For Woodbury Parents, What Matters Most?

As if a certain university name stamped on my child’s college degree will grant our entire family some earned level of prestige.

Fall is when we catch college fever. Deep into the college football season, sports fans choose favorite teams based on hometown geography, our alma matter or a superior mascot.

Fall is also crunch time for college admission applications. Since I’m inclined to idolize education, knowledge and intelligence, I’m overly impressed by where my friend’s kids go to college. I keep a mental ranking of universities in my head and wonder what it will take to get my kids into “good” schools.

Maybe you think a preoccupation with things like academic accomplishment, sports success or artistic achievement isn’t so bad. These are all good things to foster in our families, right?

Yes, but over-emphasis on any of these things might be a character flaw.

Despite this flaw, I’d like to be more focused on my children’s character development than their GPA. That may require an attitude adjustment regarding college education.

A friend says it this way: “Our primary goal as parents is to get our kids into heaven, not into college.”

If this sounds peculiar to you, let me say up front that my friend and I are from different faith traditions and could debate for days about how exactly to accomplish this goal. Yet, his point is still relevant. The eternal matters more than the temporal.

Our children’s spiritual and moral development should trump all else, even that which seems perfectly admirable, like high SAT scores.

Another friend encouraged me to consider colleges as marketed products—to recognize that some schools do an extremely good job of promoting their brand. Here I am, armed with little more than the U.S. News best colleges guide, feeling for some reason, compelled to shop the big-name brands. As if a certain university name stamped on my child’s college degree will grant our entire family some earned level of prestige.

To respect and admire hard work and achievement is appropriate. But to value a person based on which school they attend is no better than valuing people based on which brand of jeans they wear or car they drive.

Snobbery is snobbery no matter if the thing being snobbed about seems more high-minded than clothes and cars.

I’m probably wrong anyway, to assume intelligence, measured by admission to any particular university, can guarantee success this side of heaven. New York Times bestselling author Paul Tough’s book, titled How Children Succeed, argues that the qualities that matter most have to do with character, not intelligence. Another book for my stack.

Wikipedia defines moral character as any behavior or activity that reflects the character of God. Virtues such as integrity, courage, endurance, honesty, and loyalty are what matter more than academic or athletic prowess.

Join me in re-focusing on what matters most in parenting, teaching our children values that make an eternal difference for them, for others and for the world. Regular support and encouragement in this endeavor can come from participation in faith-based activities, classes and community.


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Matthew Johnson November 06, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Qin Tang November 07, 2012 at 05:23 AM
Yes, getting into heaven is more important than into college, the eternal matters more than the temporal. Unfortunately, many of us parents focus too much time and efforts on academics, sports and other activities than on our kids' spiritual well being. Thanks for the reminder.


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