Last year, Dave Marcus’s son was in middle school; now, the ninth grader is embarking on a ritual usually reserved for high school juniors and seniors — the college tour.
At first, I assumed this was just another instance of over-aggressive parenting, shifting the college pressure earlier and earlier in high school. And there is certainly plenty of that going around; a recent New York Times article discussed several for-profit schools that start students on the college application process in ninth grade. “Is it better to get a jump on the process but risk turning high school into a staging ground for college admission?,” the article asked. “Or is it preferable to start later, when students are more developmentally prepared but perhaps missing opportunities to plan hobbies, choose classes and secure summer internships?”
The danger, of course, is that high school starts to seem like nothing more than a resume building exercise. But Marcus’s intent for taking his son to visit Paul Smith’s College in upstate New York was quite different. Rather than pressuring his son to start getting himself college-ready at age fourteen, it was intended as a motivational tool. “For quite a few boys and girls, high school is a chore to be endured. They’re likely to do better if they sense that college is different — it’s a chance to pursue real interests,” Marcus writes. “Think of it in culinary terms. When you take certain children to a restaurant buffet, it’s a good idea to let them walk them past the dessert table; that gives them some incentive to gobble down the broccoli.”
Johns Hopkins and UMBC, among other local schools, have programs that bring local eighth and ninth graders to their campuses, in order to get a sense of what college life might be like. Which sounds pretty fun. All in all, it seems to me, any case where the college experience is used as a carrot instead of a stick seems reasonable enough — even for ninth graders.