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Ron Hart Columns: Let children discover life on own terms

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Let children discover life on own terms

September 2, 2007 - Panama City News Herald

By Ron Hart

At some point, our village elders decided that a boy becomes an adult at 18. I am convinced this was determined by folks who had never met any 18-year-olds.

My son leaves for college this week, and I have to learn to temper my expectations both for his grades and his tenure at his chosen institution of higher learning. He started early with summer school, a strategy adopted by colleges to steer kids away from actually working at a summer job. Too much reality detracts from the soft theoretical la-la land of college.

There is this built-in societal pressure for parents to ride kids hard to make good grades, and I wonder if we are not just driving both ourselves and the kids nuts by doing so. Kids have to have a light on and want to learn something. It is at that point that they get interested and absorb information that they seek out themselves. Certainly, it is not having to read Chaucer.

We probably overeducate many kids in the U.S., well beyond their interest in school and, in many cases, their abilities. The reality is that college is just a place to store a kid in the hope that he or she grows up by the time they are done. They learn many life lessons there, such as how much liquor they can hold and how to pay speeding and parking tickets.

My son took a less difficult route than my daughter. She is at Vanderbilt. He felt that he wanted to go to a big state SEC school, and our state, which is 49th in education, was a bit ambitious, so he went to Mississippi to college - securely the 50th-ranked state.

He is leaving nothing to chance by letting hard classes get in the way of his college experience. At his age, some kids drink from the fountain of knowledge, but he will only gargle and spit it out - probably on a fraternity pledge.

On the bright side, he does have some college goals in mind aside from dressing nice and dating many coeds. He said that Ole Miss was ranked the fifth-best party school, yet he felt strongly that he and the few kids going over with him from his high school could quickly get it to No. 3.

As those of us who went to universities can attest, most of a student's education occurs outside of the classroom. And with the tenured ultra-liberal professors harbored on today's campuses, that is a good thing. As parents, we risk entrusting these malleable minds to these teachers who have strong liberal opinions on everything, including where their coffee beans are grown. Yet, Ole Miss is not as bad as most colleges; I understand it has one professor who voted for a Republican once.

As parents, we have to let our children go and discover life on their own terms. By 18, the die is probably cast. My son's view seems to be that the sooner he gets behind in school, the more time he has to catch up. It will be fun to see if this pans out for him in college.

A friend reminded me of a scene from "Sanford and Son," one of my favorite shows when I was growing up. The father, Fred Sanford, said to his son Lamont: "Didn't you learn anything from being my son? What do you think I'm doing this all for?"

Lamont Sanford answers: "Yourself."

Fred: "Yeah, you learned something."

Parents who push their kids too hard are doing it for themselves and not for the kid. Like any successful endeavor, one has to want to do it on one's own. All we can hope is to keep our kids positive and safe until that light comes on someday and they find something that they really want to pursue. And it is rarely what we parents had in mind.

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Columns by Ronald Hart. Ron grew up in Tennessee and began writing a column for his hometown paper in 2002. He attended The University of Memphis and the Institute for Political and Economic Systems at Georgetown University. Ron graduated Magna Cum Laude and was elected student government president. Upon getting his MBA, he went to work for Goldman Sachs. He was appointed to the Tennessee Board of Regents by then Governor Lamar Alexander and is now a private investor. He appears on CNN and has been quoted in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal. His columns reflect a rare combination of Southern libertarian views and humor. They have been described as "Lewis Grizzard meets P.J. O'Rourke with a dash of Will Roger's horse sense". His columns are carried by 30 newspapers with a total weekly circulation of approximately 1 million readers.