Thursday, August 20, 2009

What I meant to say to the nosy lady in the grocery store

Between the potty training and the heat, the kids and I haven't ventured out much these past two weeks. Yesterday, the kids and I took a post-lunch potty training field trip to the grocery store for supplies - gummy worms, Pirate's Booty and Clorox wipes. I had Fiona in the sling and let Danny walk. A few shoppers took notice of the cute little boy dragging a basket with gummy worms in it, including a complete stranger who later inquired about our two year old son's education.

"Have you made an education plan for your son?" she asked.

"Um, no, not yet," I said, as I struggled to keep hold of Danny, check groceries at the self-checkout and balance Fiona in the sling. "He's a little young for that," I said, assuming she was talking about school.

"You intend for him to go to college, right?" she asked with arched eyebrows and a slightly surprised, superior tone.

I was caught completely off guard and just agreed, "Uh, yeah."

"Well, you know you need to start saving now," she says. Sensing that she just wanted to sell me financial planning services, I stammered something just to get her away from me. Now that I think of it, though, she looked more like an educrat than a financial planner. All the more reason to shoo her away from my precious children.

Several aspects of this encounter bother me, the most obvious being the sheer gall of a complete stranger coming up and asking about our financial plans for educating our children. These are the same kind of people I will likely encounter three years from now wanting to know why my son is school age and in public during "school hours," perfectly healthy and possibly having, gasp, a good time with his family, of all people, and not age-appropriate, government-assigned peers. It's appalling that people believe that your children are their business, but not surprising. We're no longer a society of individuals, but of collective (and very nosy) cogs in the machine. Come to think of it, I'm surprised George Orwell's 1984 is still required reading. It may soon hit too close to home for government curriculum writers.

Another annoying notion perpetuated in this country, which is evident in her line of questioning, is that education begins with preschool and ends with college. What I should have said to her is that college isn't for everyone, that not all careers require nor should they require a college education and that these days college is an unsupervised, alcohol-drenched extension of childhood that turns out workers who have little to no work ethic and are really not all that skilled. Just to clarify, an undergraduate or graduate degree that prepares a person for a specific career is useful. There are a host of careers for which higher education and training is appropriate: doctors, nurses, counselors, lawyers, engineers, architects. A five-year degree in liberal studies with no career plan is useless and not something we would fund for our children.

Of course, we want our children to be successful at whatever they pursue. But there is more than one path to success and we will trust our kids to find that path. College doesn't ensure success any more than going to the doctor makes one healthy. And education isn't a straight line; it's a long, winding road that reminds me of a bumper sticker on my sister-in-law's car: All who wander are not lost.

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