Good advice from educator: Let your kids choose own path, in college and life

downeyart (Medium)Here is a thoughtful guest column by Stan Beiner, head of the Epstein School:

By Stan Beiner

At The Epstein School, a private K-8 program, we prepare students to excel in high school and beyond.  If we do not maintain standards of academic excellence, we would not have the opportunity to fulfill our other mission which is creating well-balanced individuals who will continue in the traditions of our people.

With a deep sigh, we turn our innocent, middle school graduates over to high schools who will prepare them for colleges that don’t exist.  You can translate that as heavy homework loads, AP courses, honors classes, multiple extra-curricular activities, and the stretch for the highest GPA possible.

I have listened to countless teens talk about holding down jobs, staying up endless hours, falling asleep at their desks, padding their resumes, and trying to figure out HOW to get into their preferred STATE school.

Flash forward to the “perils” of university life where most students try to plan their schedules around sleeping late, working out, and avoiding Friday classes. They take four- five courses a week and have time for Greek life, dorm life, and partying.  Plus, they enjoy breaks that are devoid of prerequisite work. How does this parallel the endless hours of high school work exacted upon students? The long list of summer reading books ?

The eight to nine hard core subjects being taken concurrently?  The sense that there is no time for themselves?  According to research done by the Atlantic, an online magazine, on an average, college students sleep 8 hours, study/attend class 3.5 hours, participate in sports/leisure 4 hours, with the balance devoted to travel, grooming, eating and work.

It would be disingenuous to say that college work does not require hard effort and produce stress at times but it is disproportionate to what high schools purport to be preparing students to anticipate. A better focus might be on how to handle freedom while balancing leisure time and school work.

High schools are selling what they think parents are buying — a guarantee to the best college possible instead of helping children find the right match for who they are and what they want to do.  And colleges are fanning the flames and promoting this pressure in order to get the best possible candidates.

The high school years should be about friends, sports, clubs, youth groups, summers off, and of course, school work.  But these are different times. Last year, my wife and I were informed by the private school our youngest child attends, that tenth graders would now be invited to college orientation sessions. As parents, we responded politely that the only expectations we had for our 15-year-old, was that she focus on her classes, play sports if she wanted to, engage and debate youth group politics, hang out with her friends and worry about boys.  We asked to be removed from the invite list. The school honored the request and our daughter thanked us.

There are high schools that are purposeful about the way they teach students to study, balance time, manage projects, and develop self-discipline. I wish that was the norm, but it is more likely that your child will attend a school that employs pressure and fear tactics to motivate its students less they be relegated to the dungeons of a two year college in rural Slovakia. (Okay- a slight exaggeration.)

We have to be careful about slinging around words like RIGOR, CHALLENGING, COMPETITIVE, and HEAVY COURSE LOAD when discussing college preparation.  I am not sure that parents and educators quite understand the stress it causes.  It is no wonder that cheating, eating disorders, and depression are more widespread than most can fathom.

As parents, we need to set boundaries for ourselves, our children, and our schools such as:
Choose the right high school for your child’s needs which might be a deviation from your original plan.

Actively review your child’s class load, sports, youth group, and work commitments.

Monitor the language used in school environments

Continually take the pulse of your teenager’s outlook and perspective by having open conversations and listening to their concerns and frustrations.

Let them live their own lives and have their own dreams. The college or career path chosen by your child is not a badge of honor or shame that you wear.

Assist them in developing time and cash management skills. Discuss the dangers of alcohol abuse and potential hazing brought about by lax college town and university oversight. These are the important life skills that that should be discussed in high school but are often overlooked.<

And finally, make sure you model that behavior by taking the time to show up at sporting events, programs, and plays without a cell phone in hand.  Being available, being aware, and being an advocate are important ingredients for maintaining the sanity of a high school student.

If you can provide that perspective, your child will thank you when she is calling you from the college gym at 4pm before she heads off for a latte and her evening yoga class.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

34 comments Add your comment

10:10 am

February 4th, 2013
9:36 am

Parents have differing views on the correct approach to education and life preparation.

In the Scandinavian countries tuition vouchers allow parents to choose the school best suited to their children’s needs. Some may opt for the approach Epstein advocates above; other parents may choose more academic rigor and less emphasis on political activism.

It would be interesting to detail just how the power to choose was finally secured—and how the Scandinavian education establishment successfully evolved their own thinking to embrace freedom of choice.


February 4th, 2013
9:38 am

The picture of college life painted here by Mr. Beiner certainly seems unrealistic, almost like a caricature of the reality. The general rule of thumb is that a college student should count on spending about two hours a night studying for every hour of class–and that’s per class. Does Mr. Beiner think that the student just sits through a class and then is free to play? And that’s assuming that the student does not have to work part-time to meet college expenses, which a great many today do.

Regularly, entering students tell me after a few weeks how much harder college is than high school, where teachers must allow retaking of tests, late submission of papers, and social promotion. Quite often, college freshmen just aren’t prepared for actually having to do the work…and it’s a great deal more assigned work than they ever got in high school.


February 4th, 2013
9:46 am


Time studying depends on the major.

Susan Ohanian

February 4th, 2013
9:51 am

Thank you for this breath of fresh air–and good sense. For those who deny the unrelenting pressure of our current school regimen–and the tragedy it produces– I recommend the film “Race to Nowhere,” which is intended to provoke community discussion of this important topics.
With all the Race to the Top and imposed Common Core State (sic) Standards, the very real needs and hopes of communities have been left out.


February 4th, 2013
10:11 am

Seems like more of the Dr. Spock/montesorri laissez faire advice that has served our last 2 generations so well. Preteens, teens and, yes, even young adults generally lack the wisdom to make life defining decisions. They cannot even drink alcohol [legally] until they turn 21 years. So, let’s let them in their limited wisdom make political activist choices and lead us–and themselves– to a better place. And, when their choices don’t work out, we’ll just socialize the costs of those experiments.

Pressure? Most kids today are mollycoddled to the point that that are perpetually dependent, though they greatly overestimate their own senses of accomplishment. They need more guidance rather than less.

I Teach Writing

February 4th, 2013
10:19 am

“[T]he demands of high school far will likely (sic) outstrip what teens will encounter in college.”

Believe me, this is neither what I hear from my university students nor what I see in their preparation. Their high school time may be over-committed, but it’s also routinely misallocated; most of them arrive without adequate foundation in fundamentals like grammar. They are frequently ambitious and intelligent, but they’re hamstrung in their ability to use that intelligence or pursue that ambition. Fortunately, their deficits aren’t unmanageable, but self-motivation is the key, and there I agree whole-heartedly with Mr. Beiner’s call for parental step-back.

Students differ in all sorts of ways, but the biggest determinant of university success is work ethic. Believe me, the ones who plan their schedules around sleeping late and avoiding Friday classes are here on momentum, cultural expectation, and often parental money. The ones who WANT to be here — especially those who handle their own finances — are busy trying to wring every last drop of their investment out the university’s resources. They’re too focused to waste much time. So send us the poor kids who know this is their shot. Send us the ex-Marines who’ve seen the world and now want to understand it better. Send us, too, the kid fascinated with philosophy (whose mom is skeptical), and the budding ecologist (whose dad wishes she’d major in business). Their drive will find them paths to success.

But that work ethic starts younger. Letting them manage cash and time (and sometimes fail) is an excellent plan. Help them back up, but don’t keep them from falling. Their successes and failures belong to them, not to you. The sooner all concerned know that, the better.


February 4th, 2013
10:45 am

“But the demands of high school far will likely outstrip what teens will encounter in college.”

Dunno about other colleges, but any prospective Ga Tech students out there can disregard the above, awesomely, spectactularly incorrect statement. Or at least appreciate that you’re gonna be on the wrong side of its “likely” qualifier.


February 4th, 2013
10:49 am

Looks like times have really changed.

I had to work hard in high school to get ready for college.

I had to work much harder in college to make the grade.

Somehow, I missed out on the “Greek life, dorm life and partying”

Atlanta Mom

February 4th, 2013
11:18 am

A HS student spends 35 hours at school before any after school activities or sports. Homework is a minimum if 2 hours a night, a lot more if the student plans to go to college. So 45 to 55 hours are week are already tied up, before anything the child might actually want to do.
I had a lot more free time in college than I ever had in HS


February 4th, 2013
11:19 am

Hey agent, certain core classes (like two years worth) are required for every major. I find that the ones who cannot succeed in those classes cannot succeed in college regardless of their major.

living in an outdated ed system

February 4th, 2013
11:36 am

I have a lot of admiration for the Epstein School and thought it was a very well written piece. Here is my problem, and it pains me to say this:

The description should apply to all families, but unfortunately, it paints a picture of the typical affluent household. It bothers me greatly that the excellent film “Race to Nowhere” was depicted as a story about “privileged” families, but what I can say from being on the ground is that families in at-risk communities have to work twice, maybe three times as hard to get their children opportunities to break out of the poverty cycle. So while it is very true that we over-schedule our children, the kids that live in poor neighborhoods need to work so much harder to get a fair shot.

For years, I was very uncomfortable with the KIPP philosophy. However, after having read more than half of the book “Work Hard, Be Nice,” my feelings have changed a bit. I don’t know whether it is possible for these children to have a “normal” childhood that includes the type of socialization and extracurriculars we parents come to expect for our children during the “age of innocence.” But you see, these kids are already falling behind by the time they hit 4th grade, and it takes an incredible amount of effort, combined with dedicated teaching, to catch up and hopefully transcend expectations.

I wish that Stan’s letter could be applicable for all children, but regrettably, I just cannot see how it is relevant for a family in a poor neighborhood, with a low quality school, that may find a schooling option available that can get their child the quality education they deserve. Nelson Mandela said that “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” The children I am talking about are taught to understand the power of that quote. The children that Stan describes have the luxury of school-life balance. Low income families and their children have to follow the tenets of “work hard, be nice.” Extensive AP classes is not what I’m talking about – I’m talking about focus and hard work.


February 4th, 2013
12:13 pm

Maybe this is an accurate picture of college life for a small minority of students, but most don’t get to sleep late and party every day. What about the students who have to work multiple jobs to pay the bills? When you add up class time, study hours, work, and at least a little sleep, there sometimes isn’t much time left for other things. It can be a struggle to find time for family, friends, dating, church, recreation, etc.

bootney farnsworth

February 4th, 2013
2:08 pm

not sure what universe he went to college, but even at little old GPC we often found our students floored by the intensity of what it takes to keep up in college.

at a bigger school, much of the college experience is an experiment in how little sleep do you actually need before having a psychotic fit?

bootney farnsworth

February 4th, 2013
2:10 pm

I give my kids a lot of leeway, it their future. but its also my wallet. if any of my kids want to wander too far off the reservation, fine.

if they can pay for it themselves. I’ll do everything I can to support their educations. finding themselves…..they can pay for that themselves.

Jerry Eads

February 4th, 2013
4:02 pm

Susan!! How’s Vermont this time of year? :-) – hope you and yours are wonderfully well.

Wonderful piece, Stan. I’m always reminded by the posters demanding more pain for kids (a) that they must never have had kids (or had kids who told them to stuff it) and (b) that my own kid barely tolerated high school (even at one of Virginia’s Governor’s Schools) and received a 0.0 his one year at VCU. Then went on his own to pull six figures as an IT nobody else can fix it commercial network specialist (yes, with many 12-16 hour days). Many round pegs fit not in the square hole.

For those of you who by many measures failed at school and now show it by demanding that we teach future generations to hate it, open your poorly educated eyes. Learning can require great effort but should almost always be fun. When it is, folks learn FAR, FAR, FAR more then when it’s drill and kill. Stan wasn’t that far off the mark.

Bill R.

February 4th, 2013
4:39 pm

The more prepared a student is going into college, the more a student gets out of the experience. All this varies by student (self discipline being the critical trait), the rigor of the high school and college, and major.

bootney farnsworth

February 4th, 2013
5:51 pm

@ jerry

feeling unusually snarky today?

not sure what your point is, but for many of us its simple: college costs too damn much to not have a workable plan and reasonable expectations of a employable future for our kids.

HS Math Teacher

February 4th, 2013
6:11 pm

How about letting the Parents choose the diploma pathways for their upcoming 9th grade children? Provide a choice – College Preparatory & Vocational. Who are YOU to demand that they experience frustrating failure and disgrace to fit your little centrally-planned, fruitcake ideals foisted downward? How many Teachers have you worn to a frazzle by this idiotic madness? How many kids have quit school because they felt like a failure, and suffered humiliation and retribution at home? You allow them to cruise through grades K thru 8 on a fart and a bagel, with all the rigor of a $2 car wash, and then smack them over the head with college-prep math in high school. LUNACY!!!!!

Home-tutoring parent

February 4th, 2013
7:37 pm

HS Math Teacher is correct, if hyperbolic.

Most public teachers have no idea about the “set up” ideas of “modern” public education, such as the scheme to enable American corporate industrial capitalism (fascism anyone?), by flooding America with peasants, who it turned out, were “intractable”, doing strikes to shut down mines and factories. So training their children to be “tractable” was THE GOAL.

We lost “inefficient” craftsman-based production. OMG, that was so “Luddite”. Mass production was “essential”. And it was essential, to win wars against countries that mass-produced killing machines.

Anyway, I couldn’t possibly teach in public schools. Earning a teaching credential, easy. But leading 4-5 classes of 20-30 young people, a lot of whom, want to be somewhere else, I can’t do it. I can ace all tests pushed by the “education mandarins”, and beat the mandarins handily, if they had to take these tests, but they don’t have to take these tests, to foist them on children.

I personally think that many children would be happy doing vocational work-training, who are miserable doing faux “college prep” training. We did “college prep” training at home, via my tutorship, selecting interesting (to them) reading materials, putting them under others’ expert tutelage for things I didn’t know.

Overall, large-class schooling is not a sound stratagem. Setting up so-called “college preparatory” regimens led by teachers who did not attend so-called “universities” that were actually originally “normal schools” training 14 year old girls, that got “bumped up” to 2 years after high school “teachers’ colleges” and ultimately became (name of region-in-state, or name of city in a state) “state universities, training middle-third-of-high school graduates to be elementary and secondary school teachers proved ineffective.

HS Math Teacher, why can’t you teach math to most of your students? Partly because their elementary and middle school teachers’ only self-practiced exercises were balancing a checkbook and setting a monthly household budget. I was only effective because I learned and learned to use statistics, algebra, graphing, equation modeling and calculus in my pre-teaching work.

Georgia has thousands of retired engineers who can teach math, to the interested, in 1-to-1, 1-to-4, 1-to-6 settings, one or two 2-hour classes a day.

Charles Douglas Edwards

February 4th, 2013
7:52 pm

Parents and guardians sometime live their dreams and ambitions thru their children !!!

Parental guidance, discipline and proper direction are very important.

I agree however that students should choose their own path in college and life.

Home-tutoring parent

February 4th, 2013
8:22 pm

Charles, you are correct. We achieved our dreams and ambitions. The interesting thing is, we rejected school for our kds, but our kids decided to teach in schools.

My spouse protested, “They had so much more potential.” I concluded, “They like it, and teaching young people is awesome, so let them do it, if they find at some point they don’t like it, we taught them, ‘Life has many options, and in modern life,you aren’t stuck with something you chose in your early-20s, you can reinvent your life’.”


February 4th, 2013
9:11 pm

@ Home-tutoring parent. How very curious. In several of your past blog entries, you have included your own “”Me’ narrative.” Let us take you at your word. You have a Ph.D. in English Literature from UGA, and your teaching experience is comprised of being a PTI (Part-Time Instructor) as a doctoral student and a postdoctoral adjunct faculty member.

On several occasions you have sneered at Universities that are less than Harvard; and have stated over and over that K-12 educators should not be tolerated whose degrees are from Universities that were former Normal Schools (limited to the 19th century, it should be noted), as you do above at 7:37 pm: “the so-called ‘universities’ that were actually originally ‘Normal Schools.’ ”

Yet your announced alma mater UGA was originally a ‘Normal School,’ as this Georgia Historical Marker states:

“In February 1860 the University of Georgia purchased 93 acres surrounding this site and later sold all but 30 acres to finance the construction of Rock College, a preparatory school for the University of Georgia. Between 1862 and 1891 the school served the educational needs of Georgia in a variety of roles. In 1891 the Georgia General Assembly established the State Normal School on this site to train Georgians to be rural teachers.”

You state grandly above that you have “learned to use statistics, algebra, graphing, equation modeling and calculus in [your] pre-teaching work.” That must have been in your high-school or undergraduate days, since doctoral work in English literature certainly would not include that.

And postdoctoral adjunct faculty are the gypsies of the profession, who unfortunately could not find a permanent. tenure-track job. I guess that explains your compensatory tone on this blog.

Truth in Moderation

February 4th, 2013
9:50 pm

HTP is just Private Citizen and Joe trademark, with you in cahoots.
Obviously not a home schooler. Nice try.


February 4th, 2013
10:00 pm

Why “obviously”?

Truth in Moderation

February 4th, 2013
11:36 pm

We recognize our own. As you have already observed, the blogger’s statements are inconsistent; however, some of the details stated and writing style are consistent with PC and Trademark. I think they hail from the Emory area…..earning extra tuition money?

Home-tutoring parent

February 5th, 2013
1:35 pm

Prof, your inferences about me are coherent and well-reasoned. Your speculations are really interesting.

One of the best rewards I had in college was earning high enough grades to receive a “stack pass”, so that I could go to the card catalog, write down things I wanted to read, and go search the stacks for them, rather than having to wait for the staff to retrieve them, and I could set up my own “cubicile” and build my own book piles.

Photocopying was expensive, for a poor student, so I wrote out on oversized 5 x 7 index cards, authors’ names, titles, and their ideas, page-numbered.

My senior term-thesis was 54 pages, 102 papers cited (400ish read, not all worthy of citation) with several personal Kohinoor-pen illustrations. The TA stated, “A, I would give it an A+ , but it’s outrageously late!” I drove to other universities to dig up stuff that my university did not have. Good work takes time. ;-)

My grandmother went to a state-titled “Normal School”, in 1921-23. That was in the 20th century, post WWI. ‘Tis true that it was not accepting 14 year old grammar school graduates when she attended, that was indeed a 19th century practice. Her school was renamed “Teachers’ College” a few years after my grandmother graduated. She taught in a farmland, a proverbial single-room “Little Red Schoolhouse”, and her students ranged from young children to early adolescents. My great uncle was a high school principal who surrendered his job to pursue a master’s degree. Unfortunately, illness took his life in his early thirties. My family handed down traditions. They were involved in public education long. long ago.

My oldest son had a Georgia Tech-educated electrical engineering-degreed teacher for chemistry and physics. This was in a private school, as the teacher was “unqualified/not-certifiable” for public school jobs. My son thought his teacher was fantastic. I talked with the teacher on several occasions. He had marvelous ideas. Should Georgia Tech be the sole supplier for APS’s math and science teachers of high-ambition college-track STEM-major-intending high school students? You figure it out. Georgia Tech is a wonderful resource.


February 5th, 2013
2:41 pm

@ Home-tutoring Parent. My “speculations” are deduced from information you yourself have supplied. I don’t see how any of the details you give above qualify you to make the sort of condemnatory judgments of educators and the schools from which they’ve graduated that you have in past blogs, whether K-12 or University professor (”Progressive Humanist”). You yourself (not your grandmother, great-uncle, or son) simply don’t seem to have a wide enough scope of educational experience to a.


February 5th, 2013
2:56 pm

@ Home-tutoring Parent. My “speculations” are deduced from information you yourself have supplied. I don’t see how any of the details you give above qualify you to make the sort of condemnatory judgments of educators and the schools from which they’ve graduated that you have in past blogs here, whether K-12 or University professor (”Progressive Humanist”). You yourself (not your grandmother, great-uncle, or son) simply don’t seem to have a wide enough scope of educational experience to advise others in the field.

@Truth in Moderation, above. You’re right about Home-tutoring Parent not being a home schooler. Evidently he or she is not an Emory student earning tuition money as you speculate, but a 70+ year old blogging about education as it used to be. See our exchange on the blog-thread today about McChesney’s open letter, from 12:16 pm to 1:51 pm.


February 5th, 2013
5:02 pm

Only parents are responsible for children’s life so take care about schooling

Stan Beiner

February 5th, 2013
6:07 pm

I have read the comments with interest (not sure what the last few were actually about but I think they are in a fight about something not related to the article!) and want to share that my article was shortened due to length. The error in grammar (thanks for assuming the best from an educator :) was not mine. It must have happened when it was edited. However, I have research to back up the time college students spend during the day doing things (The Atlantic 9-2012). As a father of two current college students and having worked with high school kids for more years than I choose to count, one can always find the exceptions but I think I describe the norm. The pressure is unhealthy and unnecessary. Hard work-yes but this is about balance.
The comment that did sadden me was the one noting that I speak about a certain segment of the population. I recognize that. My kids work to help out with expenses but they do not carry the pressures of teens struggling against the odds that poverty presents them with. I hope this opens opportunities for dialogue rather than having people dig their heels in.

Maureen Downey

February 5th, 2013
7:18 pm

@Stan: Did not realize the shortened version was online. (We had to shorten for print, but can accommodate the full piece online.) I have now restored the longer one that you originally sent.

GT college parent

February 5th, 2013
9:15 pm

I suggest the author spend a few days with some freshman engineering students at Georgia Tech, or frankly, any of the top 20 engineering schools. These kids are studying 6-7 days and nights a week, the library is full every night until the wee hours of the morning. The classes are very demanding and the failure rate is high.

However, I do agree with some of the comments about high school students being over scheduled. I don’t think the sheer number of high school courses or AP classes is the problem. I think many high schools are emphasizing the wrong subjects and the teaching methods (and OVER testing) do not help prepare the students to succeed in college.

[...] read Epstein School head Stan Beiner’s guest column on what kids really need to know for college with great interest because one of the main goals of my 40-years as a college professor was to help [...]

Stan Beiner

February 8th, 2013
9:20 am

I have enjoyed reading the comments and agree with Dr. Appleby and GT College Parent. Often times, high schools are equating college prep with volume of work. Instead they need to be exploring what is really needed such as critical thinking, problem solving, organizational and planning skills; balancing freedom with responsibility; and dangers to be found on campus-alcohol/hazing/etc (It blows my mind how some college towns and universities turn a blind eye to bars serving minors and frats serving beer and hard liquor to anyone in full view.). Of course, content is necessary but our kids are digital natives who know how to access information. Help them identify appropriate sights, understand what plagiarism is, become skilled in collaboration and communication. Prepare them well; make them work hard; and let them also breathe and enjoy.