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Mickey and Donald were not college roommates

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One of my sons wants to be a plumber at Disneyland when he grows up.

That’s a very specific job. Does the Happiest Place on Earth have in-house uncloggers? Probably. With thousands of mouse-earred visitors a day, the pipes and drains of the park must be tremendously strained.

Because we want to show our son we take his desire seriously, we have discussed the steps he’d take to find himself snaking out the main line in the Tiki Tiki Tiki Room, where they should really lay off the pineapple.

He’d need to be an apprentice, a journeyman, and finally he could be a master plumber. It would take 4 to 5 years of on-the-job training plus some classroom instruction in basic engineering and architecture. He’d need to be strong in math because often there are blueprints to read and calculations to make.

You don’t learn plumbing in one Saturday afternoon workshop at Home Depot.

A four-year college or university degree would be completely unnecessary. Last time I checked, CU specialized in a different sort of pipe.

It’s okay with me if our kids do not go to a traditional four-year state or private university. If they find a passion early in life in cooking, fashion design, firefighting, or the military we will throw our support behind their dreams. I have nothing but respect for people who thrive in these careers, so why would I care if my kids want to work in these fields?

But In my circle of friends and family, this isn’t a widely held view. To most families we know, college is a given, a necessity, a non-negotiable.

I think this narrow view has potential to be damaging.

Many of my fellow dorm dwellers wanted to be anywhere but in school. Actions scream, words whisper. They floundered, partied, skipped classes, wasted money, and ultimately faded away. Some overdosed, some attempted suicide, others flunked out. Was it was their idea to apply to the school or someone else’s? The pressure from parents, teachers, counselors, peers can be enormous.

I don’t want to be the mom who pins the school pennant over the crib. That was my life, my experience, my history. It’s not necessarily my child’s. I will not be that source of concentrated pressure. I can guide, give my opinion, but ultimately it’s my kid who will sign the college application and send it off. Not me.

Is it wise to at least have a few business classes aced? Yes, if the dream is to start a company. These classes and many others are easily found at local community colleges, often with flexible hours. It’s not critically important that business accounting be learned on a 200 year old ivy covered campus. Numbers are numbers.

Bonus: The child who wants to start his or her own business will have more money to invest in the business if there aren’t massive loans to pay off after graduation.

More than anything, I want my children to have a sense of place and purpose after they leave home. I want them to crave a life that is productive and that will support independent living. The best way to do that is to approach the future with an open mind. There isn’t only one path to success.

Someday, my son might find himself driving to work in Anaheim, California.

When he clocks in, he’ll be smiling, and not just because Goofy is standing next to him.

gretchen
Author: gretchen

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Comments
  • comment avatar Jenni April 27, 2010

    A hearty HEAR HEAR from me!

  • comment avatar Laura April 27, 2010

    You’ve knicked that age-old debate about the purpose of a liberal arts education–job preparation or enlightenment? I agree with your assessment of the job potential, but when I think back on college, it’s the non-career track courses that continue to enrich my life: Latin, art history, musical heritage, psychology, philosophy. I didn’t make a cent from those classes, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for any amount of money. I wouldn’t even trade them for life experience, because they were life experience. I want my students to love learning enough that they would seek out such experiences, even if they seem like a side track. But then, I guess they have a lifetime to do so, and for many post-college the timing isn’t right.

  • comment avatar Sara Joy April 27, 2010

    Leo and I *just* had this conversation again. We echo your sentiments exactly. Also {SHOCKING!} we have no intentions of paying for our children’s post high school education.
    It has nothing to do with our ability, but to do with motivation and the pride and work you put into something you earn. We have every intention of supporting them in many other ways.
    We both did it on our own. Are we still paying? Yep, but it isn’t hurting us, it has placed us in a far better place than an education funded by others and squandered would have put us. 🙂

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson April 27, 2010

    Great discussion, Gretchen. Yes, I would love both of my children to go to college and graduate with a degree.

    Will it be the end-all, be-all for me to force this upon them? No. However, I do believe firmly they should be trained in something, somewhere just as you suggested. Some kids just aren’t cut out for college and they talents lie elsewhere.

    And sometimes that place is Disneyland. 🙂

  • comment avatar Melissa April 27, 2010

    Great article. As of right now, we have not set aside any money for our kids to go to college. Agreeing with previous posts, we feel that they should be educated in where their interests lie, wherever they can get that education.

    How old is your son? Because my 5 year old says he wants to be a policeman.

  • comment avatar Stephanie April 27, 2010

    I guess I’m one of those folks who knows that college isn’t for everyone (and not every occupation can be found through a college degree), but I would be pretty surprised if my kids didn’t go to college. It’s too early to say I’d be disappointed (though I’m guessing I would be), but I can’t fathom them turning down a free private education worth the price of a house. It’s the perk of working at a college, and the expectation that will undoubtedly be transferred to my girls.

  • comment avatar Lavender Luz April 27, 2010

    Thanks for this, Gretchen. I tend to be one of Those Moms, and you’ve made me think.

  • comment avatar JoAnn April 27, 2010

    Great post, Gretchen!

    We will encourage Claire to get her college degree, but if she is truly passionate about something that deviates from that path, things are always up for discussion. Odds are, she’ll want something that requires a degree, but you never know.

    I am a firm believer in that you earn more than a degree from college. The life experiences I gained during those years of my life can’t be quantified in a resulting paycheck, but I wouldn’t give them up for the world.

    I have a feeling my daughter will continue to love learning, as we’ve seen that in her for a while now. I hope to keep that love alive and see where it takes her. 🙂

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  • comment avatar nicole April 28, 2010

    I pretty much completely agree with you. I pay my hairstylist a handsome fee, my mechanic gets a good amount, and so on. These are services that people want/need and someone has to provide them. I was a degree advisor at a 4 year university for a couple of years before procreation became my main occupation. I saw so many students wasting time and money taking classes they did not want to be in at a college they had no desire to attend just because the parents made them. Some people need time and work experience to realize college might be what they want after all, or not. The “American Dream” doesn’t have to look one way for everyone, but so many fail to see that.

  • comment avatar edj April 29, 2010

    Yes. I recently had a discussion about this with a friend here. We agreed–college is great for certain careers and personalities, but it’s not for everyone.

  • comment avatar Amy April 29, 2010

    I think there is more to life than working and earning money. It would be fine with me if my child wants to pursue plumbing, but I do not think that college would have been a waste. It seems to me that education is often perceived as a means to an end, the end being a way to earn money. I do not think reading Shakespeare makes an elitist or would be “worthless” if a person becomes a plumber. Pursuing issues that interest you intellectually should be something you do your whole life, and college gives you an opportunity to determine where your interests lie. I think it’s also possible to meet peers who will shape your ideas and choices in positive ways. Certainly some 18-22 years olds drink to much, try to commit suicide and use illegal drugs of all kinds, BUT college doesn’t make kids do it. If someone is feeling lost, they will feel lost as a plumber too.

  • comment avatar Minnesotamom April 29, 2010

    Don’t I know it! My dusty degrees (Bach. Architecture, Bach. Science in Environmental Design, 1/2 a Music Theory and Composition degree) have not been used. Not to say I didn’t learn a lot of skills in college and make the best of friends, but I definitely could stand to be thousands of dollars richer (and then some, because I would’ve also been working!) nowadays.

  • comment avatar Rachel P. April 30, 2010

    My mother always believed that if you were happy digging a ditch for a career then you were a success in her eyes. However, I had too VERY pushy teachers in high school who jumped on me when I didn’t express any future plans to attend college or have a career. So I tried it for a semester, then dropped out and got married. I just didn’t have much ambition. Now, I have discovered my talents really do lie in the skills that make me a great mom. Imagine if I had tried to spend four years trying to force myself through college without any direction or goals. I have to say, I agree that sometimes a skilled worker is just as valuable as a worker with a degree.

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