Like most American parents, I have been diligently saving for my childrens' education since the day when each was born. Believing, as we are told, that a college education is not merely desirable, but actually necessary for the betterment of my offspring, I knew I was doing the only responsible thing a parent could do. With six wonderful children, it was not unreasonable, I felt, to expect to be the only family in town to give rise to a lawyer, a doctor, a quarterback, an elementary school teacher, a cheerleader and a nurse.
Over the past few years, however, my dreams of academic success have begun to look a more than a little naive. A growing disapproval of the manner in which our college educated young present themselves began a process of disillusionment which ended with my decision to refuse my eldest the "advantage" of college this coming Fall. The events that brought this situation to a head occurred last Thanksgiving, when my neighbour's daughter, Blair, returned home for the first time since she had left to attend MIT that year.
I remember watching Blair grow up alongside my own children. Though older than them all, she was a fine playmate for my girls, and since her parents are quite devout, I had no qualms about her giving my children any strange ideas. I remember a freckled and knee-skinned eight year old, riding bikes with my eldest daughter on our avenue beneath the sycamores in their Springtime glory. I watched her as she went through her awkward teenage years, uncertain and confused. The proudest memory we have of her is as a young woman, freshly home from finishing school, before she was sent off to receive a higher education.
I had my qualms about her parents' decision to allow her to attend MIT, a notoriously secular university, but these were settled when some brief investigation revealed that MIT was considered to be even more conformist than Berkeley. So, it was with a proud smile and a merry wave that my family watched young Blair leave our town to seek her destiny in the halls of academe. Little did we realise that the girl who would return to us would not be the same radiant young woman whose memory we had cherished.
It wasn't until Thanksgiving dinner, which our families traditionally eat together, that I met young Blair again. The aggrieved expression on her father, Miles' face was all the first hint that this would not be the joyful reunion we had expected. Minutes later, Blair was coaxed downstairs by her mother. The sight of her left us all quite taken aback. Gone was the long, strawberry-blonde hair that had made her the envy and delight of all her peers. It had been cropped to barely shoulder length and dyed fiercely black.
Her once radiant skin was now sickly pale, giving the impression, I felt, of a subterranean lifestyle. She dressed in the anti-social style of a militant nonconformist; in purple boots, grey army-style pants and a heavy, drab wool sweater.
Throughout dinner, young Blair was a sullen presence at the table, casting a pall on what should have been a convivial evening. She was monosyllabic in her replies to questions about college. Her face was constantly downturned, as though she wanted to pretend there was nobody else present at the table. When I asked her about the boys she had met at college, and if she was having finding any good husband material, she finally looked up, only to give me the most angry, hurt stare I have ever had from a young woman.
The whites of her eyes were very red, as though she had been crying for hours, and her lip trembled, as if she were on the verge of saying something, but she obviously thought better of it, and returned to resolutely studying her dinner plate. It was then that I realised that something terrible had happened to her at college, most likely at the hands of heartless college men.
How could a few months of college change a person so completely? As much as it hurt me, I knew that I could not allow the drastically altered attitudes of young Blair to affect my family. I would not allow my children to be so irrevocably damaged. With heartfelt apologies to Miles, I told my children that they were not allowed to see Blair ever again. The strident complaints of my three daughters told me I had made the correct decision. Already they had begun to be drawn to her attitude of teenage rebellion. It felt good to know that I had acted in time to save them.
Of course, I was shaken enough by the events of Thanksgiving to begin reassessing the pros and cons of a college education for my children. The misgivings I had been feeling over the past few years now seemed more well-grounded, while the benefits of college had taken on the aspect of wishful thinking. Was it really worth the risk, to send my children away, to pay tens of thousands for an education that they might not even get?
Americans have not always harboured college ambitions for their progeny. Until the 1960s, it was not common to meet college graduates. Even though the GI benefits program provides for college education for returning soldiers, most of those who survived WW2 did not exercise those particular benefits. College ambition was simply not part of the American culture, until the Sixties.
It was thanks to the Vietnam war that college became the expected continuation of a middle class child's life. With the new SAT program opening possibilities that had once been restricted to the children of privileged families, more students took it upon themselves to seek acceptance in tertiary institutions. Coupled with the fact that college entry delayed the draft for as long as the child was at college, it is easy to see why America in the Sixties saw such a massive rise in college applications.
A rise so unexpected and so large that the nation was forced to almost bankrupt itself to build state colleges to accept the middle class children fleeing the war.
What did this leave us with? A well educated middle class? Alas, no. The result of the boom in education has been a tide of smug, mistaught state college graduates, who consider themselves to be the example of the modern intellectual, despite having spent their entire three years at college indulging their basest appetites and avoiding any form of learning. Not that avoiding learning is difficult in America's state colleges. These institutions have never been known for their high academic standards.
After the war ended, the college system's primary function -- to provide a shelter from the draft -- ceased. Even so, the state colleges have remained little more than degree mills and pretentious sleep-away schools for spoiled middle American teenagers who want to delay growing up for a few more years.
As the college graduates of those turbulent years raise their own children to college age, they of course look back on their college years as the best time of their lives. Having based much of their self-esteem on their all-but-worthless degrees, they naturally see college as the logical next step for their children, and encourage them to attend whatever liberal arts course they feel like.
No doubt, they imagine college will transform their child into the next Susan Sontag or P. J. O'Rourke. Of course, they have forgotten that their presence at college was not for the sake of education, but was born of the cowardice that bought our nation its first ever military defeat.
It is this misapprehension about the purpose of education that has sustained our college system through the last three decades, however, as the nineties drew to a close, the tide of children born of parents who had attended college in the Sixties began to dry up. America's colleges and even our most revered universities have begun to feel the squeeze, as too many institutions compete for too few students. It is this highly competitive environment that has caused some of our most respected institutions to start selling degrees.
It was not long after I first began using the internet that I received my first offer of a college degree for no more than twenty dollars. Apparently, this practice has become common among educational institutions, and the only difference now between a Harvard degree and one from a degree mill such as Carnegie-Mellon is the price you pay. A depressing state of affairs, offering no plausible benefits to my children. I will not have my flesh and blood participate in this hypocrisy.
And what of the supposed benefits of education? While the dreams of success that draw hundreds of thousands to college may be compelling, the facts are not so attractive. Most college graduates don't amount to much more than a mediocre success in the real world. On the other hand, we are always hearing tales of people such as Bill Gates who did not attend college -- or sometimes even finish high school -- achieving incredible wealth and fame.
The educational institutions of America have little to offer but disillusionment and corruption. While a properly educated elite is necessary for society to function well, the state college system has done little to advance the education of our leaders, and much to undermine not only knowledge and truth in these United States, but also the prestige that education brings. Offering literally hundreds of soft option courses such as psychology and astrophysics, the modern American student has become renowned not for learning, but for indolence and immaturity.
Even the SAT examination -- the basis of college entry -- has been "updated" to be composed almost entirely of multiple choice questions, so easily guessed that cheating (not to mention learning) is almost pointless. American revolving door colleges are quite clearly making a mockery of our nation's proud heritage.
In our modern colleges, children are turned against their parents, and taught to hate society. Loving and respectful young men and women are returned to their parents hateful and withdrawn. So-called sexual "liberation" (really a euphemism for institutionalized rape) abounds within college dormitories, and no effort is made to control underage drinking and drug abuse. I shiver at the thought of what might befall poor Blair when she returns to college. When we see her again I worry that she will have become addicted to narcotics such as marijuana, heroin or smack. I cannot allow my children to fall into the same trap.
Since the illusion of college has been so effectively shattered for me, I have revised my expectations for my children. None will attend college, but instead, they will find jobs in the industries that made America great. The industries upon which our nation was built. I will be proud to be the first father in my town to count among my children an auto-worker, a soldier, a steel miner, a secretary, a beautician and a waitress. These are noble and honest trades, despite their unglamorous image.
If I were a more powerful man, I would do more. I would call for the dismantling of the state college system. I would demand a drastic reduction in our government's education budget. I would fight tooth and nail to keep our nation's children out of college. I am, however, no more than a humble father of six, and I can only try to protect what is my own..