moment of applications, rejections, acceptances. They see it as either you make it or you are doomed to a second-class existence," she says. Even those who do get into top schools may suffer the consequences of their success. Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore College, says: "Those who excel enough to get into Harvard or Stanford are likely to be less inspired students once that goal has been achieved."
Hmm. Just think, I've been living a "second-class existence" all my life! It's all in the way one defines "success," I suppose. Obviously, we are not on the same page, now, are we?

Don't get me wrong. I want all our kids to go to college, even if my girls aspire most to be wives and mothers. I don't believe any education is ever wasted (although I do wonder sometimes why on EARTH I became a nurse, but that's for another post...!). I want to help them get into the college of their choice (as long as it's in the South, so I don't have to go far to visit grandbabies some day!) so they can use their early years to invest in the talents God has given them. I understand there is a certain amount of sacrifice involved.

However, I am not going to allow an insanely driven person to dictate my family's purpose, or worse, to turn my children into a shiny but single-faceted, obsessed "brand" that rejects all opportunities that don't bring a direct benefit to themselves. Or that can't make a decision unless an "expert" has given her blessing.

I'm not willing, in the name of success, to sacrifice character, maybe a little of which I learned by succeeding at something. However, I would hazard to guess that most of us learned what was truly important, not through success, but through owning up to our own failures, disappointments and rejections. (Key words: OUR OWN). I doubt Ms. Hernandez's clients will figure that out.

At least not yet.
Then the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.

Luke 11:39


Grafted Branch said...

But it's all relative, don't you think? I think I'm learning more and more that everything and everybody's experience and opinion is relative.

Sans, of course, the absolute Truth that is Jesus Christ. But folks don't care much about Him...not really and truly.

I'm done expecting it to get better apart from His return. Pray for the deceived, because that's what this world is.

Beck said...

Good grief. Can you imagine spending $40 grand so someone can babysit your kid through university? I mean, aren't people in university supposed to be ADULTS?
I certainly wasn't - I dropped out! Three times! So maybe my parents should have ponyed up the big bucks for an expensive babysitter for me.

Jenn @ Knee-Deep in Munchkin Land said...

Oh my word! Can you imagine?!? My most fervant prayer for my babies right now is that one day, they'll come to know God as their own personal Lord, and Savior. Outside of that, litle else really matters to me.

Thanks for the heads-up about that article and I appreciate your candor (as always).

PEZmama said...

As a former high school teacher I find it particularly painful to see parents who have "decided" the future for their children... and what school they will attend is not the least of it.

But it does make me sad for those kids. Their parents want them to an ivy league, but what if the child wants to be a teacher? Or a musician? Sad. Sad. Sad.

My best friend in high school got it all "right." She was accepted to Cornell (though she didn't attend because she couldn't afford it.) After graduating college, she was extremely disillusioned. She felt as though she had crossed all her t's and dotted all her i's, but life just wasn't falling into place the way it was "supposed to." She thought those grades and the degree would pave the way for her. They didn't.

Makes me wonder how many of these kids you mention will experience the same thing.

Elspeth said...

Katherine, this was a great post. I have an eighth grader as well, and we've already began to discuss some of these things. I have explained to my kids that success is defined by God's word, rather than the world's standards. What's more, a strong work ethic and strength of character will take you farther than any ivy league degree ever could. If my kids attend a state university or even a community college, what matters is their relationship with Christ, and it's sad that the parents in the article you referenced haven't planted that seed into their kids lives.

Susanne said...

That whole thing just blows my mind. It is so out of my world and way of thinking that I cannot even fathom that that is what some parents do.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. I spoke with a parent last year who began telling me all her daughter was doing to get accepted into college and how it was no longer about what her daughter wanted, but what she needed to be accepted. Yes, I want my children to go to college and some have. But I would never compromise who they are, who God wants them to be; for the sake of man-given title.

courtcourt said...


I always thought that the school I went to - the NAME of the school - mattered a LOT. Until I got my degree, and nobody who interviewed me cared where I went to school, as long as I had my degree. (And it was at the bargain price of a state school!)

Kids are only kids once. I'd have been heartbroken if someone told me I couldn't play a particular sport, or be in a certain club simply because it didn't look good on a college application.

And now I am a wife and mom and don't use that degree. I got to play the sports I wanted, participate in activities that I wanted to, and I turned out just fine! I took a lot away from the experience, but using my degree isn't what the good Lord called me to do. And I am happy with what He wants me to do!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely unbelievable!!! It really saddens me. Poor kids. They grow up thinking their self worth is linked to their achievements. How empty is that?

Well I'm really learning as a parent how different our outlook is as Christians. And I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the "world" thinks differently. All the more we have to pray for wisdom in bringing up our kids.

Ladybug said...

Unbelievable! I want my children to be happy...whatever it is they choose to become. I was a teacher. At 6 years old I wanted to be a teacher. I knew in college I was never going to make a lot of money but I cannot even describe to you the feeling of happiness and success I felt when I taught children to read!!!!

Rachel Anne said...

Hey, Kath, I've got an award for you over at my blog....just to say thank you! You're my biggest inspiration. I love you.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this just sign of the times. I also want my kiddos to go to college. My son a muscian says he won't need to go to college because he is going to make it big. He wants to buy me a house when he is rich and famous.

Reality check for him--although he is super suoer talented I have told him that he still needs to go to college so he had that piece of paper in his back pocket just in case.

My daughter not a straight A student like her brother has A's and B's. She has just been nominated to join People to People for summer 2008.

She will be a United States Ambassador who will spend Summer 2008 in England, Italy and France.

This is a great honor and all I have to say is too bad she is taking high school Spanish.

Living with 2 very different persoality teenagers I refuse to live their life for them. I will help them fill out college applications and know and pray for the best.

This book sounds like cheating to me or maybe it is a new way to sell snake oil. Beck--- I agree with you, people in University are supposed to be adults.

Although I must admit that having my teenage son wanting to buy me a house is pretty darn tempting.

Mary@notbefore7 said...

That is insane. It is a shame that our world defines success this way. We often talk about the family we grew up with, who focus on success as education, the right house, the right job, etc...keeping up with the Jones's kinda thing. Their children have flat out admited to feeling so empty and lost. One actually shared that she hoped that she'd find purpose "once she became a mom" (course, she is still going to work 50 hour weeks....)

Anyway - I went to college and plan to stay home for good. My parents told me that Dobson once said, "Educate a man and you educate a person. Educate a woman and you educate a family," and with that, they assured me that my goal of being mom was awesome and they still wanted me to pursue a degree!

Virginia Revoir said...

Preach it, girlfriend! It's amazing what parents will pay to put another parent in their place.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciated this post--so much so, in fact, that I linked to it from my post today. Your own commentary was delightfully thought-provoking, but I couldn't resist adding my own layer of ideas and analysis.

Thanks so much for sharing the link to the original story along with your own insights.

An Ordinary Mom said...

EXCELLENT, excellent post!

I am glad I made my way over here to read this. You echoed my sentiments exactly.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I want the best for my kids, but paying someone 40K to 'brand them'? Insane!