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Grades Matter But Caveat Emptor!

Ponder this excerpt of a blog post from the author Daniel Schwabauer. He is best known as the celebrated host of the online “One Year Adventure Novel” program for getting young people to finish their real first novel. He gives this cautionary bit of advice to aspiring writers about demanding and interesting, but in-the-end essentially irrelevant university degrees:

“I graduated from Kansas University with a Masters degree in Creative Writing, an experience from which I am still recovering. Not that I mean to disparage KU’s writing program. Science fiction notable and KU Professor Jim Gunn was one of the best instructors I’ve ever had.

What bothers me is the fact that I left KU having learned a lot about words, and very little about story. This is remarkable considering my experience with a wide variety of classes and teachers. I studied British and American literature, Shakespeare, drama, poetry, short fiction, novels, technical writing, ancient myths, medieval English, essays, even sci-fi. I studied every conceivable kind of writing. But…”

This candid reflection by a professional writer about college helps me to revisit this subject of grades in full context. Remember that in a previous post I disparaged the pursuit of good grades. Here I come back to add a disclaimer and clarification of what I mean. Good grades do matter, but in specific situations only. You need to be sure that your child fits that specific situation or you might be missing out on having your child construct a real life-long talent that will change your son or daughter’s life.

Follow with me the chain of reasoning as to why good grades do matter for some children:

  1. Your child getting good grades matters now if you are intending for your child to pursue a specific program of study at the university level.
  2. And you must have a researched plan that the university program is indeed preparing your child to do something directly related to his long term plan.
  3. And you must be convinced that the university program your child will pursue is the most efficient route to his success in the talent field he wants to be in.
  4. And some paths require you to go through university, such as to get medical training to become a doctor, and an engineering degree for certifications in order to be allowed to work.

However many children intending to go to college, do not fit the above criteria. Be careful as your child may find himself seduced by the idea of campus life as an easy answer as to what he is going to do with his first few years of adulthood. A talented young writer for example should probably do everything in his or her power to stay away from college.

If your child is already very good at producing work others want to read, universities will want to recruit your child to beef up their star status in hopes of recruiting other students who can and will pay full tuition. This come-hither inducement with scholarships and preferential tuition rates can be dangerous to your child’s talent development. Why? Because the skills acquired during the course of a university English degree are designed for consumption and analysis of the works produced by others – not for teaching your child how to create amazing new works. So unless your child is intending to become a high school English teacher, the college degree will set him back severely in both time and money. This time set-back is often serious enough that your son or daughter may never get back on track to the original aspirations. Caveat emptor!