Too Much Academic Pressure On Students?

by Sara

Real question: how hard should parents push top academic students without crossing the line. Where is the line? Valedictorian at our school had no friends or hobbies – like an academic robot programmed for Harvard. At our high school, one father said he wouldn’t pay for a non- ivy. Another mother hired tutors for every subject to give her daughter the edge (daughter now struggling academically at an ivy).

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199 thoughts on “Too Much Academic Pressure On Students?

  1. If your student is already a top academic performer, I think that the parent should not push, but provide support and alleviate stress when possible. The student already has enough pressure from internal expectations and friends.

    The dad who refuses to pay for a non-ivy college seems like a d*ck.

  2. This is something I worry about a lot, especially because our area is very competitive. I am interested in hearing what those with older kids have to say.

  3. And what to do about the kids whose parents are unable to push? Sometimes because they are incompetent, abuse substances, or simply never graduated from elementary school themselves. Gunn and Paly High are balanced by a multitude of Central Valley high schools where there is no academic support, let alone pressure. Where there are next to no, or just plain no AP classes. Where the counselors tell the kids that there is no reason to get good grades.

    I worry about my daughters, because they work hard to be at the top of the class. At times, it seems the school actively sabotages their efforts. Not that the sabotage is targeted at them, but at all students. One principal did away with all the honors classes and made every freshman take remedial science. I have made some headway reversing his changes. I am THAT parent. I have managed to make some headway for my kids, but…there are lots of others. I have had juniors come to me for advice on college application, ask for tutoring and other advice. I help them as best I can, but if I am their best option, they are in a world of hurt.

    I think one of the root causes of the increasing income gap is how poorly schools serve kids whose parents can’t advocate for them. How to balance the necessary advocacy with crossing the line into way to much pressure is a really hard distinction to make.

  4. Another mother hired tutors for every subject to give her daughter the edge (daughter now struggling academically at an ivy).

    There was a scene in Modern Family where Alex (the brilliant overachiever in the family) is freaking out about her decision to go to Cal Tech. She asks in a panic, “What if I’m the dumbest one at Cal Tech? I mean someone has to be, right?”

    I think parents make a mistake when they try and push their kids too far beyond their set point. The ideal in terms of professional success, financial success, personal happiness might be for them to be in a less competitive environment where they can excel vs. always having to work harder than everyone else just to keep from falling behind.

  5. I wonder about the difference in pressuring your 80th percentile math kid and your 99.8 percentile math kid. (Or soccer, or violin, or whatever.). I wish my parents or teachers would have put more pressure on me to achieve, because I performed below my ability for Ll of high school and there was a lot of wasted time (not in that good, hang out with friends kind of wasted time, but read trashy novels during calculus wasting time.)

  6. I agree with Rhett. I hope we can help our kids develop so that they can find the schools, careers, lives that THEY can live to the fullest. Cat S, I also worry about our area being very competitive. If there is an academic arms race, what happens if you opt out?

  7. I’m reading Our Kids by Robert Putnam that discusses this question in detail. Mostly I conclude that it’s unfortunate that we so segregate ourselves by income and that this is increasing. The decline of school funded extracurriculars also hurts moderate and low income kids. My viewpoint is similar to Murphy’s, that removing honors classes is not the solution. It seems like allowing more inter district transfers might reduce inequality,

  8. If you’re that worried about academic pressure cooker environments, there is an easy answer to this.

  9. It seems like there is too much pressure, although we are no where near this stage. I agree w/Rhett on pushing kids beyond their set point. I was talking to a friend a few months back and she was bemoaning the fact that her 9 year old likes to goof off instead of taking school seriously. His grades are fine, he has a lot of friends (and um, he’s 9) but she was disappointed because he wasn’t “living up to his potential.” Then she said she had him tested for the gifted program and he was no where near gifted, so I’m not sure in what way he’s not living up to his potential.

    My parents didn’t push us and if they had maybe we would have been more successful, but who cares? We all have jobs, great husbands/families and can all pay our bills. I also had fun in high school and college, made lifelong friends and memories and also did fine in school. If one of my kids had ability but was not doing their best, sure I would step in with tutoring and/or privilege restriction, but in no way am I going to care if they don’t get into an elite colle.ge

  10. Reminds me of the old joke: What do you call the person that finishes last in their class at medical school? Doctor

    Probably doesn’t apply to things that are less credential-oriented.

  11. there is an easy answer to this.

    There is no easy answer as the question is: Is it for the best?

    If they are pushed they will end up the Chief of Surgery of Mass General if you don’t push they will end up living in a van down by the river.

  12. I grew up in a pressure cooker academic environment. It was awful and I wouldn’t wish that kind of childhood for my kids. Many of my friends rebelled in that they refused to pick majors that would involve more cut throat competition and long hours of studying. All my friends found lives and work that made them happy.
    As a result of student suicides in the home country, the government has decreed that students should not be held back till grade eight. My cousin who tutors ninth graders says that this is a disaster as it has gone too far the other way, where the kids can’t do basic math.
    I try to have my kids balance school work, extra curriculars and downtime. They play outside with the neighborhood kids almost every day.
    Our area is competitive but not crazy. Good students aim for state flagships and the there are plenty of colleges that take average students. Most people have decent lives and can pay their bills.

  13. “There is no easy answer as the question is: Is it for the best?”

    I meant there’s an easy answer to the worry that your local school is too competitive.

  14. I think the parent’s role is to push so that the kid actually does the assigned work to the best of his/her ability. This is the biggest problem we faced in our house…kids deciding that (certain parts of) the assigned work, like, oh I don’t know, actually reading the book for English class, was optional. And that their grade wouldn’t suffer because of it.

  15. I think a whole lot depends on how you push. If you make it clear that the child will never be acceptable in your sight if s/he doesn’t get into Harvard, well, that’s not great. If you can do more cheerleading and coaching, that’s better. My parents never found the right balance between “Any child of ours gets straight A’s” and “well, you’re the pretty one anyway, you’ll probably just get married” (remember I was born in 1960). I would have liked a little more tutoring and encouragement than I got. But my life turned out fine, so what the hell.

    My stepson put tremendous pressure on himself because he thought everyone around him was profoundly stupid, so he had to get straight A’s or else he’d be One Of Them. Of course he’s really smart, too, so that helped. We never pressured him and I’m pretty sure his idiot mother didn’t either, but then we didn’t have to.

  16. I have several opinions on this. First, I think a lot of the pressure I see in our schools in Westchester, particular the middle schools, is not really due to high academic standards, but is rather due to too much focus on things that have little to do with learning but are easy to evaluate. There is too much emphasis on massive amounts of pointless work, not just homework but in school too, so that getting an A becomes an exercise in paper shuffling and adhering to rigid presentation standards (bue pen only! except pencil only on part D and green pen on part E). While things are better in high school, it still seems that the only path to excelling is to be someone who is uber organized and very compliant. Well, I guess that is what employers want. I do appreciate the high level of the academics in the high school honors courses – my kid is learning a lot.

    On the other hand, I think there is too little pressure, of the academic sort, in our elementary schools. That leads to many problems in our middle school. When my two boys went through, it seemed that everyone was just floating in a sea of art projects and smiley faces. Parents seem far more concerned that their kids are doing “creative” things rather than they are actually learning. The problem is, the kids then hit middle school, where the Great Sort happens, and suddenly many of them found they aren’t able to keep up in math despite being assurred they were doing fine in elementary school. And of course, some of the kids are not mature enough or organized enough to deal with the sudden onslaught of paper and get knocked off the track. I consider it to be a real problem because 1) many of those disorganized kids are smart, and should be in the most demanding classes rather than being tracked out because they can’t maintain their planner correctly or use blue pen at the right moment 2) many of the kids who end up struggling with middle school math or writing could have succeeded with more preparation in elementary school 3) the kids who get weeded out and placed in “regular” courses will still end up, for the most part, going to college, for which they are utterly umprepared and may well end up as part of the half or so of college students who fail to graduate.

    I *think* things are improving in our district elementary schools. My daughter has had to do almost no art projects in the last 2 years, though she did have to do one ridiculous one recently (they had to read simple biographies and then paste photos having to do with the biography on a large cutout of a human figure, along with decorations and a few short sentences about the biography – what does THAT teach????). Math is much more demanding than it used to be, to the point that the bus stop moms are all having conniptions. My daugher is doing more writing about books they read, and less in they way of stories or memoirs. Her reading has really taken off and she loves math. I think the more intense focus on academics has been really good for her.

    So, yes, there is too much pressure in middle school but it is not really due to academics, but rather to stupid stuff and gatekeepering. And there has historically been too little pressure in elementary school, but hopefully that will change. As for high school, our district has tended to not produce a lot of students who go to the top tier universities, so we don’t see so much of that except in a very small group of students.

  17. Each kid is different. In some cases pushing may not be necessary and may be counter productive, in case of another, the parental involvement may help to get through organizational issues, help kids with managing their time etc. Helping a little, doesn’t mean crippling them for life :-).

  18. Rhett – I am flattered that you think so highly of me. I would say more, but I need to go get dressed for work. Thank goodness, it is not a weekend (and I never got that job at the academic center) – so, I figure there is a less than 50% chance that someone will try to spit on me today.

  19. so, I figure there is a less than 50% chance that someone will try to spit on me today.

    Every job has its downsides. In terms of awesomeness, I rank ER docs right up there with astronauts.

  20. Milo – so what is it? Moving isn’t exactly an easy thing for those around here. Private school is very expensive and has the same issues. I don’t want to homeschool for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, that it would be terrible for me.

  21. I agree about the gap between students whose parents have the resources to push them, and those who do not. I have to work with many students who were never pushed or supported by anyone. When I hear colleagues at other universities complain about helicopter parents, I just sigh, because my students all desperately needed more helicoptering.

    As for pressuring my own kids, my focus has been on making sure they are ready to succeed in college. We aren’t aiming at the Ivy League or MIT or anything like that, so I don’t think my kids have to burnish their records for the crazy admissions processes. But if my kid is getting a B in a course, it *may* mean he isn’t learning what he needs to be prepared for college. I think it is worth looking at. Maybe the teacher just had weird standards and it isn’t a big deal. But it might be important. Keep in mind that I deal with B average students all the time – and I have learned that a B average student, one who took regular courses instead of AP, from a typical public or Catholic high school, is likely not prepared for college.

  22. “Moving isn’t exactly an easy thing for those around here.”

    Why not? Not every school district in your area is hyper-cometitive.

  23. I agree with Milo. Our zoned school is very laid back, even in the IB and AP programs. It shows in their students’ AP test scores. We chose a more competitive school, through its magnet program.

    Mooshi is absolutely correct regarding the big jump from elementary to middle school in terms of expectations, course load, etc. A bigger leap is from middle school to high school. OMG–the workload differential and subsequent academic pressure was crushing.

  24. Keep in mind that I deal with B average students all the time – and I have learned that a B average student, one who took regular courses instead of AP, from a typical public or Catholic high school, is likely not prepared for college.

    That said, you also mentioned that in many cases getting an A is more about being “uber organized and very compliant” vs. actually mastering the material. I think what we’re talking about is taking a kid who is a ” a B average student, one who took regular courses instead of AP, from a typical public or Catholic high school” and pushing them to dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s so they get an A. Does that paperwork pushing mean they will be able to master computer science despite modest cognitive ability?

  25. What RMS and Mooshi said. Sending boy to private school. Public schools are super competitive but just in a numbers sense. Not interested in what kids are actually learning and whether they are helping them become whole people. Feels like a major cop out but what can you do?

  26. Milo – if we were to move far enough out that competitiveness wouldn’t be an issue, then the long commute definitely would be an issue (e.g. I wouldn’t be able to keep the same job).

  27. Not every school district in your area is hyper-cometitive

    Then your kids will be surrounded by slackers and miscreants.

  28. I actually think in our district, the jump from elementary to middle was far worse than the jump from middle to high school. So far (and I have only seen 9th), high school is easier in terms of paper shuffling than middle school was , and while the academics are ramped up, the gap doesn’t seem to be as wide.

    I think one of the differences is that in elementary school, there are no consequences to anything, so if a kid never hands in work or screws every thing up, it just results in a note home or loss of a smiley face sticker. The grades seemed almost random to me. And then suddenly they are dumped into middle school where if you don’t use the right paper or make your book report cover page the wrong dimensions, or god forbid, lose focus and struggle a little with a unit in social studies, it totally messes up your grade with no recourse which then can keep you out of the classes you want. The emphasis in elementary school is on making everyone feel as if they are successful, whereas the emphasis in middle school is on weeding kids out – and that is too much jump for my taste.

  29. Cat – Silver Spring, or equivalent.

    L – there’s got to be something. Rhett could probably name it.

  30. “Then your kids will be surrounded by slackers and miscreants.”

    I’m a product of the middle ground. Just enough good kids to field AP classes, enough slackers to make the class rankings seem more impressive.

  31. Looking at that price point in Weston – all they have for 729k is a build-able lot.

  32. Rhett, if you read my statement carefully (“it still seems that the only path to excelling is to be someone who is uber organized and very compliant. “), you will note that I never said that the kids who excel are stupid. In fact, I went on to mention the high level of academics. In fact, to excel, a kid has to be pretty smart AND uber organized and compliant. That is especially true in the math classes. A kid who doesn’t get the math content will not get an A, no matter how organized. On the other hand, once they get beyond the threshold of being pretty smart, the organizational ability becomes critical. No amount of intelligence or understanding will make up for lack of organization. And when I say “uber organized”, I mean it. I am not that organized. There is no chance on this planet that I could get A’s in this high school, even now, because I could never manage the paper flow.

  33. “whether they are helping them become whole people”

    How should the public schools do this?

  34. A kid who doesn’t get the math content will not get an A, no matter how organized.

    In high school? Oh, I beg to differ. At least from what I’ve seen that’s very possible.

    I am not that organized. There is no chance on this planet that I could get A’s in this high school, even now, because I could never manage the paper flow.

    I guess I don’t understand your point. You’re saying you’d be a B student with today’s grading rubrics yet you’re a tenured professor or computer science. Then you go on to say your B students aren’t prepared to do college work. I think the issue is some B students are getting C’s and D’s but homework and paperwork are getting them up to a B. While some A students are getting B’s or C’s because they can’t be bothered with the paperwork.

  35. I know one woman who complains that her kid is smart but doesn’t care. Her kid it seems doodles in his class work notebooks. There is no homework assigned by the teacher. It seems that he does fairly well on tests but I don’t think it is all A grades. I really can’t tell if her kid is actually smart and bored or not so smart and not learning.
    Many of the kids in 5th grade that we know, tested into magnet middle schools, away from their zoned middle schools. The number was higher than I expected. I have a feeling that the parents felt as Mooshi described – there were no demands in elementary, then the Great Sort would come in middle school so may as well avoid that by self sorting into a magnet.

  36. I really can’t tell if her kid is actually smart and bored or not so smart and not learning.

    He’s not bored, he just does.not.care.

  37. Rhett – I agree, “bored” is a cop-out to put the blame on the school system.

  38. Silver Spring would be a terrible commute for my husband. I kind of wish I could send them to Catholic school and opt out of the religious aspect of it.

  39. Rhett – you’re probably right. ;) I also don’t want to go anywhere in the 93 S corridor, esp since the land and DH’s family are both west.

  40. Milo,

    Right. I took “bored” in the sense usually followed by, “he’s not being challenged.”

  41. Milo/Rhett – what ever the issue is, the mother is hoping middle school will be better, at the same time it may not and things may only get worse. Military academy has been thrown out there as an option.

  42. I remember middle school as horrid – still stuck in a lot of non-level classes with the kids who would be dead in a few years from drugs/alcohol/crimes gone wrong. They were carving up the lab tables with pocketknives and threatening the teacher. Fun times!

    We still live in the district and the parents with older kids tell me how great the middle school is, and I ask how many eighth graders went to rehab. The parents are always surprised by the question, but the current student pipes up with the number.

    The only place I have ever dealt with equivalent stupid pen color requirements is the NYC building department. The kids who like playing that game can all be expediters.

  43. “I actually think in our district, the jump from elementary to middle was far worse than the jump from middle to high school. ”

    That was the case for my kids (so far). I think it will vary by school system.

    For my kids, 7th grade was a big jump, with letter grades for the first time, and the first sort, into honors math in 8th grade, looming. This is also when they first start getting separate teachers for all subjects, and that seems to play into the increased workload, because those teachers don’t have the overall visibility of the earlier grades, in which one or two teachers would cover all core subjects.

    Several teachers also mentioned that at that point, many kids who’d done well just because they’re naturally smart had to buckle down and get organized because just being smart wasn’t good enough at that point. In particular, many kids had a hard time with language classes.

  44. MM described our school district very well, which is why I related so closely to Joe Queenan’s article the other day about being enormously relieved and happy to be done with it.

    “I think one of the root causes of the increasing income gap is how poorly schools serve kids whose parents can’t advocate for them.”

    I agree, and at the same time schools (inadvertently perhaps) train parents to be overly involved. Kind of a lose-lose situation.

  45. Rhett – I am delighted by your job suggestion (and surprised it didn’t come up in my frequent searches for such positions). I’ll start working on the DH. Real Estate -wise, you will need to do better — a five unit apartment/house? I want to foster independence in my kids, and such, but one is still in diapers…..

  46. I have not personally encountered too many parents who pushed their kids too much. Mostly I’ve seen parents whose kids seem motivated already or parents whose kids are struggling to maintain Cs and some Bs. With grade inflation, a C grade often means he’s not learning anything at all in that class.

  47. “a five unit apartment/house?”

    Perhaps Rhett is looking forward to staying in one of the units while on vacation.

  48. a five unit apartment/house?

    If you’re going to be the crime fighting Caribbean ER doctor main character in my series of mystery novels, you’re going to need a home with some character.

  49. @Finn – I am surprised that the jump took place in the 7th grade. I was expecting 6th grade (or even earlier like my kids’ school. The jump took place between the 3rd and 4th grades).

  50. Rhett – have you read Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop The Carnival? I feel you might like to work some of those elements into your Ada The Sleuthing Doc series.

  51. We experienced a jump in expectations around third grade, and another jump when starting middle school where, as MM noted, suddenly failure to do the homework puts 0s into your numerical grade average instead of just getting you a note home in your planner.

    My kids are not so motivated as I could wish. But I want them to be self-motivated in college and adulthood, and also to retain their curiosity and interest in learning, and also to actually know things, so it’s a balance between pushing them to do what’s necessary for the grades, and not either focusing on the grades to the exclusion of the underlying knowledge/skills being taught or taking over the responsibility to keep on top of stuff for them (which was never going to happen anyway, not with 3 kids and both parents working).

  52. My district is exactly the same as MM, but the elementary school has become more academic because of the common core. There isn’t as much time for art when you have to master reading and fractions 12 months earlier than the kids that passed through the same elementary school five years ago.

    I agree 100% with the ridiculous amount of grading based on organization in the MS. I am lucky because my kid is organized, but my friends have kids with Bs and Cs all of the time because a kid didn’t hand in a reading log.

    Our district has some pressure, but we actually seem to have a good reputation in NYC for kids with special needs or other issues. Some of the reputation is accurate, but some of it is based on lavish spending from 5 years ago BEFORE the tax caps. As a result, a lot of people move here from there towns or NYC is they need certain services that they couldn’t get in their current school district. This results in many kids in each grade that need co taught or team taught classes instead of honors. They are actually worried if they have enough talented kids to fill the double accelerated math class, but they have a waiting list for co taught math. There is still a lot of pressure from the parents of the top 30 – 40 kids, but it isn’t spread widely across the grade.

    I did learn through my college alum interviews, that many of the elite colleges expect kids from certain schools, neighborhoods to have standardized test scores that are 200- 300 points higher than a kid from an inner city or rural area. They expect these same kids to take and succeed in multiple AP classes, but they don’t expect the same from kids that don’t have the same resources.
    the admissions officers know that Totebag kids have every advantage so they expect much more of these kids since they assume that you might have tutors, private college advisors etc etc.

  53. Cincinnati then, everything always hits there 20 years later so it’s still 1995. AOL still has 2.3 million dial up users. Cincinnati metro has a population of 2.3 million. Coincidence? I think not.

  54. Louise, my kids did have a bump between 3rd grade and 4th grade. Through 3rd, they were in the elementary buildings, and the school policy in those grades is minimal homework so the kids have lots of time for extracurriculars. For 4th grade, they move to a different building, and homework starts.

    From there, there are incremental bumps each year. The 6th grade bump was bigger than the 5th, but 7th was significant. In part, that was because of letter grades, and as MM and HM noted, greater consequences for not handing in homework, etc. They also start language classes then, and the language teachers always stress how difficult it is to catch up once you fall behind in those classes, and conversations with other parents suggest that is true.

    I believe the other part of that bump was because of separate teachers for all subjects. Each teacher assigns homework independent of the other classes, and they may think 40 minutes of homework isn’t much, but when the kids have 4 other classes, the total is pretty high. DS has not seen much increase in homework load since 7th grade.

  55. @Milo on making them whole people – I think that schools have moved more and more to becoming factories where the only thing with which they are concerned is putting information in the heads of their charges. I think that school is not just a place where you learn facts but also a place where you learn to socialize and how to be a good citizen. So our schools help to make them whole people by building community, by treating the kids like the administration is expecting them to be doing good things rather than assuming they are always up to something bad, by inspiring them and teaching them to love learning, by teaching them that there are things that are worth knowing even if they never help you earn a wage, by modeling kindness and nurturing and recognizing the many different skills that the students have…. This may be happening at other schools, but I am NOT seeing it here.

  56. In our school, the big bumps for work come in 4th grade, 7th grade, and 9th grade. I think DS1 has less homework in 10th grade than he had in 9th grade. 6th grade academics are not so bad–as others have said, it’s the organization that gets you.

    This weeks is finals week for us–school ends on Friday. I cannot wait for summer! Even though homework is assigned to the kid, it really effects the whole family.

  57. “Even though homework is assigned to the kid, it really effects the whole family.”

    +1.

    Especially, I think, in this demographic. As much as I try/tried to let my kids fail by NOT constantly checking up on them or their progress in getting the homework/project/paper done, DW can’t abide that approach. So she nags/nagged them. At least they all passed.

  58. The big effect of homework on our family is to limit what we do outside of school. E.g., on weekends, we try to make sure we have some unscheduled time for the kids to get their homework done, and we limit what we do on week nights.

  59. IMO our school focuses too much on making students “whole people” and not enough on simply getting them ready for college and career. The school’s flowery mission statement emphasizes the goal is to become “life-long learners” and contributing members of society, and is full of stuff like “Ethical values”, “Civic responsibility”, “Global responsibility”, etc. I’d like it better if they focused on teaching them basic stuff, like how to write well, master algebra, and learn some history. It doesn’t help that I don’t think the school does a great job of making them “whole people”. Our state mandates character education, and for the most part it doesn’t impress me at all.

  60. I have seen some hyper competitive parents, but they usually are not the norm. I remember sitting around the hs cafeteria on the day the 8th graders (future freshmen) took their math and language placement tests, and a mom I knew was freaking out about her daughter not testing in to the highest math possible. When I said something like, “it should be fine because she still is able to take Calculus”, she snapped at me about how her daughter had to take the BC Calculus, not just the AB Calculus (tying in to the AP tests). She was a pill all through elementary school, though, so it wasn’t really a surprise. I always felt sorry for her daughter, who was a nice girl.

    There are a lot of wealthy parents here whose kids get into Ivy league schools, Stanford, Duke,etc. The kids are smart but the frequency is a little to high for it to be a coincidence that they are the lucky ones to get those rare spots. I would love to be able to check which parents were alumni or just big donors. Going to school “back east” is quite popular (I am always so annoyed with this phrase – are we in the 1880’s?)

    My daughter did not need to be pushed – she pushed herself plenty. My son did much better in hs once I left him completely alone, and his grades got better each year. My kids were never in contention to go to a very top school, so we didn’t really look at them. My niece, who had the grades and test scores to get into an Ivy League school, but did not, was never pressured at all by her parents – she was her own Tiger Mom.

    I did hear an urban legend about a dad who pushed his daughter to apply to a variety of top schools, but did not let her go any of the private schools she was admitted to (I am assuming she got into Cal so went there). That is not a very nice man.

  61. Cost of college, I don’t think that academic rigor and making them people have to be mutually exclusive. I feel like my schools did a very good job of that for us.

  62. There are a lot of wealthy parents here whose kids get into Ivy league schools, Stanford, Duke,etc. The kids are smart but the frequency is a little to high for it to be a coincidence that they are the lucky ones to get those rare spots.

    Income is correlated with IQ and IQ is highly heritable so why the surprise that rich people have smart kids?

  63. The problem is that teaching kids to be “whole people” comes at the expense of time for other things. The bullying assemblies take time, DARE takes time, and then there was the entire day taken off to do team building exercises via one of those places that corporations like to book so their employees can bond.

    Someone also said earlier that they wished they could send their kids to Catholic school without the religion. About half my students come from Catholic schools, mainly on Long Island, Staten Island and NJ. They are every bit as unprepared as their public school counterparts. I see no difference at all.

  64. They are every bit as unprepared as their public school counterparts.

    Is it that they are unprepared or is it that they have modest levels of cognitive ability?

    Some of these conversations have the hint of WCE’s “SAT math isn’t hard?” type thinking.

  65. I hesitate to enter this discussion after the kerfuffle last week over Math SATs (By not difficult I did not mean easy, just not particularly rigorous). However, I really liked Ada’s early comment about the difference between pressuring the 80th and 99th percentile child.

    I have always wondered why there was so much effort expended to increase the perceived level of a significantly above the median performer to a little bit more above average or borderline superior. Most totebag level kids without big learning issues are going to find a path through the educational system to a good life. Good personal habits, choice of companions, hard work, support of family, and in most professions adequate social skills are clearly more important to long term success than the difference between 80th and 90th percentile. “20 years of schoolin’ and they put you on the day shift.”

    The challenge to parenting the child whose base state is 99th percentile is to keep him engaged with knowledge and hopefully also with the educational system, to develop a good work ethic when it may not be necessary for him to do much studying until he reaches some cliff or barrier – possibly not until well into adulthood, to find a peer group where he doesn’t have to pretend to be someone else. If the parent can also teach how to get along with all sorts of people, how not to annoy (too much) those in authority, that is a bonus, but often the parents of said kids don’t have that skill set themselves (cough, cough) That has nothing at all to do with whether he attends Stanford or CalTech versus an institution with a less prestigious brand, although it may feel to the child like it is Nobel Prize/Supreme Court or bust.

  66. Rhett – no surprise, I guess, it just seems that they beat the odds into these incredibly low acceptance rate schools, probably because a healthy donation to the school gives them a leg up. I am sure they are capable of doing the work in most cases. They are definitely smart kids.

  67. It just seems that they beat the odds into these incredibly low acceptance rate schools,

    CofC can chime in, but my understanding is that those acceptance rate number are a highly gamed USNews metric.

  68. “The challenge to parenting the child whose base state is 99th percentile is to keep him engaged with knowledge and hopefully also with the educational system, to develop a good work ethic when it may not be necessary for him to do much studying until he reaches some cliff or barrier – possibly not until well into adulthood, to find a peer group where he doesn’t have to pretend to be someone else.”

    YES!!!

    Although my daughter’s base state may not be 99th, she regularly scores in the 95+ percentile without preparation. Meme articulates what are issues have been for the last 11 years of school. The second daughter is different smart, and has a much higher EQ, and is funny and fun as all get out. She picks up friends and hides her smarts.

  69. My kids go to a religious private school. So far, I think the school does a good job on both the academic as well as the character part. If my kids come out of the sausage machine unprepared it is not the fault of the school.
    The kids that have decided to leave either got accepted to IB public magnets or wanted a specialized arts focused education that is offered only in one arts focused magnet. I was sad to hear that those kids were leaving because they were truly interested and talented in the performing arts.

  70. First, thank you all for the condolences. Thankfully, my parents are organized and all the relevant paperwork (except the original SS card) have been found. But, whe have medicaid card and the SS card “stub”.

    OT – Our schools had a jump at 3rd grade, 6th grade, and now 9th grade. I would agree with MM – assignments are made up of content and process/organization. For many assignments, getting all the content right will get you a high B, but without the process/organization you can’t get to the A range. For example, my DD just had an Algebra 2 project to use a minimum of 30 equations that when plotted on the same XY axis created a picture, must have equations that result in at least 5 different shapes, graph using color (computer graphing), and attach output to a piece of construction paper (to frame your art). There were also requirements about how you showed your equations and “footnoted” them to the graphed picture.

    And, the workload is heavy for kids in Pre-AP and AP classes. Sometimes it is content oriented and sometimes it is busy work oriented. It does mean that we block out sufficient homework time.

    As far as pushing the kids – This is hard, we try to get them to do their best and still have some balance in life. DD#1 is self motivated and gets very good grades mid to high As. 9th grade has been the first year she has to make tradeoffs in grades as there isn’t time to do everything to the highest level. DD#2 is less motivated, works until it is good enough (happy with anything over an 88), and struggles much more with the organizational/process part.

  71. Although my daughter’s base state may not be 99th, she regularly scores in the 95+ percentile without preparation. Meme articulates what are issues have been for the last 11 years of school. The second daughter is different smart, and has a much higher EQ, and is funny and fun as all get out. She picks up friends and hides her smarts.

    Of course, the only place I can say this is an anonymous blog

  72. Maybe this is a topic for another post, but are there fields you would try to persuade your kids *not* to pursue?

    If one of my kids wanted to go to a performing arts magnet, I would try to convince them not to go. But maybe that just makes me a crank :). I think these schools encourage kids to focus on careers that are very unlikely to pan out.

    And there is no way I’m paying for law school.

  73. I’m with you. Unless my kid was obviuosly very, very, very talented, I mean like the kind of talented where a famous musician hears him and wants to teach him for free – unless he is at that level I would steer my kid away from music, theater, studio art, or sports as a career choice. Obviously, I think all of these are fine for a kid to pursue as a hobby.

  74. “Of course, the only place I can say this is an anonymous blog”

    Isn’t that great? The fact that we can be honest here about things like this, and not have to play down our kids’ (and our own, and our spouses’) strengths, is one thing I really value about this blog.

  75. ” I mean like the kind of talented where a famous musician hears him and wants to teach him for free”

    If your kid is really, really good, and wants to pursue music, have them audition for the Curtis Institute. “Located in Philadelphia, Curtis provides full-tuition scholarships to all of its students.”

    So if your kid gets in there, at least you won’t go broke paying for his or her tuition. I’ve heard that pretty much all of their grads are able to support themselves as professional musicians.

  76. Sky – my daughter did a lot of theater all through her childhood, both in school and outside of school. She is a very good actress and singer, but I did not encourage her to pursue these fields as a major in college. Several people would ask me if she was going to study theater in college and I told them a polite and friendly version of “I hope not; she wants to get a job.”

    If she had been passionate about acting I think we would have helped her have a shot – maybe support her for a year after college in New York, or something like that, but she decided of her own accord to go into business. She also didn’t want to continue to hang out with the “drama crowd” – I think she preferred a more well rounded set of peers. She did perform in a play in college, and could have participated more if she had wanted to.

    I think she misses performing a little bit.

    On the OT: DS used to say: “B means good” when he would get one!

  77. “If one of my kids wanted to go to a performing arts magnet, I would try to convince them not to go. But maybe that just makes me a crank ”

    This was covered in an episode of Fresh Off the Boat.

  78. Moxie – I just wonder if, particularly in the Totebaggy school systems, anything they might try to teach of the “whole person” would, out of political or social sensitivities, get watered down to be ultimately meaningless. For example, is it acceptable to teach patriotism, or is that jingoistic brainwashing? kaleberg once asked, ultimately rhetorically, what it means in our society to be a man any more. I’ve thought about that question from time to time since she asked it, and it’s hard come up with an answer that wouldn’t be construed as either sexist, heteronormative, or dismissive of single moms.

    So I think schools would just be wasting more time on a lot of tripe, preaching nothing more than “don’t bully anyone” and “recycle your cans.” And they’ve got that covered already.

  79. My comment was not because I want my kid to have free music lessons – I was trying to make a point about how incredibly and massively talented my kid would have to be before I would encourage pursuing a career in music. My kid would have to be the one who, upon hearing him, moves Itzhak Perlman to tears, declaring that this is the talent who will succeed him. THAT level of talent…

  80. Milo, our school does the patriotism too, mixed right in with “recycle your cans” and “say no to drugs”. I listened to a really interesting interview about 6 months ago, in which the interviewee, a veteran, was saying that “thank your for your service”, said to a veteran or current member of the military, has become an empty exercise in symbolism because most people have little inkling of what happens in combat. I think a lot of the patriotism taught in schools is of that ilk. The kids do packages for the troops but have little appreciation for what any of it means.

  81. “how incredibly and massively talented my kid would have to be before I would encourage pursuing a career in music”

    That level of talent is part what it takes to get into Curtis. The talent must also be developed.

  82. If your kid is good enough to consider auditioning for Curtis, then he/she probably has a hook that will greatly help with admission into a top school if he/she doesn’t get into Curtis, or if he/she decides not to pursue music as a profession.

  83. “thank your for your service”, said to a veteran or current member of the military, has become an empty exercise in symbolism because most people have little inkling of what happens in combat.

    Eh, I kind of have mixed feelings on that. While there’s some bit of truth to the complaint, I’ve never heard the phrase offered with anything but the kindest of intentions, so just say thank you and get over yourself, is one of my initial thoughts. I think part of the idea of “serving”–and possibly of being a man, even in the sense that this can include many female servicemembers and veterans–is that you volunteer to do what the job entails and you don’t go looking for constant praise and affirmation afterward. The ideal is that you say “Just doing my job, ma’am” rather than spending Memorial Day weekend posting and sharing all these graphics of veterans’ cemeteries with lines like “In case you thought it was just National Barbecue Day.” Many in the military are very eager for the chance to form their own grievance group. It’s not enough that everyone says “thank you for your service,” they REALLY need to know what it’s like.

    The kids do packages for the troops but have little appreciation for what any of it means.

    When have they ever? Isn’t that kind of the point of childhood? To be innocent and unaware of the horrible things in the world? What’s the point of working so hard for freedom, peace, and prosperity if we’re going to complain about the fact that our kids are too unaware of the horrors of combat? What would he have them do? The packages are a nice gesture.

    That’s one side of me. The other side is the part that feels a slight twinge of guilt for 1) not ever doing more than I did, like never being in any sort of danger, and 2) resigning. But what can you do? I was glad to read that PTM and Jr’s Boy Scout troop had a ceremony at the cemetery. The closest I got to anything like that this weekend was the flag-raising ceremony at my parents’ yacht club, which a local Boy Scout troop assisted with. (As an aside, some of those yacht club people seem to take their titles, “uniforms,” and pomp VERY seriously. It’s laughable. But they’ve got their commodore, and vice commodore, and rear commodore, and fleet captain. They remind me a little of kids playing dress up.) The rest of the time I went sailing, kayaking, grilled steaks and burgers and sausages (over charcoal), got a bushel of crabs…

  84. Milo –

    DS’s scout troop did the flag planting every year at the Presidio Military Cemetery. It is awe inspiring and a bit overwhelming to see all of the grave markers for hundreds and hundreds of servicemen. I think they go back to the civil war.

  85. About the whole person – caveat – my kids go to private parochial schools – the new “buzz” is servant leadership. This results in service projects that are people focused vs. animal or environment focused. The goal seems to also be interacting with the people you are helping. Sometimes this isn’t much of a stretch outside the comfort zone and other times it is.

    Regarding ssk’s DD, many cities have community theater. My city has a lot going on. If you are interested, you can generally find a place to perform. Several of my co-workers are involved in different groups. Granted, it is much harder if you are in that life stage with kids and full time job.

    My oldest likes to play her instrument, she is a little better than average. She is required to take 1 year of fine arts to graduate. She plans to take band for 4 years. A friend asked why I’d let her
    “waste” 3 credits. I said there was more to life than AP classes and music relaxes her. A kid with a heavy and demanding course load needs/deserves the opportunity to relax and do something she enjoys.

  86. not ever doing more than I did, like never being in any sort of danger,

    How would you ever know if you’d just narrowly escaped death?

  87. Sky,

    My reply got lost. What if performing or sports or art was the one thing they were truly good at? Not the 99.9999% you need to make a living but 99.125? I guess I know too many people like Meme who pursued something they were passionate about and made a course correction when nessesity required it to think the answer is self evident, I don’t know if these people would have been happier if software company PM or director of finance was always been the goal.

  88. Austin mom – yes, I have suggested to her that she get involved with something like that. It will be interesting to see if she does. She also used to sing in the church choir, so that might be another avenue.

    I’ve thought about what you suggested for myself once or twice. There are some community theater groups that seem very low key. I used to love acting when I was younger, but did not pursue it past high school (I was not as good as dd, and certainly can’t sing!).

  89. There are very Totebaggy families sending their kids to the performing arts magnet. I don’t think the majority of these kids are going into the arts as a career. The academics at the school are good enough so that kids can choose other careers quite easily. The magnet schools whether they are performing arts, language immersion (know families with kids doing Greek and German immersion) or IB are seen as offering different choices on the Totebaggy spectrum. I used to think that all these choices were far out of the mainstream but having lived here for a couple of years, I am waiting for the farm to table, food chain focused magnet to appear.

  90. Rhett – yeah, that was something. Not specific to being on a sub, but I remember the very first time it sunk in (summer between freshman and sophomore year) that in the ocean, even on the darkest nights, you just keep driving. It sounds so obvious, but it’s a weird feeling when you’re doing it for the first time. Especially on a sailboat.

  91. The arts magnet HS is quite popular here. I have a friend who teaches MS. Her major was English with a minor in drama. For most of her years teaching, English was her main subject and drama was an elective, but included the school play. Her most recent move was to a fine arts magnet to teach drama. She is in hog heaven.

  92. Milo,

    Am I reading through the lines correctly and the skipper of that sub really didn’t do anything wrong? It’s just policy that if you’re in charge and something like that happens the best you can hope for is being allowed to run out your pension?

  93. What if performing or sports or art was the one thing they were truly good at? Not the 99.9999% you need to make a living but 99.125?

    Playing in a symphony orchestra or landing a paid role on Broadway are not the only ways to use musical or theater education. Someone writes and plays the background music for video games or ads or the various ringtones that come with your phone. The ability to hold an audience, and awareness of how tone of voice and posture and movement come across, are valuable for business presentations, negotiations, and of course for making an argument.

  94. Rhett – He didn’t really do anything wrong, as far as I remember. It’s more a matter of if you were giving 150% effort in that particular area, in this case when he was doing his chart reviews (probably at 2am after dealing with 100 other things and being up all day) and he had done a couple other things to cross reference all the sources, then he might have seen, on some other chart, a “colored area” of a possible sea mount?

    But it’s not humanly possible to put in that level of effort in every possible area. That was my take at least. But my time in the Navigation Department was spent as comms officer. When I saw the charts, it was as the OOD, and they were already prepared, reviewed, and signed for me.

    Blame the Navy for not giving him better electronic versions. Remember, this was all on paper.

  95. A lot of former college athletes supplement their incomes here with private coaching. E.g., some of DD’s friends take batting lessons from a former All-American whose full-time job is PE teacher.

  96. Finn,

    Many former college athletes supplement their income by being CEO of America’s largest companies.

    Jeffrey Immelt (General Electric) — offensive tackle, Dartmouth College football
    Samuel J. Palmisano (IBM) — offensive center, Johns Hopkins football
    W. James McNerney Jr. (Boeing) — starting pitcher, Yale University baseball
    Steven R. Appleton (Micron Technology) — pro-tennis player before starting at Micron
    Brian Moynihan (Bank of America) — fly half and inside center, Brown University rugby
    Brian Roberts (Comcast) — All-Ivy and All-American, University of Pennsylvania squash

  97. Oh, ferhevvin’s sake, you all way overvalue engineering and way undervalue performing arts. So let’s see, from my high school class, one gal is in the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, one of them is a studio musician in LA whose credits are on IMDB, one of them’s a music teacher at a community college, and that’s all I kind find in five minutes. Oh, and one of them is Distinguished Professor in the Humanities in Wash U. in St. Louis, but she still does a lot of music.

    And engineers frequently get laid off at age 40. What is the matter with all of you, anyway?

  98. Milo, that ceremony in the cemetery this weekend was very moving. Both to the boys and to some of the parents who weren’t on their cell phones. They looked over the gravesites, were reminded that it was young men and women not much older than they are were uprooted and sent overseas to fight.

    It was especially poignant for Junior and me. Newly married, my Dad was in the Navy, sent to Miami for subchaser school. My parents lived in an apartment, very close to the cemetery, in what has become Little Havana. Each day my Mom rode down the street where I now live with other military wives to the Venetian Pool. My oldest sister was conceived in that little apartment (or the Venetian Pool, I don’t know) just as my father was shipped overseas, not to see my mother again for over four years.

    Oh yeah. When I think of the sacrifices those men and woman faced, and when I think of the horrors they must have seen, and when I think of the scars they must have carried all their years, I almost burst with pride. They gave us so much!

    So good for the Boy Scouts. Good for Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Good for those silly flags which somehow look so appropriate.

  99. “Many former college athletes supplement their income by being CEO of America’s largest companies.”

    I’m guessing (hoping?) that these are not examples of people for whom ” performing or sports or art was the one thing they were truly good at.”

  100. I know more people from my high school who are making a living in the performing arts than who are physicians. Certainly more art majors work in producing art than pre-med students who are physicians.

  101. NYC has several high schools for music, art and performing arts. Remember Fame?? A few of my friends attended these high schools instead of the schools that require the SAT like test such as Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech etc. I am FB friends with a few of them so I just checked to see what they are doing 30 years later. Two are teachers, one is an occupational therapist, one is a marine biologist. I did find 8 HS friends that are film producers, actors, artists or musicians. They are the kids that went to science/math high schools, but eventually ended up in these other fields. One guy that I graduated with from HS is very famous, and very rich. actor in movies, TV and now produces films. He actually worked very briefly for a wall street firm before turning to acting as a full time profession.

    I know it is extremely rare to be this successful, but people need a chance to pursue their passion.
    .

  102. I wasn’t home all day so I didn’t see the pictures coming out of Houston until now.
    I hope our Texas totebaggers are ok. I hope you get some relief soon.

  103. I’m guessing (hoping?) that these are not examples of people for whom ” performing or sports or art was the one thing they were truly good at.”

    At a (finace douche) wedding this weekend everyone was up early and hanging out at the pool and I was the only one with without my Vilebrequin bathing suit. I think folks here tend to wildly discount the value of douchiness and its nemesis hipsterism.

  104. RMS @ 8:53 – AMEN!

    My first job out of school the CIO where I worked at a Fortune 100 company was a theater major.

    What is the point of it all – it all being relatively successful (97% percentile income) – if my kids can’t freaking major in theater or studio art or music? I remember vividly hanging out with college friends right after graduation. I was the only one working a cubicle job and my other friends all had financial support from their parents. My friend who was in Vista or Americorp or some other thing making $4K/year asked, “I mean if you aren’t doing Vista (or Americorp or whatever), what are you doing?” And I thought to myself “you f-in b!%#h I’m paying for rent and student loans” while also simultaneously thinking “I hope that my kids can be as big of a douche as you”.

  105. Rhett, it’s Lilly Pulitzer for men! And now my eyes hurt.

    RMS, I’m amazed you know so many professional artists. One of my classmates from high school was a public school music teacher. There was also one movie actor, who seems to have faded back into obscurity. Other than that, I know a lot more people in my class of 300+ who wanted to be in the arts than are in the arts.

    How about this: if my kids went to the performing arts high school knowing they wanted to be full time public school teachers and perform on the side, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. But if they went in believing they would be able to make a living from performances and didn’t want to teach, I would be worried.

    Based on the evidence to date they have no patience and less tact, so I can’t imagine them teaching anything….

  106. Late to the topic, but I agree with much that has already been said. Austin- my daughter’s community service (Catholic school) could only be counted if it was in service to others, so no stocking food at the food pantry – she had to be pouring water and chatting with the recipients at the homeless shelter food line. She would share their stories, and I think it was very good for her. (But made it tougher to rack up the required hours).

    On the private school “whole person” thread, and Milo’s musings on what it means to be a man, one of the essays my oldest had to write at school is on what it means to be a good man/good woman. The teacher discussed how people use that phrase to describe someone, and they had to write about what it meant to them, what attributes they possessed that fell under that heading, and where they needed to perhaps improve before they would consider themselves a “good man”. They had a number of assignments like that, but with faith more at the core, that I think are very good at helping high school students think more about the kind of person they want to be. That is one of the things I value about a religious school – the ability to incorporate those discussions into any topic or class when it seems relevant. Of course, you need to agree with the underlying religious philosophy. Although we are Catholic, I did not always agree with the Church’s teachings, so we discussed our own interpretations and thinking behind it at home.

    I’m still finding my way on pushing. I have a kid that has struggled with pretty bad anxiety, and who is extremely hard on himself. When I ask him about a poor test grade, he thinks I’m saying he’s failing and he gets panicked. He wants to do well, but also wants to play video games, or go for a walk/run if he’s feeling stressed. So for the most part, I let him strike the balance. The end result is that he is under-performing his abilities to a degree, but he is happier and more relaxed than he’s been in 6 years. I’m okay with the trade-off, and I think he’ll need to make a similar trade-off in his adult life. He won’t be a CEO of a Fortune 500, but hopefully he’ll be happy. (And he is at one full year with no anxiety medicine, six months since he completed neurofeedback, and he’s managing his life extremely well, relative to middle school. He said it’s not that he’s managing his frustration/anxiety better – it’s that those feelings are pretty much gone; there’s nothing to manage.) I think there’s a path to a happy, successful adulthood there at a pace and stress-level that he is comfortable with.

    And on children picking a major you don’t really support – my oldest changed her major from Econ to Communications/PR. She presented it well, said she wanted to work and pay part of her tuition herself since she knew we wouldn’t be thrilled with the major (her dad is very STEM-focused), and made some changes to cut costs. She’s an adult and it’s her decision, and she made a good case, and she’ll graduate with no debt. So – more power to her. If she doesn’t like her options or salary after working a few years, she can always get some more education at that point.

  107. I went to school with several talented musicians. I think three work in the field and others double-majored. The girl I started work with double majored in chem e and vocal performance. If my child were talented enough to be a music teacher and wanted to be one, that would be fine with me. I took band and choir (each a period every day, every year) during high school, even though I could tell I wasn’t as talented as my friends who went on to work in music.

  108. Rhett, it’s Lilly Pulitzer for men!

    And to totally rock the look you need to pair it with a button down shirt and penny loafers…at the pool!

  109. Many former college athletes supplement their income by being CEO of America’s largest companies.

    And working in every other job/profession. I did a clinical rotation with a pediatric orthopedist who was an all-conference linebacker at Colorado State, for one example.

  110. RMS: I’ve been to Rosamund Felsen’s gallery (when it was in Santa Monica), and yesterday we were visiting a relative, who’s daughter now has a gallery 5 blocks away from where Rosamund’s current gallery is located.

  111. And I don’t think going to an arts HS means a kid has to pursue a career in the arts. It’s just an alternative for kids who are interested in art and music to have a HS experience they might enjoy more.

  112. My interest in music is what got me into engineering. When I was in HS, I somehow got a copy of a magazine about music engineering, and was fascinated by some articles describing the sound differences between tube and solid state amps.

  113. College graduates who majored in fine arts are not doomed to a life of poverty

    Most fine-arts college graduates are doing fine.

    There’s a widely held conception that people who earn degrees in the fine arts — painting, sculpture, dance, music, theater, among others — are throwing money away on a degree that can reap no long-term benefits. But the fact is that a fine-arts degree is no real hindrance to making a decent living in the real world.

  114. ^ That being said, in my circle of friends and acquaintances, I don’t know artists who’ve been able to support themselves on their art. The worst cases are those who IMO have used poor judgement and have held on to the hope of getting a big break while wasting years when they could have been doing something more productive.

    A person I know was telling me about a small firm that deals with technical retirement planning issues that employs a dance major along with others with different types of degrees, but almost all seem to be liberal arts rather than business/finance types. They all seem to be doing fine, making a good living. I’ve always thought that many performers usually have an edge in the work place because of their communication skills and the way they carry themselves.

  115. “What is the point of it all – it all being relatively successful (97% percentile income) – if my kids can’t freaking major in theater or studio art or music?”

    Good point. We want to give our kids more choices than we may have had. Of course, that can be a double-edged sword when they make “poor” choices.

  116. MBT — If you are comfortable sharing, I’m very interested in your D’s plans for what she sees herself doing after graduation.

  117. My sons and husband having matching Vilebrequin bathing suits! I wouldn’t be caught dead in Lilly (Target or otherwise).

  118. Ah Cat S – now you tell us ;-).

    The one thing about this area are the churches focused on missionary work. So foreign language speaking doctors, nurses, missionaries find their home base here. language immersion kids could very well be in humanitarian organizations.
    Also, I recall reading that preacher Billy Graham had Hollywood calling him at one point. With the performing arts it could be Hollywood or preacher of a mega church.
    I find all the paths people can take very interesting and very American.

  119. Rocky – I think a lot of us, myself included, place value on the idea that a grown child will have a pretty good shot at being independent and self-supporting, and that’s probably the hesitation with the fine arts degrees. Everything turning out “fine” by 30 or 35 is less desirable if that means they needed financial support for an entire extra decade.

    We all have inconsistencies in our philosophies, but while many on this board will say that an adult woman should never be financially dependent on a man, apparently to some it’s OK if that man is her father.

  120. I think a lot of us, myself included, place value on the idea that a grown child will have a pretty good shot at being independent and self-supporting, and that’s probably the hesitation with the fine arts degrees.

    I would add that many people here think the competition here in the bowels of Corporate America is a lot tougher than it actually is. So, I think that colors their thinking.

  121. I have two friends who went to that high school featured in Fame. One, who I knew in college, is a tuba player who has pieced together a career in Europe, but he doesn’t make very much money, and when he had a health crisis, his friends were all appealing for funds to pay for his care. The other got a college degree in graphic arts and was unemployed for years, living on welfare. She now works in a store.

  122. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that the improved economic circumstances that most of us find ourselves in means that we hope to provide our children with more choices and fewer constraints in all aspects of their lives. However, the question of how much and how long to support an able bodied and able minded young adult and whether to finance a graduate degree or two is not just a matter of family financial privilege, it is also a question of family priorities, values and child rearing philosophy. If a parent has absolutely no intention of providing more than a graduation present of a used car or a year of free rent or $5K launch cash, plus maybe a wedding fund and/or help with the first condo down payment, it is probably not a good idea for the parent to cooperate in choices that result in large student loans and no particular plan to pay them back. Only one of my kids borrowed money for grad school (the finance one) and it was well within her means to pay it back. The paralegal gives thanks every day that she didn’t succumb to totebag level social pressure to go to law school on borrowed money and chain herself to that particular desk.

    I know many artists and performers from BSO and Met Opera to weekend amateurs or semi-pros. DH, who made his bread as a computer programmer, has two music degrees, both that cost him not a dime (NYC system, and GI Bill). YoYo Ma attended a regular Ivy. Our friend who is principal xxxxx at BSO went to Curtis at a very young age. My cousin from an indigent family went to RISD, and eventually trained as a midwife. I certainly did not major in engineering or business as an undergrad. My youngest majored in a science and has worked in both lab and information technology, but his passion is the theater.

  123. Since I used to play fiddle, I actually know a lot of musicians. What strikes me is that they really live hand to mouth, and it never gets better. Many of them end up marrying someone with a stable job. Some get a teaching degree and then win the public school music teacher employment lottery. Both of those paths lead to stability. But many of them either work a day job (I used to know a really top notch fiddler – won lots of contests and made many recordings -who also worked as the town barber in a tiny Appalachian town), or string together short term gigs and teach bratty kids in order to make it.

    I really don’t want my kids to end up stuck in a life of permanent semi-poverty and instability. It is no longer fun once you get into your 40’s or so.

  124. The examples of CEOs who were college athletes are examples of people who treated their sport as a hobby, albeit a very serious one, while getting an education and skills for their real career. I realize that some small percentage of people who play in the revenue sports may actually have a career in athletics ahead of them, but these are people who probably know that is a possibility by the time they hit college. The majority of students who play in those sports will not end up with a career in the pros, and sadly, many of them think they will and never prepare for another career.

    The other thing I see is many athletes major in things like sports marketing. I wonder how many of them actually get jobs in that field.

  125. Not sure if this is true across the board When comparing our local HS – the arts magnet has “better” STEM than some of the “low performing” non-magnet schools, but “worse” than the STEM magnet. If you kid is “good enough” to get into the arts magnet, they may still get an overall better STEM education than at the school you are zoned for. This assumes that your kid is not of the STEM caliber for the STEM magnet.

    I think MBT’s daughter has the right mind set – if you know what you want to do, then you need to get the appropriate education for that career path. If my kid put that much effort in to the decision and was willing to help foot the bill for the decision, I would have no qualms about supporting it.

    I started in one major and ended up in another. I don’t think my dad was thrilled, but I have always been able to support myself and, as typical, have had some jobs I loved, some I liked and a few I hated.

  126. Does what you major in undergrad really matter after a few years? I understand for a few careers like engineering or accounting you need the technical certification, but I would say the vast majority of my friends are employed successfully in careers where their major doesn’t matter.

    Also, I agree 1,000% with Rhett that it doesn’t take much to succeed moderately well in the bowels of Corporate America. I don’t work with anyone with a degree from a top-tier school. They all have finance or business degrees from regional colleges. I’d gladly take an English or psychology major from a SLAC over most of them because all of my jobs were ones that if you are smart enough you learn as you go. Maybe it is harder for the English major to get the first job but once they get in I don’t see much difference vs someone with a business degree.

    If my kids major in studio art and graduate with no debt and then go off into the world and cobble together jobs for 10 years before finding their footing, I don’t think that is failing. I don’t follow MMM’s frugality extremes, but I do embrace his concept of enough.

    But underlying all of my assumptions is that my kids will be in the top percentiles in intelligence. If they are of average intelligence, they might as well join me in the bowels of corporate America and make an above average living not working very hard.

  127. Mooshi – I found among the marginal pro set of musicians and artists a large proportion of people who would prefer to live hand to mouth, as you put it, than to work for the Man. Many of them are for whatever reason unable to do anything else. One friend who is married to a person with benefits and a stable job, and has several children, once said, this is who I am and what I do. I am fortunate to be able to have a complete life by reason of my wife’s work. My DH’s ex was a flute major, then when they married (she was verrrry young), he paid for a degree in a tech profession, she worked for a couple of years and hated it, so quit and studied voice for ever, and developed a scratch business as a nursery school folk singer. She doesn’t do this because she feels entitled to be supported by a husband or father, she is just an artist unable to be confined by the workaday world.

  128. I wonder how many of them actually get jobs in that field.

    I think most of them end up in sales.

  129. MBT – one of my sisters majored in PR and graduated about five years ago. Aside from a three-month period of time post-college when she searched for her first job (in a lousy economy), she’s been entirely self-supporting, and using her degree (with a very “cool” job). Several of her friends are doing the same.

    PR jobs don’t pay like finance or engineering (especially right out of school), but there’s no reason to think a kid pursuing this path is destined for a decade in Mom and Dad’s basement.

  130. “One friend who is married to a person with benefits and a stable job, and has several children, once said, this is who I am and what I do”

    This is very similar to my life. I am the spouse with the benefits and regular salary. DH is an entrepreneur. More socially acceptable than being an artist, but just as unstable. Many entrepreneurs I know are supported by their spouses. Similar to Meme’s artist friend, this is who DH is and what he does. He cannot imagine working for “the Man”.

  131. Rhett @9ish last night – to maintain his anonymity, PTM’s author photo could be a case of Coors Light. And maybe he should go with P.T. Montague or some crime-novelish kind of name like that.

  132. I think your degree (and sometimes school) matters in the first few jobs you get or if you need them to qualify for specific credentials or state licensing. My first professional job accepted applicants – masters degree required – from about 5-6 different fields. After that job, all the rest have required at least a four year degree, some have preferred masters level, but not have had to fall with any particular field as long as you had the X years experience. One job had certification preferred (but I didn’t have it) and my current job requires either the certification or working toward certification upon hiring.

    Going back to OT – I think college degrees “proves” that the person can learn and can follow processes and directions. The first is demonstrated by completing your course work and the second is a combination of course work and navigating the application, degree program delcaration, meeting graduation requirements, signing up and paying for classes, etc. The additional step to this over the organizational skills discussed earlier about HS, is the outside of the classroom issues like paying your fees.

    You need to be able to learn in your job as they change over time, some much faster than others. And, you have to navigate your organization’s bureaucracy – both the written rule and unwritten rule side.

  133. Complete and total non-sequitur: My new favorite travel item is a long, hooded cardigan, kind of along these lines: http://www.northstyle.com/itemdy00.aspx?T1=NF113+MC+S , because you can use it as a blanket on the plane and you can put it over your workout clothes when you have to walk through the crowded atrium to get to the fitness center. Seriously, who designs the layout of these hotels? I loathe having to walk through crowded areas wearing spandex.

  134. I don’t think degree matters at all unless you’re going to be a nurse or engineer. My sister was a communications major, worked in documentary films in NYC for ten years (very cool job, not so big salary) and then moved to the midwest for her husband’s job and easily transitioned into marketing. My DH was an environmental science major and thought he’d do environmental law, tried it for a year or two, and decided being a corporate lawyer was easier (filing out forms for the same $ vs. writing all those briefs) and transitioned onto another team.

    I am a big believer in a liberal arts education and it makes me sad to hear the constant rhetoric that STEM is the only option for jobs. I know some amazingly successful English majors. I also have a few artist friends from college and in town who married well.

  135. Atlanta – I think it is more about options – if you have STEM background it is easier to not use it – your DH – vs. not having a STEM background and trying to move that direction. Because many kids are not sure about what they want to do, they are told (I say this to my kids) that taking STEM won’t hurt them, but not taking it could limit their options later.

  136. Math. I always tell my kids to take as much math as they can. My parents gave me the same advice. You are much more employable as a history major if you also minored in math or statistics.

  137. Altanta,

    I think people like Mooshi come at this from a background where they majored in computer science, got a phd in computer science, worked in computer science, and now teach computer science. I think they have a hard time wrapping their head around Acme Software hiring some random history major because they need a warm body in an entry level training roll.

  138. How many students major in straight liberal arts (history, gender studies, English, art history)? And how many major in more professional fields that are aimed at specific careers? (nursing, speech pathology, education, business, engineering, hospitality, communications/journalism)?

  139. “I am a big believer in a liberal arts education and it makes me sad to hear the constant rhetoric that STEM is the only option for jobs.”

    On the other hand, I have an engineering degree, but I also feel like I got a decent liberal arts education. Not on this board, but it can sometimes be tiring to hear people say things like “if everyone studies engineering, nobody will know how to write–or think!”

  140. OK, according to this site
    http://www.epi.org/blog/liberal-arts-majors-college-graduates-wages/
    about 20% of degrees are in business, 5.5% in engineering, almost 9% in education, almost 20% in STEM. It looks like around 20% are majoring in a liberal arts field, and another 20% in “other”, which might mean anything from nursing to photography.
    What that does tell me is that at least 50% of kids are majoring in a professional area, where they would most likely be seeking a career in the same field as their major. So the idea that the major is meaningless for most students would seem to not be true.

  141. My first job was at Acme Software in early 2000s. They put me through 2 months of training to learn COBOL and other old languages. I was an economics liberal arts major – no business or finance courses provided. I did take one intro to CS class and thought it was interesting so applied for the job.

    I followed my sister’s advice to not overburden myself my first term in college. I took a year off in math and that is my main regret to not take more math, although it really hasn’t hurt me and I had the best time of my life that year. DH was a math major and got a CS job also having taken only 1 CS class and learned everything on the job.

  142. Mooshi,

    Then we’ll use a communications major as the warm body Acme Software needs to do their client training or as an internal resource to train new employees on the ticketing system, etc.

  143. I get so sick of people claiming that students who major in engineering or CS never learn to do “critical thinking”. Um, engineering is all about critically analyzing tradeoffs and finding creative ways to solve problems.

  144. How many people get a job directly related to their major out of school? How many people are still in a job that directly relates to their major in 5 or 10 years after graduating

    I know I’m biased towards liberal arts, but I would think a more rigorous liberal arts education is better preparation long term for a career than a generic business degree.

  145. Yes, it has always been true that people get into software jobs without a CS degree. Ultimately, the employers care about the skills you have, not what your degree says. However, what has changed is that software shops are now unwilling to train, so having a CS degree is a good way to acquire the skills needed. There are other ways too, but these days it has to be on your own time. I did notice when I was working in industry that most of my co workers who lacked a CS degree ended up going into a grad CS program to strengthen their knowledge

  146. I believe attorney Geoffrey Fieger was a theater (or is it theatre?) major before law school. If you ever watched him defend Dr. Death (Kevorokian) you would see that his undergrand degree was a major reason why he was so good. The court room was/is his stage.

  147. “what has changed is that software shops are now unwilling to train”

    I graduated with a liberal arts degree, but really learned my job functions through an 8 week training program. I’ve heard these training programs are not very common anymore. If I had to go directly from college to my job (corporate finance), I would have been utterly unprepared.

  148. MM – I think that is often said because many, not all, in those fields lack the communication – written and spoken – to communicate about it to those outside the field. My job is in the public sector and most of what I do is creative problem solving. It’s just on a different plane.

  149. Lemon – My understanding is that a theatER is the place where you perform or watch (experience?) theatRE.

    A family friend who just graduated high school spent the entire winter auditioning for musical theatre programs around the country. She had to convince her parents that it would provide a good background for another career if she doesn’t make it on Broadway, and as others have mentioned, there are a lot of opportunities out there that use the skills developed in theatre. Fortunately, she ended up choosing a state school too (after not being one of the 10 girls accepted to the #1 program in the US), so it won’t cost an arm & leg and have her starting off in debt.

  150. To tie the more recent topic to the original topic:

    I tried to advise my DS against majoring in engineering in college. I said, “Major in math, economics, or business. Become a trader or go into finance. You will have less work/stress in college and more fun. You will get a good paying job.” DS told me something about how business people sucked and that he wanted a *real* job building stuff.

    I tried.

  151. I also think it is misleading to infer that employers don’t care about your major from the fact that most people end up 10 years down the road in a field different from their major. First of all, many people ended up in a different field because they went to graduate school or law school and got a degree in the field in which they ended up. Secondly, many people kind of morph into new areas over those 10 years but wouldn’t have gotten there without starting in their field of study. For example, my DH did his undergrad degree in mechanical engineering. He now designs high performance algorithms for a financial company. So he counts as someone who ended up in a different field. But the reality is more nuanced. He did go straight into an ME job after graduating, and in that job, was gradually given some programming tasks. Those tasks were just part of his ME job function, but he was good at it and ended up going back to school for a CS degree. So he ended up in a different field – but his employers all cared a lot about his major field of study. The financial company in particular cared a LOT about his degree, especially the particular school and advisor that he worked with. I suspect a lot of the statistics are skewed by people who went back to school in another field or who morphed as part of their job, or both.

  152. “Become a trader or go into finance. ” = less stress?????? The most stressed out people I know are the traders where my DH works.

  153. BTW, the reason I am posting so much is because I am waiting for the Android SDK to install on my crawly sad little work laptop. I can’t go off and leave it because it needs occassional prods and pokes, and I can’t really dig into a real task.

  154. “Math. I always tell my kids to take as much math as they can. My parents gave me the same advice. You are much more employable as a history major if you also minored in math or statistics.”

    I agree with this. I tell my kids the same thing.
    BTW – a video gamer in my house was busy writing an opinion essay last night (all five paragraphs, with reasons, examples and sources – quite impressive for the non writing type) on “Kids should be allowed to bring their smartphones and gaming devices to school”. LOL !

  155. I feel like we should stage an ultimate frisbee match. We can have a gigantic team of all the people we know who went to Harvard but can’t afford to have a family and all of the musicians in west chester who live hand to mouth.

    A brother of a good friend plays an instrument for the Army. I think he is a good, not great musician, (like 90th percentile, not 99th). He does a few funerals every morning, a few in the afternoon, and stable pay, benefits and a pension. Sure- not every clarinet player can get that job, but such jobs exist, and they are available to people who can not smoke pot and show up to work everyday. I think we do the kids a disservice to tell them that no one makes a living doing these things.

  156. CoC – my daughter would like to go to work for a PR firm, and eventually have her own firm devoted primarily to supporting start-ups. She has lots of ideas, so hopefully some will work out as she hopes. She will do internships for her last couple of semesters to try to get some experience and try out different things, so hopefully it will all work out for her. I’m not at all concerned -she won’t have debt, and has taken a lot more ownership of it all through wanting to pay part of her tuition, doing what she wants even though she knows it’s not what we would have chosen for her, etc. The project-oriented work is a good fit for her, and she’s just in a different place now. I think I’ve posted before on my concerns re: her not getting any accommodations for her dyslexia in college. What she has shown me is how much more her professors are willing to challenge her on improving her writing when they don’t know she has dyslexia. She gets a lot of good, encouraging feedback on essays that she feels she never got in high school, because she thinks her high school English teachers sort of wrote her off. W’s “soft bigotry of low expectations” – they just never expected as much out of her. She is really enjoying developing her skills. (To tie back in to the post – she wishes she had been pushed harder all along. Since I was there, I disagree, but whatever.)

  157. Cost of college – I would definitely say that my daughter’s acting background has helped her in the accounting world. She can give presentations, talk to clients at all levels and pick up on the emotional stuff that is floating around. She is navigating through the first rungs of the corporate world pretty well, and I know that her outgoing personality and ability to “perform” have been assets.

  158. Only 39% of Americans have a college degree at all. We are talking about those people.

  159. Acutally, Meister Wikipedia claims that only 32% of Americans hold bachelors degrees, and 12% have a graduate or professional degree. So it would seem that a fair number of people with bachelors degrees do go on to more education

  160. Only 39% of Americans have a college degree at all.

    Exactly – so what is the likely education background of the parents in the house I linked to?

  161. “so what is the likely education background of the parents in the house I linked to?”

    He’s an insurance claims adjuster, she’s a part-time occupational therapist.

  162. Milo,

    I assume you’ll agree that some folks here don’t have a solid grasp of the average person’s level of educational achievement, ability and lifestyle?

  163. Rhett – I’m not sure. Maybe somewhat. This is an intellectually elite group, to which I barely belong on my good days.

  164. “This is an intellectually elite group, to which I barely belong on my good days.”

    Given where you went to college, that dog don’t hunt.

  165. RMS will hate me for saying this, but..

    “This is an intellectually elite group, to which I barely belong on my good days.”

    You have an engineering degree from a selective school. ‘Nuff said.

  166. RMS, you must go to a different class of hotel than I do. The hotels at which I stay tend to have their fitness centers on different floors than the lobbies. I can’t recall having to walk through a lobby to get to a fitness center.

  167. “I tried to advise my DS against majoring in engineering in college. I said, “Major in math, economics, or business. Become a trader or go into finance. You will have less work/stress in college and more fun. You will get a good paying job.””

    I think your DS will have more options if he gets the engineering degree. With it, he could still become a trader or go into finance (I know engineers who’ve moved into those sorts of jobs), but he won’t be able to get an engineering job with an econ or business major.

  168. Nonsense, Finn, I have nothing against engineering degrees. My animus is against engineers who think that ONLY engineers are bright and well-educated.

  169. “A family friend who just graduated high school”

    I thought this was a British/Canadian pattern, and the US pattern would be, “a family friend who just graduated from high school.” At least that’s seemed to be the pattern wherever I’ve lived.

    Is this a regional thing?

  170. I know only a handful of people who live off their art. Three people from my class were on Broadway (one was also a child actor) and then discovered they weren’t making enough money – one is now a real estate agent and one is a consultant, one went back to grad school. Another person is a moderately successful electronic music group, involving a LOT of travel (single with no dependents). A couple of people are regional singer-songwriters and then a couple more are marginal actors (with spouses with day jobs). I know one couple – organist/choir director and opera singer – who have kids and a more stable financial situation, but the organist has one of the most cushy jobs you can possibly get in that field

  171. after not being one of the 10 girls accepted to the #1 program in the US

    My niece was wait-listed for that one, which would have been her top choice, but did get in to a couple of the others and last I heard was leaning toward one of them. I’ll have to send her parents CoC’s link about fine arts degree holders not starving ^_^.

  172. It depends on what you mean by “living off your art.” I have a number of classmates working in galleries/museums (not their own hobby-gallery supported by outside source of wealth). While they do not create art, they curate it. Lots of people have successfully gone into craft – the ones that are particularly successful are mostly on the design side. A friend teaches costume design in a University drama program. Another teaches photography. I do have two peers who are pursing fine art careers, and I know a dozen who do visual work with computer games, marketing, etc.

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