“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” – Albert Einstein

I have been helping my husband’s teenage cousin prepare for the math section of her ACT college entrance exam.   I have a minor in mathematics that I rarely have the opportunity to use (outside of statistics), and I was pleasantly suprised to find that my middle-aged senility had not yet extended to my memory of high school math.  While times are very different from the late seventies and early eighties in which I spent my teens, at least trigonometry has remained blissfully constant.  It was perversely comforting.

What was disorienting to me was the sheer preparation involved for these tests.  I don’t think that this is so much a function of time, but social class.  My friend’s children begin taking their ACT’s in ninth or tenth grade for “practice”.  They buy books of practice tests and spend hours taking mock tests.  They seem so, well, “important”.

I grew up in a world of factory workers and ambulance drivers.  The post-secondary expectations of my parents were to marry and find gainful work as soon as possible.  The order of these things was relatively unimportant.  College was not something people like my parents even thought of.  Even for my generation, it was not a given.  I was told I could go to whatever college I was given a scholarship to – as long as parental funds were not involved, I was allowed total freedom of choice.  Woefully unprepared for the process of college applications and interviews and visits, I fumbled my way in the dark through the maze of requirements and essays and standardized tests.  State school or private?  ACT or SAT?  Home or away?  These were questions from a completely foreign language and culture than my parents lived in.

Some of my colleges of choice required the ACT, some the SAT, so I signed up for both.  To be taken on the same day.  Back to back.  Having grown up in the day of New York Regents Testing, it never occured to me that it was unnatural to take both standardized tests on a single weekend.   It is still a point of pride that, exhausted from a solid morning of SAT testing and with no lunch, I fell asleep halfway through the math section of the ACT, woke up with ten minutes to finish, raced through the remaining thirty questions like a complete maniac, and still managed to cop a perfect score.  

(Okay.  I realize that reads like a sound bite from “The Big Bang”.  BTW – that show?  My life.  Grad School.  1994-2000. I knew all those people, I swear.)

So out of complete ignorance, I turned out just fine (well, at least educationally).  I didn’t go to Ivy League schools, but that was largely by choice, because I simply didn’t think I could handle the cultural shift.  But in the end, I have three degrees and a minor, over 320 college hours from respectable public and private universities (I was indecisive, so sue me), a perfect GPA in grad school, and the right to put Dr. before my name if I am feeling pissy.  

And I am considering an MBA.

My point in the listing here isn’t conceit, but rather a question regarding the relationship between the effort we are putting into the preparation for the sake of preparation, and outcome.  I am trying to understand the link between expectation, exposure, and future.  It’s important to me now, not because I am a sociologist, but because I am a parent.  I live into the future now in a way I never did before.  

The discussion of how teaching toward testing has dominated the public school paradigm and how it is or isn’t royally screwing up our educational system is a topic for another day, and one I really don’t want to get into now, because I am not in either camp.  It’s not a simple problem with simple solutions.  Anyone who sells you a simple solution to complex societal issues is peddling opium in a bottle, I promise.

I am entirely selfish in my wondering.  I wonder what my son’s experience is going to be as the offspring of college educated parents.   How am I going to react, knowing what I know, with my background of experience? What will my expectations be?  What will his expectations be, with professional parents and ready access to a 529 (which hopefully will recover SOME of it’s value in the next 15 years)?  Will I be pushy?  Will I be passive?  Will I drive him crazy enough he picks a University as far away from home as the road will take him?  I cannot turn myself around and see his childhood world from his perspective – he comes from such a different one than I did.  

Sometimes I try to cross my eyes and squint as I look at my son, and try to see him 14 years from now.  I try to project his loves, his ambitions, his aversions from the toys he picks up and the songs he sings.  I try to figure out how I am going to best encourage him, enable him, to be the things he dreams of being.

Right now, he dreams of being a platypus.

Thank God I have another 14 years.

April 6th, 2009 at 12:36 pm
8 Responses to “Ignorance is bliss”
  1. 1
    Artie Says:

    Platypus ain’t too bad. GEICO might need a new mascot one day. You know, with an Australian accent. It’d be cute.

  2. 2

    Sometimes I envy you and other parents with that problem. Being child-free, in many ways, the future ends with me. Oh sure, I’m willing to support the continuation of the human race as a positive concept. I’m willing to be ecologically aware, as long as it’s not TOO expensive or TOO much of a pain in the ass. But I don’t have the genetic-immortailty investment in tomorrow that parents do, and it gives me a different point of view.

    This weekend I was going through my Mom’s stuff. She passed away last month, and my sister and I were sorting things out. Neither of us have or are likely to have children, and I kept feeling absolutely heartless as I tossed what were clearly my mother’s precious momentos. But I had very little interest, even less storage space, and the sure and certain knowledge that there after I was gone, there would be NO ONE who was even REMOTELY interested.

    Less than 24 hours later, all twinges of regret and guilt are gone.


  3. 3
    Steph Says:

    I find the levels of preparation for college to be totally foreign.

    My dad had a college degree (sociology BA at one of the Carolina schools) and my mom went to college but didn’t finish (Johns Hopkins for nursing, but she couldn’t hack the organic chemistry). There was a general expectation that my brother and I would go to college after we finished high school, and mom & dad saved from the day we were born to send us, although they also told us that if we decided we wanted to start a business or go to technical school instead, we could use the funds for those purposes.

    It was a very encouraging way to grow up. I did well academically, took essentially college prep, and then started looking at colleges. I took the ACT and SAT with no preparation and did a creditable job at it. I think I made an honor society or two with my scores, but didn’t get a scholarship.

    I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I applied to schools that were far from home because I knew I needed to have some separation from my dad mostly (we shared a couple of personality traits that were starting to cause friction between us — one of the smartest things I ever did, I got to finish growing up without us killing each other, and we promptly morphed into best friends as adults). So I applied to U of Alabama (because I’d lived in AL as a child) and U of Wyoming (because I’d gone to girl scout camp there once and it was a cool state) and a couple of other places. Ivy League was beyond our finances, and I wasn’t really pulled to go to an expensive school.

    I remember filling in the applications, but I have no real memories of essays or having to have all kinds of extracurricular activities or achievements or any of the things that seem de rigeur for today’s kids. I got accepted to 2 or 3 schools with no trouble, despite being a relatively normal, undistiguished teenager.

    I did well in school, got a masters that I’m proud, and promptly did NOTHING in the fields I studied. Go figure.

    For my (I hope someday) child, I want to essentially do the same as my parents did. “You have all options open to you … tech, academic, direct to good employment … and we will support you in your choice.”

    I have a horror of becoming the kind of parent that imposes my unfulfilled dreams on some unsuspecting child … both because no kid should have to try to survive under such an impossible burden, and because if I want to do it that much, I should find a way to do it for my own sense of self and joy.

    Good luck.

  4. 4
    OS Says:

    My family seems to have become gradually, each generation in turn, more directed towards education over hard labor. My grandfather p’shawed my mother’s choice of major, Art, and made her switch to accounting. So she picked a boy, married him and quit. I wasn’t prepared for college at all. No money, similar I think to your choices of you can go but we’re not paying. And I was just not mature enough, ready, whatever to support myself working full time and going to college. I hope that it gives me just enough perspective to push Bear when he needs it and back off when he needs that. It’s mostly exciting for me to try to imagine what he might accomplish, how much more than I did. Or his dad. Or the generations before us. Can’t wait to see.

  5. 5
    Harp Says:

    One of the first good,non-shouting conversations my father and I had was when I was a freshmen in high school.

    Dad: “If you want to go to college, you better bust your ass, because I cant afford it.”

    Harp:…. Ok.

    Double bachelors in 5 years.


  6. 6

    There wasn’t so much an expectation that I would go to college and graduate, but an utter, complete certainty. It was spoken of in the same terms that the sun would rise and the rain would fall. There was a certain amount of flexability in what I would study, although my Mom cost me two years of study by strong-arming me into a B. S. program I wasn’t suited for. Like Steph, I do not work in my degree field. At least not directly.


  7. 7
    Duren Says:

    Like Bill, college was an absolute certainty. My mom graduated with a BS in math, and got teaching certificate as soon as I entered school (while she was pregnant and during my brother’s 1st year). My dad got an associates degree in the late 60s, and almost all of a logistics degree from UT in the 80s, but did not finish a bachelor’s. My mom felt it was critical, as a woman, that I got a degree – She felt strongly I would a) have more opportunities that way, and b) would not be ‘trapped’ by a man-as-income-source in a relationship that way. Ironically, I have been the main bread-winner in every relationship I have had so far, and have actually thought to myself on occasion – “I can’t leave, he’d have nothing to live on.”

    I got a reasonable score on my SATs the 2nd time around, and decided that I had no IDEA what I wanted to do for a living, and went to UT because that’s where dad lived and it was away from CT (new) and ‘in state’ tuition. I started in Advertising (I thought I wanted to be like the guys in Busom Buddies) and quickly shifted to general business – which I have only used to assist boyfriends and my brother sort out their taxes. I got my master’s in Special Education on my own 10 years later – and am STILL paying for it (only $10,000 to go).

    But both my brother and I went going to college – my parents saved from day one, and told us to look for funding opportunities, but we knew our bachelor’s were paid for at any state school (reasonably priced school). Interestingly my dad wanted me to apply for Yale – I told him no way – not interested in that level of pressure/snobbery, thanks. (But it was nice to know he thought I could get in).

    Solvi has a college fund already – Will & her step-grandma (dad’s wife) paying into it monthly. My mom, at my request, is paying in to the “I want to play the Tuba, go on the Canada school trip, take karate lessons” fund. But the assumption is that she will go to college – of some type. As she currently appears quite bright, this should not be an academic issue, generally, and as lots of folks are saving for her, $ for the bachelor’s should also be available.

  8. 8

    I think I lived in the same world you did. My parents suggested but didn’t push college. I would have had to pay them back, and I would have had to go some distance away because they hated my boyfriend. Turns out they were right about the boyfriend, but at the time, I rejected college because I didn’t want to give him up. It was probably a good thing, because I went when I was really ready five years later. And kicked a$$. Valedictorian x 3 while working full-time for employers who paid for all or part of the expense, which meant that I had very little school debt on graduation. Woot! But I had no life either. Which explains the late marriage and the infertility. Sigh.