My son is a senior in high school, which means that pretty soon he, like millions of other seniors, will have to make a crucial decision, the consequences of which will remain with him for the rest of his life: Who will be his prom date?
Also, at some point he'll probably select a college. In fact, we've already gone on several college visits, which are helpful in choosing a college because you can get answers to important academic questions such as:
*Is there parking?
*Are all the students required to get body piercings?
*Is there a bank near the college that you can rob to pay the tuition?
Most college visits include an orientation session, wherein you sit in a lecture room and a college official tells you impressive statistics about the college, including, almost always, how small the classes are. Class smallness is considered the ultimate measure of how good a college is. Havard, for example, has zero students per class: The professors just sit alone in their classrooms, filing their nails.
I noticed, in the orientation sessions, that many of the kids seem semi-bored, whereas the parents not only take notes, but also ask most of the questions, sometimes indicating that they've mapped out their children's entire academic careers all the way through death. There will be some girl who looks like she’s eleven years old, and her dad will raise his hand and say: “If my daughter declares a quadruple major in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Large Scary Equations, and she graduates with honors and then earns doctorates in Medicine, Engineering, Law, Architecture, Dentistry and Taxidermy, and then she qualifies for a Merwanger Fellowship for Interminable Postdoctoral Studies, does the Nobel organization pay her expenses to Sweden to pick up her prize?”
I was intimidated by these parents. I have frequently not given that much thought to my son's academic goals. I assumed he was going to college for the same reason I did, which is that at some point they stop letting you go to high school. I tried to think of questions to ask the college officials, but the only one I could think of was: "How come these lecture-hall desks are never designed for us left-handed people?" Although I didn't ask this, because it's probably considered insensitive on college campuses to say "left-handed people." You probably have to say something like "persons of handedness."
After the orientation session, you go on a campus tour conducted by a student who is required to tell you the name of every single building on the campus, no matter how many there are. After the tour, the kids have interviews with college officials. One of the colleges my son visited was my alma mater, Haverford College. I was a little nervous about going back: I expected that, at any moment, the dean would tap me on the shoulder and say: "Mr. Barry, we need to talk to you about your share of the Class of 1969's bill for the cost of scraping an estimated twenty-three thousand butter pats off the dining-hall ceiling." Fortunately, this did not happen.
I also vaguely recall attending classes and learning numerous English-major facts that still come in mighty handy whenever the topic of conversation turns -- as it so often does -- to Seventeenth-Century English metaphysical poetry. Yes, college was a valuable experience for me, and I’m sure it will also be one for my son, wherever he decides to go on prom night, I mean.
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