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As you may have surmised by now, given our income and the amount of student loan debt we have, we don’t have the means to, nor do we plan on funding our children’s (and we have four of them) college education.
But, that’s a good thing. Because even if we could, we wouldn’t do it anyway.
You know the term helicopter parenting, right? (Go Finance Yourself talked about it in a recent blog post, if you need to bring yourself up to speed.) Basically, it’s overseeing your kids, to the point where you’re like a helicopter hovering overhead, swooping in to rescue them at the first sign of trouble. This style of parenting gives children very little independence, doesn’t allow for developing autonomy, and can do a real number on the kid’s confidence.
And I think that paying for a kid’s college education is one of the biggest forms of helicopter parenting out there.
Your whole “building a legacy” thing seems a bit (how do I say this in a nice way?)… controlling.
Developing independence and autonomy is one of the most important things in a person’s life. Paying for their own education encourages a child to take responsibility for their own lives, to do with it what they want, and to fully make it their own. If a parent is funding their education, they are taking all of that away from them.
Granted, I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be pretty sweet to have your college education paid for (believe me, I know, as we have $153,000 in student loan debt), but it does come at another price (loss of autonomy)… and that is a price that I would not want to pay.
But that’s not to say that we shouldn’t guide our children, that we shouldn’t have conversations with them about debt and careers and education and choices in life. Imparting our wisdom is all part of being a parent. That doesn’t mean we have to hold their hands every time they cross the street or when they’re taking college entrance exams. Eventually, we’re going to have to let them go on to make their own choices and mistakes and triumphs and all the rest of it.
I’ve always liked this quote by Kahlil Gibran:
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
If one of my kids comes to me with a problem, sometimes (depending on what it is, of course), I’ll say: “It’s your life. What do you think?”
It’s a constant reminder that their lives are their paths to cultivate.
Another thing is that I have a bit of a bone to pick with this whole college education thing. You mentioned in a recent post about how you think that stocks are in a big fat bubble… well, I think that there is this big fat higher-education bubble that is going to burst anytime now as well.
Hedge-fund billionaire Peter Thiel said in an interview with the National Review:
Probably the only candidate left for a bubble — at least in the developed world (maybe emerging markets are a bubble) — is education. It’s basically extremely overpriced. People are not getting their money’s worth, objectively, when you do the math. And at the same time it is something that is incredibly intensively believed; there’s this sort of psycho-social component to people taking on these enormous debts when they go to college simply because that’s what everybody’s doing.
Basically, it seems like the way higher education is being done now is not working. Colleges used to be a place where people would go to Learn for the Sake of Learning. Now, college has become a place where Everybody Has to Go to Get a Good Job. I think that’s dumb. I think it’s a broken system and I’m not entirely sure if going to college is the best option for most people.
I think there should be a complete overhaul in the education system. I think more businesses should offer specific training (the Wall Street Journal has an article about the possibility of merit badges being used in place of college degrees). Make more occupations require trade-based training instead of a college degree.
Blogger Jennifer Fulwiler wrote a great article about the end of college as we know it and the future of education. She writes:
I believe that this is the fault line on which the higher education system will split: New organizations will be created that offer workplace credentials, and traditional colleges will be free to research and teach without worrying about job training. And this will be a great thing. Our grandkids will be able to save time and money by getting badges targeted to the specific areas in which they work. And if they do go to college, they will be able to enjoy a wonderful concept that has been almost entirely lost by our modern education system: To learn simply for the sake of learning.
But, where does this leave us for where we’re at now?
In one sense, as I was saying, I don’t want my kids to be a part of this broken educational system, but in another sense, what other options do they have? The system is not fixed yet.
With my husband, even though chiropractic is probably an occupation that would benefit from an apprenticeship-type model of education, that was not a choice we had. We had to play the game. He had to go through 8+ years of education (undergraduate + doctorate degrees) to become what he wanted to become because there was no other way to do it.
I was talking to my 11 year old son the other day. I was in the process of registering him for his next year of school. Even at this age, I encourage my kids to be thoughtful and autonomous about their education, so I give them a choice if they want to attend school every year. (I am kind of an unschooler at heart, meaning that I think kids can learn and grow without formal schooling, but I send my kids to a 3-day a week Montessori Homeschool Academy because, as they get older, it turns out that they DO want to learn and grow at an exponential rate, and that I am lazy, and this school provides them the resources and wherewithal to do so.)
With asking him, I also shared with him about how, if we imagine All There Is To Know In The World as a pie graph, what they learn in school makes up only a small portion of that pie, and, hey, isn’t it crazy how everyone in school is learning the SAME piece of that pie…
And what if what you need to know in your life is a different slice of that pie? Then why are you spending all your time on that other piece?
So, when I asked him if he wanted to go to school next year or if he wanted to stay home, he said he wanted to go because he wants to learn what everybody else is learning. He doesn’t want to be left out.
With that conversation, my son taught me something a little something: There is a certain value in learning what everybody else is learning, in terms of being a part of the culture and society that we live in. Shared knowledge. I get that.
But, ultimately, I want to encourage my kids to find that other piece of the pie (or maybe their piece is part or an extension of the traditional schooling piece) and to run with it. There is so much to learn and know in the world, and I want them to find their thing. We are all born with gifts and interests and talents and abilities. If we pay attention to what those are and to what is calling us and driving us forward, I think that is a recipe for a good and happy life and a meaningful education.
After they find that piece, they can figure out what they want to do with it… whether it’s a trade school, a traditional college education, an apprenticeship, a job… whatever it is.
It’s up to them.