For the sake of argument

Why I won’t push my children into college

HUGH GARNER EXPLAINS October 25 1958
For the sake of argument

Why I won’t push my children into college

HUGH GARNER EXPLAINS October 25 1958

Why I won’t push my children into college

For the sake of argument

HUGH GARNER EXPLAINS

Neither of my children wants to become a doctor, engineer, lawyer, teacher or atomic scientist, which is all right with me. It’s also all right with them that I’m not going to insist that they go to university, merely to satisfy my ego or from a vicarious urge to make up for my own lack of a college education. A university diploma is something I miss about as much as I miss having webbed feet, and a college background is no more a success symbol to me than owning an automobile.

There is a trend today among parents, whether they can afford it or not, to send their children to college. Their reason is primarily snobbish, and has been instilled in them by advertisements that show maw and paw, grinning like congenital idiots, waving good-by to Junior and Sistie as they drive off in their pennant-draped jalopy towards State U and higher education.

If you ask parents why they insist on their offspring getting a college education, three out of ten answer, “To get a better education than I did,” five out of ten say that a college education is a social advantage, and the other two want their children to become professional people rather than members of the trades or business classes. Hardly any parent ever answers the question by saying that his child has a natural aptitude for higher learning or for professional life. The only thing they all agree on is that their children deserve a college education. And I say that few of them are fitted for it, and only a minority that'go on to college deserve to go.

Boola-boola boondogglers

There is a great hullabaloo being raised these days about the lack of college facilities to meet the needs of the postwar generation. New buildings have been built, existing ones have been enlarged, and new universities are

in the planning stage. I can think of few better ways for governments to spend my tax dollar, but I don’t want to be the inadvertent sponsor of another generation of misfits, athletic cretins, boola-boola boondogglers, girls killing time between high school and marriage, and college-educated bums.

The pedagogues and academicians are tripping over their gowns in a vain last-ditch effort to stretch the present facilities to absorb the approaching mob of parent-sponsored collegians. What we really need is a radical change of attitude toward college education, and an educational Procrustes who will lop off the dead and undeserving offshoots before they can crowd the deserving students out of their seats in the nation’s lecture halls.

Is he smart enough?

The only way we will ever do this is by toughening up the entrance requirements, and by giving financial help to the student who wants to go to college and deserves to—not when he reaches there, but when he enters high school. Such a plan would be attacked tooth-and-nail by the social and financial snobs who would sooner see Junior dead than miss college, and by the would-be collegians who regard four years of university as a natural extension of family allowances.

Every parent should ask himself three questions: Does my son want to go to college? Is he smart enough to go? Will he benefit both himself and society by going? Most of the time, a parent asks only one question of himself before indenturing his offspring to an institution of higher learning: Can I afford it? Whether he can or not, the youth goes anyway.

If Junior shows an aptitude for tinkering with the motor in the washing machine, or can draw a rough perspective of the garage, he is a budding engineer. It doesn’t matter to his fond and foolish parents that Junior is a dunce in every subject on the highschool curriculum, or that his aptitude would make him a passable mechanic or architectural draftsman; Junior has got to become an engineer or an architect. So Junior enters college—after four false starts at his matriculation—and spends a year wandering around the campus wearing a leather windbreaker and corduroy pants, and trying to look like the man who planned the St. Lawrence Seaway. He flunks his course at the end of his freshman year, and gets a job as an apprentice tool-and-die maker, a move he should have been allowed to make three years before.

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OUTSPOKEN ESSAYIST HUGH GARNER IS A NOVELIST AND PLAYWRIGHT.

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Sistie has always shown liking and aptitude for millinery, but that occupation is too prosaic for her mother, who has just become a prominent women’sclub convener. Sistie is persuaded to go on to university and take an arts course. Neither one quite knows what an arts course is, but it sounds important, and can be used for what the women's pages call “a conversation piece.” Sistie enrolls in university, gets herself into a sorority, buys two baggy sweaters and a pair of saddle shoes, and lets the highereducation mill take over from there. After a year of trying to look as dowdy as possible, of eating fudge sunches in the campus tuckshop, and of embracing every crackpot idea from Zen Buddhism to xenophobia toward her uneducated parents, she fails to pass her freshman year.

She decides that marriage is what she has really wanted all along, so she marries a professional student with an MA. Her husband is working for his PhD in order to apply for a Guggenheim fellowship, to pave the way for a Canada Council grant which will enable him to spend two years studying sea-slugs. Of course, her marriage soon dies of malnutrition, so she borrows a couple of thousand dollars from her father and opens a hat shoppe, with a set of damaskcovered furniture and a decoy hat in the window. At last Sistie has found her true vocation, and everyone is happy, including her mother who never forgets to mention that her daughter went to university.

Among my friends are two men with law degrees. One is a novelist and the other is a newspaper literary editor. Another man I know, who graduated from law school, is perfectly content as a pastry cook. I know several stenographers with BA degrees, an editorial writer who is a Bachelor of Science, and a motel-keeper who is a Doctor of Divinity. 1 also know two Doctors of Philosophy who are beer-parlor bums, and a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology who works as a bus driver.

I suspect that they were all pushed through university by doting but daffy parents, or else holed up in college to weather the depression years.

There are few doctors or lawyers today who have not had a college education (though there used to be), but there are leaders in nearly every other sphere of endeavor who do not know the difference between a semester and a fraternity. At the present time there is a great need for college engineering graduates, but they form a very small percentage of our total industrial force. What is needed much more, in industry, mining, transportation and so on, are mechanically proficient young men on the technical high-school level who can fill in the ranks of skilled labor.

Socially, a college degree today carries about as much weight as a charter membership in a Nelson Eddy fan club, and a sheepskin is as useful for crashing the Four Hundred as a pair of cowhide chaps. The only people who make a fetish of degree worship are college faculty members, who eye the letters after a name with the same intensity as professional war veterans beerily sizing up each other’s decorations. As a matter of fact, the higher up the social ladder you are pulled or pushed, the less a college education matters at all. The zenith of the social pyramid is inhabited by mossbacks who either boast of their lack of schooling, or brag about being kicked out of college for decorating the dean with a pot of library paste.

Those who believe that a college education is the primrose path to the Canadian Club and Cadillac set only show that their thinking mechanism needs an oil change. Whatever it is that most tycoons have, it isn’t a cum laude degree from a commercial college, and the only time most of them wore a mortarboard was when Ulcer U honored them with a baccalaureate for filling the chinks in the annual deficit with folded dollar bills. Many of the skilled trades offer a fatter pay envelope to the craftsman than do some of the jobs offered to the college graduate. And a fast sales pitch often offers a bigger slice of the economic pie than book-learning and bookkeeping combined. And how much education do you need to peddle pills on a TV commercial?

However, the leisurely study of psychology, theology, philosophy and allied subjects helps to keep our youth out of pool halls, and gives them a feeling of intellectual superiority that stays with them until they’re old enough to vote. At times this knowledge can be parlayed into a spot on the fourth plateau of a quiz show, or until they meet up with a question on bird-banding or the Bedlington terrier. One thing sure, educating our youth never hurt anybody but professors and parents, and the first are paid for it and the second do the paying.

College coeducation is a scheme to give a female high-school graduate a choice of becoming a majorette or a min-

ing engineer while killing time between maturity and matrimony. Those who fall by the educational wayside become the suburban wives of the young organization men who are bucking for vice-presidencies, and the ones who graduate tend to obey their teacher fixations and elope with lepidopterists or become the soulmates of publishers of banned books.

I have no objections to women doctors, astronomers, mathematicians, or even dieticians (as long as they remain in institutions), but I draw the line at a woman dentist venting her spleen on the male sex by way of my impacted molar. As far as I’ve been able to observe, most graduates in household science are just slightly better housekeepers than Old Meg, and the only economies that are practised by their sisters the household economics majors are those involving soap products and elbow-grease. Physical culture courses should be banned by law, for, apart from making wrestlers out of ballet dancers, their only contribution to the social weal is the training of muscle-bound reformatory matrons.

We need college-trained men and women, who will become our teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, philosophers, scientists and cultural leaders, but do we really need all the bored young men with their suede shoes and savoir vivre? Our universities were founded to give advanced education to our intellectual elite, not to become way stations on the road of life for the haughty and the mentally halt. The biggest mistake we made in our educational system was to make social and financial snobbery the parental prerequisite to a college education. Instead of having to spread our universities over another square mile of valuable real estate, why not cull our would-be collegians before they get a chance to take up space?

If Sistie isn’t very bright, but wants to specialize in household science, marry her off and buy her a cookbook. If Junior shows an aptitude for figures, it may mean he'd make a better beauty pageant judge than a physicist. Just because you didn’t get a chance to punt a football at good old Provincial U doesn’t mean you have to inflict your offspring on the unsuspecting faculty. Times are tough enough for the professors as it is.

Instead of worrying how I'm going to pay my kids’ way through university. I’m wondering if I can’t get the boy into the bricklayers’ union and the girl into the movies. There’s nothing like starting them at the top, and I’ve still got twenty years to go before I can apply for the burned-out pension. +