There are many reasons not to start the push toward college before your child is even in preschool. You know most of them, but here’s one you might not have thought of: There is no point in pushing children, because by the time today’s toddlers turn 18, college – along with the book-based world for which college prepares you – will be an obsolete relic.
That’s the argument put forth by Tracy Mayor in the most recent issue of Brain, Child magazine, in an article titled “Armageddon Mama: Parenting Toward the Apocalypse. Are We Raising Our Kids to Cope With a Radically Revised Future?” Mayor (who, more better known as a humor writer) notes:
The recent past has been a tough decade for parenting, anxiety-wise. Y2K set the mood, 9/11 shook us to the core, and suddenly in between changing diapers and taking pregnancy tests, we were worrying about anthrax in the mail and terrorists on every street corner. The first decade of the new millennium brought us two wars, two recessions, a flu pandemic, an autism epidemic, a childhood-obesity epidemic, a housing crisis, a health care crisis, a crisis in public education and toys made with phthalates, BPA and lead paint from China. Whew.
With that as prologue, she wonders why we are still preparing our children for a life where book-learning insures the future. What if “a fully wired, completely interconnected, always-on global marketplace of ideas and innovation” isn’t actually what the future will look like, she asks. “What if we’re raising our kids to succeed in a George Jetson kind of world, but they wind up living more like Fred Flintstone?”
Last week, at Babble.com, the columnist Jane Roper quoted Mayor’s article and wondered how the possibility of “the Apocalypse” might change the way she raises her own twin daughters:
Our world, particularly America, is in the midst of huge economic, environmental and technological changes. We could be living in a very different society 20, 25 years from now. Who is to say that the key to success (or even survival) in that world will be having a degree from a top college? It could be that the kids who grew up less programmed are, in fact, more prepared to thrive. Maybe instead of getting them SAT tutors and signing them up for tuba lessons we should be taking them camping and teaching them how to grow their own food.
Mayor agrees. She cites writers like Bill McKibben (whose new book is “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet”) and Sean Broderick (author of “The Ultimate Suburban Survivalist Guide”) who both warn, with varying degrees of urgency and specificity, that tomorrow’s adults may well need survival skills that their own parents (that would be us) do not have and are not taught in schools.
As McKibben tells her:
“When education started in this country, the goal was to round off people who were already practically skilled,” McKibben says. “Most people grew up knowing how to do things like raise their own food and an astonishing number of tasks that we no longer know how to do. You went to school to read the classics and get some polish.
“We’re now kind of in the opposite situation, where kids spend 100 percent of their time in a mediated environment. We learn about the world through one school or another. So we might need to be thinking more about using school to introduce us to those practical things that we don’t know how to do anymore.”
Broderick, in turn, lists a handful of skill sets that might still provide a living in the event of an economic collapse, things like “bike mechanic, toolmaker, cobbler, acoustic musician, or beermaker.” He tells Mayor:
“I’m not saying you should run out and apprentice your kid to a tailor. Just pick a skill that can be done in the absence of electricity, something they can do with their hands where they can pitch in.” His own son takes archery, for example; his daughter rides horses (which counts, I suppose, as an alternative source of transportation). Brodrick himself makes beer, for the fun of it now, he says, but also because, as he writes in his book, “Everybody is going to be stressed after a collapse. You might be able to make a good living thinking outside the box on how you can relieve [that] stress.”
Beyond the homemade brewskis, he makes sure that his kids are learning more than one language, that they can do basic calculations in their heads, not just on a calculator, and that they learn how to haggle, a skill he believes will become invaluable when resources run scarce.
Neither Mayor or Roper are scooping up their families and moving to a wilderness survival camp. And neither has stopped trying to save for college. But they have already made small adjustments in their views of their children’s future. Mayor, somewhat comforted by McKibben’s prediction of a “powered down” society, where acquisition is not the endgame, and where neighbors look out for one another, has decided that her job is to raise her teen and pre-teen “to be in some way part of a solution. Not just recyclers or composters or occasional car-campers, but innovators, problem-solvers, team players, good citizens of the world.” Also, she plans to teach them how to brew beer.
Roper, in turn, feels uncertainty gives her license to reject the amped up parenting she sees around her (“chapter books … in kindergarten and signing them up for 10,000 extracurricular activities.”) As she writes:
We want them to be kind, thoughtful and conscientious people. We want them to challenge themselves. We want them to be economically self-sufficient. We want them to find fulfillment in their work – either the wage earning kind and/or the not-so-profitable, pursuing your passion kind (writing, anyone?). And, yes, we want them to have choices in life, which a college education will most likely help provide. But we’re not going to drive ourselves or our children crazy trying to make sure they get into ivy league schools, unless that’s what they decide they want to do. (And in that case, they’d better get some hefty scholarships and/or be prepared to take on some debt!)
And you? What do you think will best prepare you children for the future? How much of it is under your control?
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