Graduation, the next generation and letting our kids find themselves

Images This week one of the front page articles in the NY Times was about private uptown schools and how much money parents are spending on tutors to get A's in every subject.  The question that rings out to me is simple, is it the parents or the curriculum. Probably a bit of both.  It continues to go full circle as many parents are determined that their kid gets into the best colleges in the country regardless of the kid.  My guess is that they don't pay so much attention to the needs, desires and assets of the kid but more to just getting the As, getting into the best college and then see where the chips fall.  The tutors can and do cost up to the same or more than the annual tuition.  You can't help but wonder if the curriculum is so ridiculous for a 15 to 17 year old mind that they need to be handheld and tutored on a daily basis to get through the curriculum.  One will never know but I'd be curious what percentage of kids in the elite schools of NYC receive tutoring a few times a week.  The schools know damn well that tutors are abundant because kids getting Bs and below are asked to leave.  I know that for a fact because many of those kids have shown up at our kids school where they totally excel. 

Then on the front page of the Dining section, same day, there is an article on second and first generation immigrant children whose parents push them to be doctors, bankers and lawyers and go to the very best schools. They say one thing but inside the house practice something else.  They are restaurant entrepreneurs who love what they do because their kids grow up in that environment.  These kids who did go to some of the best schools in our country are coming back to take over the family businesses they love because in life you should love what you do, at least I think so. 

An interesting take on both articles. I lean towards the second. Our kids have grown up in a house of entrepreneurs and so for them to grow up and do their own thing will not be surprising. Working for Goldman Sachs would be shocking. But we are believers in being happy and following your dreams to what turns you on. Pushing your kids to be something they aren't is terrible.  They aren't you they are them.  I do wonder about the next generation of kids who have been hand held each step of the way.  I certainly met and read about many of those children reaching that college goal and then literally wondering who they are and having a complete change of mind and heart of where they are as they get off the train and take a pause. 

Just to wrap these thoughts about, in the Sunday section of the NYTimes during graduation time they always post a few of the words spoken at graduation ceremonies across the country.   Many of the speakers were so poignant and spot on but I thought that Anna Quindlen, a mother herself, spoke the words that talk to what I wrote about today. She spoke at Grinnell College in Iowa. 

Here are a few quotes and for the full speech, which is fantastic, click here. 

We’re now supposed to apologize to you because it seems that that’s no longer how it works, that you won’t inherit the SUV, which was way too big, or the McMansion that was way too big, or the corner office that was way too big. That you will not do better. But I suggest that this is a moment to consider what “doing better” really means.

If you are part of the first generation of Americans who genuinely see race and ethnicity as attributes, not stereotypes, will you not have done better than we did? If you are part of the first generation of Americans with a clear understanding that gay men and lesbians are entitled to be full citizens of this country with all its rights, will you not have done better than we did? If you are part of the first generation of Americans who assume women merit full equality instead of grudging acceptance, will you not have done better than we did? And on a more personal level, if you are part of the generation that ditches the 80-hour work week, and returns to a sane investment in your professional life, the first generation in which young women no longer agonize over how to balance work and family, and young men stop thinking they will balance work and family by getting married, won’t you have done better than we did?

Believe me when I tell you that we made a grave error in thinking doing better is mathematical, a matter of the number at the bottom of your tax return. At the end of their lives, all people assess how they’ve done, not it terms of their income, but in terms of their spirit, and I beg you to do the same even if those who came before sometimes failed to do so. And I beg you not to let fear define you.
The voices of conformity speak so loudly. Don’t listen to them. People are going to tell you what you ought to think and how you ought to feel. They will tell you what to read and how to live. They will urge you to take jobs they loathe themselves and to follow safe paths that they themselves find tedious. Don’t do it. Only a principled refusal to be terrorized by these stingy standards will save you from a Frankenstein life made up of others’ expectations grafted together into a poor semblance of existence. You can’t afford to do that. It’s what has poisoned our culture, our community and our national character. No one ever does the right thing from fear and so many of the wrong things are done in its shadow. Homophobia, sexism, religious bigotry, xenophobia – they’re all bricks in a wall that divides us, bricks cast of the clay of fear, fear of that which is different or unknown.
At the end Quindlen wraps up with "We’ve let kindness slip away in our culture, too, trading it for candor which was not an even trade. Bring kindness back to our society."  What we also need to bring back to society is embracing the diversity and intelligence of each child by allowing them to create their own path, find their own identity and let them make mistakes, plenty of them, because we learn by our mistakes.  Expect your children to do what they are capable of not what they aren't.  Let them embrace their own personal loves and desires so that they move forward in their own lives, happy and confident and not living their lives for their parents expectations.  Living the latter can only turn out to be unhappy for all parties involved. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Jennifer Comet Wagner

    I always agree with everything that Anna Quindlen says but I would never be able to express these thoughts nearly as eloquently as she does. She is amazing.I have never gotten a tutor for my sons and never pushed them to major in anything they didn’t love just because it might be more lucrative. Those mothers that get their kids tutors for everything, make me crazy. Sometimes you have to realize that your kid is who they are and no amount of tutors is going to solve that.

    1. Gotham Gal

      you are spot on!

  2. Deirdre

    Beautifully said.  I couldn’t agree more.  How great that you have kept your minds, spirits and souls as parents– letting your children be who they will be.  I hope I can do this for my son too!  

  3. Rohan

    Couldn’t agree more. Education has become much discussed with a big part of the media going gaga over Thiel’s 20 under 20 program. Would love to know what your take is on that. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      If it is the right person, then Thiel’s makes complete sense but I hope thatthey truly spend time really drilling down on the candidates otherwise someof them might find themselves with a little cash in their pocket but notsure where to go next and no college education.I agree that walking away from college with significant debt is somethingthat we can all take pause about yet those years between 18-22 areinteresting ones. In Israel, these kids go into the Army. In the US, we gointo college. Those four years are big learning years and the 18 year oldgoing in comes out a very different person at 22 where they have had theability to take several courses, meet a variety of interesting people and bethought provoking on a daily basis.How many people, besides perhaps people who go into a trade business,actually have the minds where they can leap from HS to entrepreneur. Weprobably all know who they are and there aren’t a lot of them.

      1. Rohan

        Hi Joanne,I couldn’t agree more. I am 22 myself – graduated out of university a year ago. I graduated as Electrical Engineer – I know very little about it though. I spent 3 out of the 4 years working on a dot com, harbored dreams of being the next Zuckerberg.. and failed. But, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world!I am always wary of those who wish for a ‘revolution’.. change comes best a step at a time. And I think the school system, even if it doesn’t teach us exactly what we need to learn is great for many other things – especially for confidence. Now, I am inspired to blog about this conversation myself. Thanks a lot! 🙂 

  4. Marta Sjogren

    One could say that we have built a society of individuals fighting so hard to “make it”, that many have lost the sense of humanity, let alone morals.Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Gotham Gal

      you may be right

  5. Laura Yecies

    Of course you have to wonder how these kids who are tutored so consistently are going to make it through college away from home and their tutors.  We were shocked to see this at our children’s private high school – tutors to get A’s instead of B’s, not just for kids who were struggling to understand the material.

    1. Gotham Gal

      there was a kid at my daughters college who went to one of the top daughter figured she was incredibly bright and would blow everyone awayin school. she happened to be in one of her classes, they weren’t friends.anyway, that particular class, this kid seriously struggled and didn’t dowell. my daughter couldn’t believe it. certainly a lesson for my daughteras she realized it isn’t all about the diploma or where you go but who youare. i figured that the kid must have been tutored all through hs which iswhy she had such a difficult time when she got to college.bottom line, that can’t feel so good.

      1. Kim P

        I’m a high school registrar (public school) and it’s not only private schools with the helicopter parents who don’t want their child to have to figure anything out on their own. These parents are setting their children up for failure and the inability to think on their own or learn how to do anything for themselves. This goes on all the way through the time they graduate. The parents are the ones filling out the students’ college applications, requesting transcripts, etc so the kids have no clue how to do even the simplest things. What’s sad is that once the student turns 18 and goes off to that college the parent applied for and the parent tries to go up to the college and argue with the professor about a grade or call the student services office to give their child a message during classtime, the colleges hang up on the parent. They won’t allow it. When it came time for my boys to start the college app process, I made them do it themselves. I was there if they had questions, but they had to learn how to figure each process out and how to research any information they needed. They are 25 and 21 (my 16 y/o is still in high school) and they know how to take care of themselves in every aspect of their life. It’s a good feeling knowing you’ve set your child up to be independent.

        1. Gotham Gal

          good for you! my kids did it themselves too. called the colleges, let themknow they were coming, figured out the tours, took care of theirtranscripts, etc. they did have someone help them study for the SAT, as pertheir request, which we were able to fill as i know many people are not.the only thing we did was take them around to schools and oldest is doing a semester abroad next fall and including getting herstudent visa ( which is a major hassle ), i have done absolutely nothingexcept bug her for the dates.

  6. rachel

    Love that Anna Quindlen. Bottom line it is much easier to be successful (and happy!) by using inherit rather than contrived strengths. Best thing my (private) school and parents did for me was to help identify the strengths and ignore the weaknesses. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      i like that. identifying strengths is probably the key to anyone’s success.

  7. Tracey Jackson

    I totally agree with you. When I went to private school it was called college preparatory school because they did that, your parents spent the extra money to put you in a smaller environment with the idea it would better prepare you for the work in college. By the time I had kids and they went to private school and EVERYBODY was getting tutored I was floored. What were they there for. The pushing and pulling and setting up expectations for kids that might be entirely different than what they want is unfair and I think cuts them off at the pass. Let them find themselves, most will. Let them fall and learn to pick themselves up, most will. And let them find their own bliss. I think with all the instant fame we are parading across the media it is confusing and not remotely kind.Loved the Quindlen speech. Thank you for positing.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Good point particularly on the fame

  8. rebeccastees

    I’ve heard about this new trend  (that covers the gap)  “coaches for college students”.They inquire about what you are eating, when you are sleeping, your time management  and your deadlines.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I have too. Frightening

    2. Gotham Gal

      It might be a business that works but I find that so insanely scary. Dothey turn into their life coaches upon graduation?

  9. Cheryl Larkin

    Anna Quindlen does it again. “Bring kindness back”–in what we say, what we do, how we judge and are judged–seems to cover it all.

    1. Pamela P

      I wish everybody would think about kindness first.  There are some people that I work with that are very aggressive and tend to run over people.  I overheard them talking about some of the other employees as being passive.  It is not that the other employees are passive it is that they are kind and think of others feelings first before doing things.  It is sad that not everybody thinks of others before taking actions.

  10. Ericlklein

    Thank you for sharing this, I would have missed it otherwise and it is too good to miss.