Before I started teaching elementary school, people told me something over and over: “We need more male role models in the schools.” The implication, sometimes not at all subtle, was that so many kids come from homes where a father is absentee, either emotionally or physically. So I talked myself into believing that was going to be the norm, and that I would assume a rightful position as, essentially, a father to so many children.
Of course, there have been kids in my career who have had absentee fathers. However, there have also been kids with absentee mothers. My point? I allowed myself to buy into a popular myth that was only slightly rooted in the real world.
Watching NBC’s Education Nation today, I was particularly intrigued by the discussion of another one of those popular myths with only some basis in reality: In order to be considered a success, you must attend college.
The implications for this kind of talk are rather significant. As the talk continued, I tweeted this:
The simple fact is not everyone is destined for college. There are too many factors – social, academic, financial – that need to align for someone to go to college. Does not thinking everyone needs to go to college mean that we shouldn’t still have high expectations for everyone? Certainly not. Who are we to say that everyone MUST attend? We need to be realistic. Not everyone can meet the demands of a college education, the same way not everyone is equipped to become an engineer or scientist.
Now, does that mean that people who don’t go to college are destined to become drains on society? No, because people who don’t go to college will still find meaningful, vital roles in society. I certainly hope people don’t equate going to college with becoming productive members of society. College is not the only way to measure someone’s success. It depends on your value system.
That brings me to the second part of my tweet, the part about “disrespect for others’ values.” Not every culture, nor every family in the stereotypical pro-education cultures, values college as the sole route to prosperity. Who are these billionaires and politicians to promote college, then, as the only way to greatness?
Shortly after my first tweet, I tweeted this:
Do you really need a college education to make a positive impact? If you don’t go to college and still become something wonderful, does that make your contributions to the world less significant? Ask yourself that while you ponder this partial list of influential people who skipped college on their paths to prominence:
Hans Christian Andersen, Carl Bernstein, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, George Eastman (founded Kodak), Henry Ford, Bill Gates, William Randolph Hearst, Steve Jobs, Ray Kroc (founded McDonald’s), Abraham Lincoln, Charles Lindbergh, Claude Monet, George Orwell, Larry Page (founded Google), John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William Shakespeare, Ted Turner, Wilbur Wright, Mark Zuckerberg.
My sister and I were always expected to go to college and get professional jobs. Does that make our family better than the families where these aren’t the expectations? Does that make our family more noble?
I’d venture that there are very few families in this country where children aren’t expected to do their best in life. But if that means going from high school to working in a garage, is that a bad thing? If it means going to work at a restaurant, is that a bad thing?
Not everyone has to go to college. Not everyone will go to college. Let’s stop believing that the voices of one cohort – those with money and access to opportunities – are the only voices that matter. College is not for everyone, and our country won’t fall apart if not everyone gets a college degree.