You Don’t Have to Leave, But You Can’t Stay Here
December 20, 2012 127 Comments
Blogging, I told someone the other day, is a bit like controlled free-writing for me. In theory, there is a focus to each day’s post but I’m not holding myself to the same rigorous standard I might apply to academic writing. This approach lends itself to a wide-variety of posts–no one will ever accuse me of being an “educational” or “political” blog partly because each day’s post depends, in many respects, on what I read in the paper.
But today, I want to revisit yesterday’s post because I fear I might have sounded a little less than enthused about the place I work. Let me say categorically that ASU is a great university. I have colleagues who are some of the best teachers in the business. One of the most frustrating things for me to read are blanket attacks on college professors. My colleagues here, unlike faculty at large research universities, teach a full load, research in moderation, and serve both the campus and the community.
Put simply–they are some of the finest educators I know, dedicated to helping our students achieve success. We have undergraduate programs that are some of the finest in the nation. Our Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Geo sciences students regularly participate in undergraduate research, get accepted to medical schools and graduate schools. I’m partial to our English department and the employability. Our students go to graduate school, teach, and, at times, become officers in the military. Our kids graduate, get jobs, and have some of the lowest student loan debt in the nation. I could go on and on.
But, as I noted yesterday, I still don’t want my son to go here.
When my wife and I had our first son, I told her my parenting model was Homer Simpson and that the key to great parenting was keeping our expectations low. Remember, I told her, the mind is powerful and we should encourage our kids to repress as many memories as possible.
Of course, the real goal of parenting is to create human beings who are better than you. We do that by giving them appropriate opportunities and steering them into making good choices. Sometimes we have to be surreptitious. And many times we have to let them fail. But most importantly, we have to let them be uncomfortable.
When my son goes off to college, I want him to live someplace where being the tall white kid isn’t the norm. I want him to live someplace where he doesn’t know anyone, where the couple living next door is the same gender, and the couple on the other side is multi-racial. And I want him to live someplace where the washing machine is across town and only works with quarters.
I love my son but I don’t want him to come home every weekend.
Most importantly, I want him to struggle with ideas independent of my wife and I. He needs to see and hear things outside the context of his comfort zone. Certainly, he’ll be home on the holidays, crashing on the couch, but when he does I’m hoping he’s different. He should see us as small town, backwards, and out of touch as the world of ideas and people opens up before him. I have faith he’ll eventually change perspectives and realize we aren’t quite as dumb as he thinks, but when he goes to his 10 year reunion, I hope people look at him and say, “you’re different.” That’s not a bad thing. (At my 10 year reunion, someone told me I talked different. I felt like saying, I’ve got a PhD in English. I damn well better sound different or I’ve wasted my money!).
I understand parents who want to keep their kids close. I’m sure they have the same hopes and dreams. We want our children to be happy and safe (and employed!). Many parents hope their children stay around and live near by. There’s something to be said for that. We live 7 hours from my wife’s parents and holidays are a pain. I know her brothers, sisters, and parents would love to see her and our children more often. My relatives live even farther way and I haven’t seen many of them for years.
And sometimes that’s the price we pay for sending our kids off into the world. Periodically, I’ll ask my students where they’ve traveled. I’ll have some military children who have been everywhere, a couple of folks who have, at least, crossed into Mexico (we are two hours from the border here), and I’ll have 5-10 kids who have never been outside Tom Green County. I realize sometimes this is economic, but not always. Usually, it’s a conscious decision by the parents who don’t see the need.
Our job as parents, though, isn’t to encourage our kids to stay around because we want to be near them. We aren’t supposed to try and turn them into a little us. Our job is to open the world and give them a chance to live in it. I would be thrilled if my kids move off, find love, and come back to San Angelo. But if they come back, they need to make that choice. This needs to be the place they want to live; not the place they have always lived.
The goals of education and the goals of parenting are often the same: we want smart, critical thinking kids, who can both follow direction but who are also capable of telling us how to improve those directions. We want, as the old adage goes, to teach our kids to fish instead of just giving them fish. These goals are long range and largely impossible to measure because they require pushing, pulling, getting out of the way, and, in general, making stuff up as we go along. They require help but they also require times when we don’t help. We can manufacture successes when necessary and allow failure when it’s appropriate.
And it also means, eventually, letting go and hoping nothing really bad happens. That is particularly true when our kids turn 18 and that’s what we hope to do as we encourage our son to choose a school where he can be un-comfortable so he can learn to think, live, love, and become himself.