There is a Need
Does school prepare children for the real world? “Study hard and get good grades and you will
Find a high-paying job with great benefits,” my parents used to say. Their goal in life was to provide a
College education for my older sister and me, so that we would have the greatest chance for success
In life. When I finally earned my diploma in 1976-graduating with honors, and near the top of my
Class, in accounting from Florida State University-my parents had realized their goal. It was the
Crowning achievement of their lives. In accordance with the “Master Plan,” I was hired by a “Big 8”
Accounting firm, and I looked forward to a long career and retirement at an early age.
My husband, Michael, followed a similar path. We both came from hard-working families, of
Modest means but with strong work ethics. Michael also graduated with honors, but he did it twice:
First as an engineer and then from law school. He was quickly recruited by a prestigious Washington,
D. C., law firm that specialized in patent law, and his future seemed bright, career path well-defined
And early retirement guaranteed.
Although we have been successful in our careers, they have not turned out quite as we
Expected. We both have changed positions several times-for all the right reasons-but there are no
Pension plans vesting on our behalf. Our retirement funds are growing only through our individual
Michael and I have a wonderful marriage with three great children. As I write this, two are in
College and one is just beginning high school. We have spent a fortune making sure our children
Have received the best education available.
One day in 1996, one of my children came home disillusioned with school. He was bored and
Tired of studying. “Why should I put time into studying subjects I
will never use in real life?” he
Without thinking, I responded, “Because if you don’t get good grades, you won’t get into college.”
“Regardless of whether I go to college,” he replied, “I’m going to be rich.”
“If you don’t graduate from college, you won’t get a good job,” I responded with a tinge of panic
And motherly concern. “And if you don’t have a good job, how do you plan to get rich?”
My son smirked and slowly shook his head with mild boredom. We have had this talk many times
Before. He lowered his head and rolled his eyes. My words of motherly wisdom were falling on deaf
Ears once again.
Though smart and strong-willed, he has always been a polite and respectful young man.
“Mom,” he began. It was my turn to be lectured. “Get with the times! Look around; the richest
People didn’t get rich because of their educations. Look at Michael Jordan and Madonna. Even Bill
Gates, who dropped out of Harvard, founded Microsoft; he is now the richest man in America, and
He’s still in his 30s. There is a baseball pitcher who makes more than $4 million a year even though
He has been labeled `mentally challenged.’ “
There was a long silence between us. It was dawning on me that I was giving my son the same
Advice my parents had given me. The world around us has changed, but the advice hasn’t.
Getting a good education and making good grades no longer ensures success, and nobody
Seems to have noticed, except our children.
“Mom,” he continued, “I don’t want to work as hard as you and dad do. You make a lot of money,
And we live in a huge house with lots of toys. If I follow your advice, I’ll wind up like you, working