Saturday, August 2, 2008

“Must-Have Dorm Gear”?

An open letter to two different parties in my family – my father, and my children. I hope they read this.

Paging through the newspaper ads this weekend, I came across an insert from one of the technology stores. Inside was an entire section dedicated to students, presumably of university age judging by some of the dorm room graphics. Page one detailed some computer-related equipment. Pages two and three had a variety of things – from headphones to software, and cell phones to stereo speakers. I stopped to ponder that for a bit, especially because the page header claimed that “We’ll help your student get the tools to connect and succeed on campus”.

Page four was what puzzled me.

This page was titled “Must-Have Dorm Gear”, and contained only an LCD HDTV, an Xbox 360™, and a “Guitar Hero” package. That’s it – nothing else. (Just as an aside, the “Guitar Hero” description included a disclaimer that said “Mildly Suggestive Themes” – if my grandparents were to see the graphically enhanced avatar on the screen of the HDTV inset, they might have a different “suggestion”).

Sending a child away to a university is a sobering event for most parents. It’s a time to let go and let your children gain the tools they need to step into a different world – one which demands that they make more independent decisions and grapple with larger concerns. It’s also a great expense in most situations, with thousands of dollars being paid each semester for the privilege of getting a certificate, which might later be redeemed for a career.

What troubles me is the often-accepted attitude that college is an all-expenses, parent-paid holiday, which focuses on fun rather than learning. This isn’t a one week vacation to Hawaii – it’s a gathering of barely-matured adults that goes on for four, five or even six years. At the end, the university hands out a diploma, sometimes to students who still struggle to read. "It's appalling -- it's really astounding," said Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association. "Only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. That's not saying much for the remainder." Read more at

Isn’t the larger goal of paying for higher education to prepare minds and hearts for a career? I question the efficacy of many college education programs. There is a movement on right now to forego the typical route to a diploma, opting instead for a three-part program – 1) help your child find the right career during the pre-university phase (often in the family-based business, if it exists), 2) set them up with mentoring relationships in that field, and 3) use the money saved for college to buy a business outright or invest in the items needed to start a business for your children. The result – they own and lead a business in a field they love, they avoid the “wage-slave” mentality so prevalent in our culture, and they start out their career farther down the path of financial independence and debt-free living than their parents did. Of course, there are certain careers which require a university diploma, but these new options are gaining acceptance - to the benefit of the child, the family, and the Lord.

I don’t want to pay dorm rent to have my children play video games for four or more years. My goal is for them to be God-loving, Christian examples to the world, who also are very successful in running a meaningful business venture that has eternal significance. That may mean a change of view on several fronts, including what to do when we arrive at the college years.

To my Dad – I never thought about extending my stay at the state university because I had more playing around to do. When I was at college, my goal was to use your money wisely – study, earn a real degree, and get out in the minimum amount of time. That meant that I spent a lot of Friday nights in my room reading or working on assignments, while others spent their time in leisure pursuits, extending their stay in college by another semester. I was conscious of the expense and sacrifice that you made to put me in college, and of the trust that you had in me to stay true to my faith while away from home.

To my children – I’m raising you to have the same notion. I want you to spend your college years in faith and excellence, and to start out your post-graduate life in an even stronger way than I did. Pass this on to your children, and their children after them. Train each successive generation of this family to be more in love with Jesus and to be more effective servants in his kingdom.

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Tamara said...

What?!?!?! Matt & I WEREN'T the only college-kids who didn't have a "social" life?!?!?

Molly said...

Hmm... I wonder what the world would think "must-have-elementary-school-gear" is. A cell phone at age 8? :)
Good point, Dad.

Joe said...

oh molly, if you only knew... we had a THREE year old visitor show up in children's church a couple weeks ago with a cell phone to call mommy in church if he got scared... no joke! :-( ! Kara