An idea whose time has come: home-college

August 17, 2004|By SUSAN REIMER

THE BABY OF the family leaves for college next week, and my husband, who has determinedly ignored this approaching deadline, finally spoke up.

"Let's just home-college her," he said.

A man not known for providing practical solutions to domestic problems had previously proposed purchasing a child as a way to refill the empty nest.

Adoption takes too long, he said, and it is fraught with legal hurdles.

Why not just make a generous financial offer for the blue-eyed, blond-haired 2-year-old son of the high school wrestling coach?

My husband reasoned that the child already had the physical gene pool he was looking for - a future 140-pound state champion - and the child's father would have unlimited visitation rights as long as the visits took place in a padded wrestling room.

As we do whenever my husband proposes a solution, everyone in the family rolled his eyes and went about the business of ignoring him.

But as I filled in the daydream of home-collegeing Jessie, the idea began to have appeal. Maybe not to Jessie, but certainly to the mother who plans to sit in the dark and grieve when she leaves.

"She already has a great room," I said. "And she won't have to pack or make any of those Solomon-like choices between articles of clothing.

"Best of all - no roommate!"

Our kitchen is already open 24 hours and the refrigerator is always full of her favorite foods. That's better than any cafeteria or snack bar, I reasoned.

There is a running trail near our house, an Olympic-size pool nearby, and she belongs to a neighborhood gym. That more than satisfies the requirement for Taj Mahal recreation facilities that so many prospective college students demand.

We could even provide an on-campus job - cleaning bathrooms or folding laundry for $7.50 an hour.

I would love to read books with Jessie and see old movies and live theater - the best kind of education, I think. But if that isn't sufficient in the view of those who would accredit her schooling, the rest of my friends could help with the academic load.

Nan, a former Lutheran who is now head of a Jewish day school, could teach comparative religions. Jane, the Naval Academy professor, could handle Western Civilization and, because of her long advocacy for women at that institution, she could teach women's studies, too.

Betsy, the county ethics chief, could teach philosophy, and Ron, a charter subscriber to the National Review and an avid sportsman, could teach political science and animal husbandry.

Jessie's brother could handle the math, and her childhood friend Paul could teach her tennis to fulfill the PE requirement.

My friend Carol, who works for the National Security Administration, could teach Jessie what she knows, too. But, then Carol would have to kill her.

My friend Ana could teach her to cook and sew, and my friend Fred could teach her to budget her money - life skills sadly missing in college curricula.

My friend Susan could teach her to draw and paint. Liliane, who has both French and U.S. citizenship, would handle the language requirement during long, quiet afternoons on the porch of her waterfront home.

My neighbor Bob, the gardener, could teach Jessie his brand of loving ecology. His wife Patty, who helps children with disabilities find a place in public schools, and Fred's wife Susan, who works with the elderly, would be in charge of Jessie's social conscience.

Finally, her father the sportswriter could take her with him on road trips to see whatever major college sport she wanted to see.

The point of this home-college daydream, if it has a point, is that it is only now, on the brink of sending our last child away to learn, that I realize how much there is to learn right here.

The adults who have surrounded her with familiarity and affection through all her years have so much more to offer than she, or I, ever realized. And it has always been true, not just now that she is 18.

The grown-ups who have known my children all their lives have an enormous range of passions and points of view. The jobs they do to earn a living, while no doubt tedious to them, would provide a semester's worth of learning for a young person.

And, unlike the average college professor, these grown-ups know Jessie and like her, and the exchange between them would be more than instructive.

It would be genuine.

Alas, it is difficult to convince a high school graduate on the verge of subsidized freedom that the adults she has known all her life, from car pools, concession stands and neighborhood gatherings, have anything more to offer than a congratulatory card and a check.

She might be right about one thing, however. We'd throw really boring frat parties.

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