The season of college admission is upon us. This is the time of sleepless nights for many parents because — let us face it — this is also the season of never-ending nocturnal IPL matches.
But why is there so much anxiety over college education? Is it the summum bonum of life? To tackle this question truthfully, you, as a parent, will have to truthfully answer another question: What the heck is this summum bonum?
No. Seriously, the question to answer for any parent would be: ‘What do I want to provide my children with, a good college education that will stand them in good stead all through their life or an apartment that can at best provide some illusionary material comfort?’ The answer is — as any educator will tell you — college education is a cardinal need in today’s world. Which is not surprising because educators, if they say anything other than that, they will go out of business.
But left to yourself, faced with the moral query of what you should provide your children with, you will also happily choose education over a house because —- let us stop playing for once and face the truth square on — you can’t afford to buy any apartment at their current rates.
Anyway, the period of college education is the most crucial in any individual’s life, as it is in those three or four years that he or she picks all the knowledge and skills that he or she would mostly find no use for in real life. For instance, as an engineering student, I slogged my way through many subjects like Industrial Stoichiometry and Fluid Mechanics. Till today, I have not had the opportunity to use them even once in my every-day work at office. On second thoughts, it could also be due to the fact that I studied for engineering but ended up as a journalist.
(Some of you may wonder that if I had not studied journalism how then did I become a journalist. Well, that is the beauty of this noble vocation, the veritable fourth pillar of democracy: No real qualification is needed to enter this profession. Anybody can, I mean, anybody can become a journalist. Even Manmohan Singh).
The thing is choosing a stream of education and a college calls for a nuanced approach. This is where career counselors come in, as they manage to find out what a student is really interested in by the scientific process of talking to them. The point is most parents don’t.
But if you have the heart and mind, you too can play career counselor to your son or daughter. And this is how:
If you have a son who is in the age of getting into a college, call him around, sit with him, put an amiable arm around his shoulder and, in a friendly but matter of fact even tone, ask him to switch off the bloody mobile in his so that he can stop sending those darn SMSes and you can start engaging him in any meaningful conversation.
After that, ask him earnestly what is his dream and what does he want to really pursue in his life. If he were any honest, he would tell you a girl’s name. In which case you have to quickly modify your question thus: ‘Son, when I asked you what do you dream of, I meant dream as in education and career’. Mostly your son will give you a blank stare. Don’t be alarmed. Teenage boys aren’t exactly used to the idea of discussing their future with outsiders like their parents. Boys generally choose their college and the stream they want to pursue based on —- career counselors and psychologists you better note this down — where their friends go.
Now we come to girls. Parents with daughters, you have it slightly easier. For girls, in general, are clear in their mind and are very sure of what they want. For about 48 hours, that is. I suspect most girls have kaleidoscope for brain that keeps changing its pattern depending upon how they choose to look. I speak from the experience of having a daughter whose firm career choices so far have been: Archaeology, aeronautical engineering, TV journalism that will let her interview cricket players, college professor, any kind of social activism that she can sincerely and seriously pursue from her air-conditioned bedroom, and, of course, All England Champion in badminton and US Open winner in tennis. These choices emerged over the long period of last 10 days when I happened to broach the subject with her.
Before I am accused of trying to stereotype girls, I agree that not all girls are as whimsical as my daughter is. Many of them are worse. I have a friend whose daughter desperately wants to take up medical education. Don’t ask me what is wrong in her choice. She is currently in the fourth year of her instrumentation engineering.
Anyway, boy or girl, whatever career choice they may make, as a doting parent, it is your duty to stand by them and provide all the necessary backing they may need to achieve their dreams. For example, if he or she does not want to take up any conventional course but wants to become, say, a writer your job as a responsible parent will be to provide complete support by banning all the Chetan Bhagat books from your house.
And if you can help it, stop dreaming for your children. They know how to do it for themselves.