Gary Horton | Focus Sharply on College for Success

Existent in our Santa Clarita Valley cyberspace are “chatrooms” where various factions hurl never-bending opinions toward one another, which in practice is pretty much akin to banging one’s head against the wall. Opinions seldom change. Bigoted opinions, even less so. 

This past week, a more reactionary local Facebook bemoaner groaned on about the so-called, “so-very-sad-state” of our nation’s colleges and universities. Apparently, alt-right, alt-universe people are convinced our colleges batch print out nothing but spineless socialists, wilting flower do-nothings who couldn’t find themselves out of a cardboard box. America, they say, has created a generation of softy-flunkies. Buried in such vitriol is, of course, an anti-intellectual, anti-education bigotry that equates academia and intellectual growth to ever-threatening, evil liberalism.

Well, if it’s true that sending a kid to college is akin to sending a kid to Mao’s re-education camps – still, you’re going to risk it with your beloved kids or grandkids. You may see liberal evil in the halls of academia if you want, but in the year of our Lord 2019, to get ahead in life you’re going to have to stay ahead of an international hundreds of millions, also attempting to get ahead of our technological wave as it wipes out entire industries and careers in its path. 

It’s “get smart fast” or get lost. Conservative bias against education or not – getting ahead will almost always require a trip through the liberal bastions of higher education.

Our family’s experience, and the experience of almost all I know – for hundreds of friends and employees – has been that access to good college led to good careers and successful families. I haven’t met these bemoaned softy couch-potato socialists emerging from Californian socialist drone printing colleges. Instead, forthcoming from our esteemed universities, I’ve witnessed almost universally well-trained, confident, capable, independent, reasonably clear-minded strivers. That broader-thinking individuals emerge from a well-balanced and wide-scope education is a risk dogmatically restricted parents and students may need to take. Shooting the whole system down as a socialist scheme is to your own family’s significant detriment.

If you’re reading this column you’re likely either a parent or grandparent of kids somewhere along the continuum of approaching college. Today, most enter some sort of college. But only 25 percent eventually make it all the way through. While it’s true that some of America’s most celebrated billionaires quit college prematurely (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs), much more likely, success is associated with individuals who hammered themselves with advanced education sufficient to equip themselves for the creative and high-skilled demands their careers require.

Set your family’s college expectation early and feed the expectation with frequent and interesting exposure. Family discussions about colleges, early field trips, leading by example (go to college or extended education yourself), and heavy immersion in reading, reading, reading make a huge difference in outcomes.

Simply, making advanced education a part and parcel of your family experience, tradition and expectation helps yield the desired results of kids getting all the way through. 

As much as possible, place your kids in settings conducive to meeting like-minded peers and keep expanding their minds. Include trips to museums, to live performances, to libraries, to science facilities. Keep your kids peppered with the expectation of advanced learning, melded to real-life kid experiences that lead toward it.

Most educators confirm that learning and educational expectations begin in the home. Hard news for busy parents, as this means more work for you. But there’s simply no substitute for parents who first read to, then read with, then experience learning with – their kids in the home setting.

Yeah, the whole “raise kids and get them into and through a good college” thing is a ball of hard work. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy for some to criticize the process and the system. It can be expensive, arduous and requiring of intense focus by both parent and child. And you do run the risk of your kids developing their own minds, opinions, and styles of living that may, in truth, be contrary to your own preferences. That’s life and each must find their way…

And that some young adults emerge from college yet unprepared for harsh realities isn’t disputed. But, like computer code, to a good extent it’s, “What you put into it is what you get out of it.” Maybe the “lost, wilted flower” outcomes so loudly wailed in the redder corners of American opinion are reflections of personal outcomes rather than the reality we witness marching out by the hundreds of thousands of our own universities and colleges right here in California.

It’s trendy to belittle colleges today, with their “safe spaces” and “triggers.” This too, shall pass. During the Vietnam War, colleges were bemoaned by some as commie hotbeds of rebellion. Turns out the kids back then were right about a lot of things. And as we’ve plainly witnessed, for many decades now, our “liberal” public institutions have provided the education and knowledge that’s driven our remarkable advancement and leadership in science, medicine and social advancement.

So, science-denying and anti-intellectualism aside, in the real world outside the radicalized opinion world, your kids getting ahead almost certainly means advanced, mind-expanding education. Get your kids on board with college goals early and stay focused on the prize. Your kids will be competing against a giant, interconnected globe of very determined strivers. They’ll need all the tools and advantages available.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared on Wednesdays in The Signal since 2006.

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