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The rest of your life starts here …

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campus tourA few months ago I wrote a post about my eldest son’s applications to post-secondary institutions. And now with a few offers in hand, my eldest son has some decisions to make.

Much to my son’s surprise (not mine), bit by bit those offers started trickling in and we carefully picked the ones we would go and visit. Unlike the parents of many university-bound kids, I chose not to take him on road trip visiting every single post-secondary school between infinity and beyond. Instead, I promised I would take him to visit those to which he received offers, and was most keen to attend. Never having been on a single university tour myself when I was applying, I did want him to make an informed choice.  Depending on the location of these choices, however, a campus tour can set you back the price of a school year’s tuition!

The campus tour is generally pretty standard: the major academic buildings, the library or libraries if the school is large enough, at least one dorm room, at least one dining hall or the dining halls, the sports complex, and all the major support services (academic, health, etc.). It is also possible to arrange more in-depth tours with various faculties and even arrange to meet faculty members or varsity coaches. I’ve quickly realized that a good university tour guide is more than someone who can walk backwards and talk at the same time – they can make or break a prospective student and their family’s first impression.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get the uber- energetic student or recent grad that could not imagine life without this university. As annoying as their enthusiasm and university loyalty can be, the tour will not end until you know everything about the school including the words of the favourite university drinking song or have the university’s motto emblazoned on your brain. Alternatively, you may get a less enthusiastic tour guide who appears to have better things to do than make converts of wide-eyed, naïve high schoolers, and who showcases themselves and their accomplishments inviting you to come the their university so you can truly be as impressive as they have become (doing university tours for a living).

So now begins my son’s decision-making crunch time. He has ultimately has about three weeks now, to make his decision and pay his deposit (as you can guess procrastination runs in our family!). In that time, he will reflect not only on the wisdom of all that he has learned about these respective universities, but also on the words of wisdom of the tour guides.

I hope he took good notes!


Race to Nowhere

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A group of friends and I recently attended a screening of Race to Nowhere, a documentary intended to raise awareness on the way our children are educated.  Roughly 90 minutes, this documentary highlights the negative impacts of the pressure parents, educators, the government and students themselves place on students in their quest for achieving good grades and getting into the best universities and colleges.  Though succeeding in sports and in school can be a good thing, the unintended consequences can be anxiety, depression, panic attacks, misuse of drugs (particularly stimulants and depressants), cheating and even suicide.  The documentary begs viewers to ask themselves the fundamental question:  are we really going about preparing the next generation for healthy, productive lives the right way?

I wish I had taken notes as at the end it summarized strategies for each:  school administrators, parents, teachers and students.  Discussing it with my family at the dinner table, I felt some guilt in the “reward systems” I’d established over the years for academic achievement.  I confess to bribing my son with a laptop for achieving 2 consecutive semesters of an over-80 average and buying my daughter a new hamster for getting straight A’s (okay, I get that these rewards vary drastically in their scope but it’s relative after all!).  Watching this documentary,  I felt pain for these kids whose lives have been turned upside down in this quest for excellence.  I felt anguish for the mothers who agonized over the guilt.  I felt the frustration of educators whose optimism seemed doomed in the face of government pressure and board-mandated curriculums.

Since I’ve been too busy lately to write, I haven’t had the time to post my feelings about this documentary immediately.  Perhaps that was fate, for that post would have been a heartfelt emotional plea to ban organized sports, outlaw homework and curtail household chores for the evils of “the system” in stealing my kids’ childhoods.  Over the week, some perspective has since bubbled to the surface of my cauldron of anxiety.    My oldest son has often asked me, “When was the last time your boss asked you what you got in high school Math?” and I can truthfully respond “Not once”.  But I have been asked on more than one occasion, “when can I expect that presentation for [insert anything here] or “can I please have you review this by this afternoon?”  There is the need in our children’s lives for some structure, order, a healthy dose of discipline and the need to exert some effort from time to time.

Part of me wanted to immediately ban all homework in our house and the incessant interrogation of “did you do your homework”, “how’s that project coming along”, “why did you get a C on this test?” etc., etc., etc.  I actually don’t think my kids’ teachers or coaches are hard on them at all.  I don’t think I’m that hard on them for that matter either.  Or is it possible that we happen to function in our own little bubble of balance.   Not that I don’t stress over their future, their grades, their sporting skills, their social lives, their clothes, their choice of friends, their choice of music, their more than occasional lack of initiative, their excessive gaming and TV viewing, their adulation and obsessions with really stupid people (imho), because I really do lose sleep over those things, and so do they.  Just not every day and not every night.

We can’t always look for the easy route for our kids.  Yes, ABSOLUTELY, it’s critical to monitor for signs of excessive stress and anxiety in our kids (and their friends, as it does take a “village” after all) as they forge their path through the school years.  But the truth is, school shouldn’t always be a breeze, and shouldn’t always be a social club scene.  We DO have to somehow equip our children with the means to cope with what is difficult, rather than just take that right out of their path.  How many days does anyone wake up with nothing to do and nowhere to go?  It’s not often I go to work and have nothing to do.  There are plenty of days that some stressful situation or uncomfortable discussion presents itself for which I need to know how to navigate. 

I recognize the need for balance.  Even though the documentary highlighted individuals who are stressed to the max because of school and because of organized or school-sanctioned sports activities, it is not representative of my kids (at least not now, though my oldest has only just started high school).  Rather than do away with homework and scheduled activity, it’s time for the parents to take charge and know when their kids have had enough – and that is difficult because you can’t always rely on kids to tell you they’ve had enough.

Whatever your point of view on this, I encourage you to see the documentary!

Race to Nowhere

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