My part-time Fall job, coaching a very large cross country running team (high-school; girls) puts me in touch, every year, with a range of pathologies all too often hidden behind the glossy exterior of this exceedingly affluent community.
Last year, three teen suicides rocked the local headlines, at least one by a “good kid,” amply successful in every dimension our city prizes. Another was by a more troubled individual who was best friends with two kids on our team, one a former bulimic. Every year, I attempt to coax out of hiding the inevitable cases of eating disorder into the light of the gospel. One clear success there, so far — with that kid, the ex-bulimic — dozens of others gone by.)
In that context, three recent articles have caught my eye. I commend them to your reflection.
Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League: The nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies. This piece, by Alan Deresiewicz, in The New Republic, went viral not long after it came out, in late July. I shared it with one of our team captains, a national-class athlete, perhaps an Olympic hopeful, as she prepares to apply early-decision to one of the schools at the very pinnacle of the hierarchy the author describes. (Her dad has already expressed his displeasure at my having done so.)
Here’s one of the most potent bits from the article:
Elite schools like to boast that they teach their students how to think, but all they mean is that they train them in the analytic and rhetorical skills that are necessary for success in business and the professions. Everything is technocratic—the development of expertise—and everything is ultimately justified in technocratic terms.
Religious colleges—even obscure, regional schools that no one has ever heard of on the coasts—often do a much better job in that respect. What an indictment of the Ivy League and its peers: that colleges four levels down on the academic totem pole, enrolling students whose SAT scores are hundreds of points lower than theirs, deliver a better education, in the highest sense of the word.
PROVERBS 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
PROVERBS 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
PSALM 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.
When something is repeated in scripture, especially verbatim, it means, ‘pay extra-special attention to this’. I find it sadly ironic (though not surprising) therefore, that an entire industry (higher education) has chosen to build its house on sand, seeking wisdom anywhere but God, thereby eschewing insight and good understanding, while self-selecting as “fools” (Biblically speaking, those who say, “No, God!”, denying His existence and with it, His Creatorial claim on their lives.)
EZEKIEL 28:12 You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty… 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you.
ISAIAH 14:13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.
Harvard, Schmarvard: Why Getting Your Kids Into College Should Be the Least of Your Concerns, by Michelle Rose Gilman. I like how the author describes and calls-out what is ultimately a diabolical process that I know all too well (and see all the time): parents seeking both to justify and glorify themselves through their kids.
For some parents, college acceptance approaches the culmination of every single parenting choice ever made. It can seem the ultimate goal, the ROI of parenthood, the final gold award and the epitome of a parenting job well done. It feels like the end game for every AP class, honors class, volunteer opportunity, and sports involvement that you required of your child. This college acceptance looms as the justification for the hours upon hours of helping with homework, rewriting their essays, doing most of their science fair projects since sixth grade, hiring the most expensive college counselor, and pushing, pushing, pushing your kids to get the A at any cost. “My child got into his first choice university” will be worn proudly and loudly as a testament to how well you have done as mom and dad.
…as parents we are almost forced into this artificial race upon birthing our children. We start with our best intentions, of course. We want the best preschool, the best teachers, the best summer camps. Slowly, without our being aware of it, we are competing with our neighbors, our friends, our families. What started out as just wanting the best for our children, suddenly morphs into my child needs to be the best.
As the author points out, this kind of thing (‘push-push-push… any cost) is often done in the name of “good” parenting and “self-sacrifice,” yet of a most perverse kind. Many of these kids are left bereft of the one thing that, ultimately, they cannot live without: God-glorifying, Christ-centered love, wholly independent of ‘performance’.
(A few weeks ago, I could barely restrain myself when, at the track, early on a Saturday morning, I witnessed a chubby, stopwatch-clutching father shouting at his grimacing, near-crying, emaciated sons — ages ~8 and 10 — to ‘keep the pace’ and ‘not let up’ as he put them through a workout which would give pause to most collegiate coaches for its unrelenting rigor. Had he struck them outright, any one of us witnessing the spectacle would have called DSS. Because he was ‘hitting’ them in a subtle and more socially acceptable manner however, it was harder to speak up. The time-splits the kids were keeping helped me to see the scene in the context of the ‘sacrifice’ our culture lauds in the realm of professional and Olympic sport, yet which it cannot stand to look upon when the sacrifice is the Son of God on our behalf.)
LUKE 14:26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
MATTHEW 19:29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
In the Name of the Child: How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage I very much like how the author, Danielle Teller, MD, identifies and shows evidence for how parenting has become a de facto religion in much of our society, even as she overlooks the rest of the Created order of submission (all to Christ, the Word of God, through whom all things were made and without whom was not any thing made that was made).
To understand the frightening power of the parenthood religion, one need look no further than the 2005 essay in The New York Times by Ayelet Waldman, where the author explained that she loved her husband more than her four children. On “Oprah Where Are They Now,” the author recently reaffirmed the sentiments reflected in her New York Times article, and she added that her outlook has had a positive impact on her children by giving them a sense of security in their parents’ relationship. Following the publication of her essay, Waldman was not only shouted down by America for being a bad mother; strangers threatened her physically and told her that they would report her to child protective services. This is not how a civil society conducts open-minded discourse. This is how a religion persecutes a heretic.
The origins of the parenthood religion are obscure, but one of its first manifestations may have been the “baby on board” placards that became popular in the mid-1980s. Nobody would have placed such a sign on a car if it were not already understood by society that the life of a human achieves its peak value at birth and declines thereafter.
The unstated implication to her last statement is that it is widely accepted in our culture that the value of human life is substantially less (if not zero) prior to birth.
ISAIAH 49:1 Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. 2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. 3 And he said to me, “You* are my servant, Israel*, in whom I will be glorified.”
*For a host of reasons, it should be clear from the text that the individual in view here is the “seed royal,” the Christ: Jesus the Son of God.