Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Not under my roof

-How much do college students 'owe' parents who pay (some or all of) their tuition, room, and board, in terms of acting in accordance with their rules/principles/values/hopes (on issues including but not limited to: what to major in, whether to drink, under what circumstances if any to have sex, whether to go to church, and whether to live in a coed dorm room), even when not literally under their roof? Because that's what parents say, right? 'Not under my roof.' How far does this metaphorical roof extend? PG and I began discussing this in the comments to my post about roommates, and I'd like to continue the discussion in the comments here.

-Related question: why are college programs for students not just out of high school referred to as for "adults"? What does that make 18-22-year-olds? Less mature on average than 35-year-olds married with jobs and kids, fine, but are undergrads children? (No snide comments from grad students, please.)

-Hmm. A commenter claims that Birthright Israel trip leader Momo's promise to pay for the Israeli honeymoon of any couple that meets on one of his trips went unfulfilled. Anyone know anything about this?

-Know how I failed my first driving test? Today was my first lesson after the unfortunate day, and turning the car has started to seem slightly, but slightly, less daunting. After failing the test, I started thinking about my ability to turn corners as a pedestrian. And - as Jo, who's watched me do this, prompted to look for skill or lack thereof, can confirm - I am hopeless at that as well, always overshooting the mark, getting squeezed out of my lane, swerving when utterly sober. If one needed a Walker's License to navigate crowded New York sidewalks, I'd have failed that one as well. Of course, a small woman walking around in ballet flats cannot, like a car, inflict damage by jerking in the wrong direction. That said, I do have hope about the driving, and think it might well exceed the walking, because my main issue as a pedestrian is that 85% of humanity (99.99% in Belgium) is taller and just generally bigger than I am, and can't see me coming, making cars something of an equalizer. Not that it felt like that today in Chinatown, surrounded on all sides by trucks, one of which was, according to the sign, filled with Scandinavian fish. But in normal traffic situations, there is hope.

20 comments:

Jeff said...

Don't feel too bad if you never figure out the driving thing. Some of the greats of Arts & Letters in the automobile era couldn't drive. Nabokov never learned to drive. Neither did Jack Kerouac. No shame in aligning yourself with that camp.

Will121 said...

Having kids is a big commitment and it comes with responsibilities. If someone wants to create a person they (morally speaking not legally) are obligated to make sure that person can have a good life. College is a requisite to success in modern society. This means children should expect to get help with college and do not behaviorally owe their parents a thing. The child may want to behave well or please the parents, but the flow of obligation should be form parent to child, not child to parent.

Anonymous said...

Is there a connection between parents of college students not wanting to underwrite their adult children's sex lives, and Birthright not coughing up for honeymoons?

Phoebe said...

Jeff,

Hope is not yet lost!

Will,

What you say makes sense, and I would add that if parents expect help from their offspring in their own old age, they'd be better off paying the proverbial Stanford bill even if it means allowing their daughter to live in the proverbial coed dorm room than risking their daughter's dropping out. However, I think there's a spectrum from parents saying, 'Here's $20 for books' and the kid spending the money on beer, all the way to students thinking (and some do think this) that the fact that their parents pay their tuition means they should maintain religious or other specific convictions of their parents for the duration of college.

Anon,

Yes, of course there's a connection! Birthright is (depending, granted, on which trip you go on) essentially paying young Jews to make Jewish babies, or to make choices that will lead in that direction. So the question is, are you obligated to produce a Semitic infant if you take advantage of their 10-day offer?

Matt said...

Neither did Jack Kerouac.Is that true? It's been an awfully long time since I read it, but I could have sworn the author of On the Road was driving at least some of the time, not always leaving it up to Dean.

Jeff said...

Matt, my source on that is Kerouac biographer Barry Miles, who said that Jack didn't drive and in fact screwed up some basic facts about cars in his novels.

Matt said...

That might well be true Jeff. Pretty interesting if so.

PG said...

students thinking (and some do think this) that the fact that their parents pay their tuition means they should maintain religious or other specific convictions of their parents for the duration of college.This seems to overstate the possibilities slightly -- one can't force oneself to believe certain things. However, one can maintain the forms of belief. When I was a cocky teenager and told my mom that I didn't believe in God, she didn't skip a beat: "Fine, but you still have to go to temple and family prayers." (Thankfully, due to my dad's being a Pascal's Wager type of believer even on his best days, our household wasn't very religious and my parents didn't push me about it when I was in college.)

A parent may well condition assistance on the child's living as though she shares the parent's convictions, but I doubt even the original NRO mom was so psychotic as to condition it on genuine belief.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Area man first in his family to coast through college seemed too good not to post in the current context.

I'd say that parental demands about things that are central to the college education being paid for are more legitimate than demands in other areas of life. "No tuition checks if you don't stop drinking your way through school/ start getting at least B's/ major in something that I think is compatible with your finding employment"-- the last is on the obnoxious side of in bounds, but I'd say they're all in bounds.

"No tuition check if you date a shiksa"-- well, that's within the parents' rights, but it's indecent and inappropriate.

(On the other hand, an ex ante "we're only paying for you to go to Yeshiva because it's extremely important to us that you mary within the faith," or otherwise exercising control through ex ante choice of schools-- BYU will monitor your behavior, Georgetown is close to home, Yale's where your granddad went, whatever-- seems somewhat more fair. It lacks the really discretionary and arbitrary authority that comes with monthly "I don't like that girl you're dating, so break up with her or we stop payment on the checks" kinds of conversations.)

PG said...

Unrelatedly: Can we expect a review?

PG said...

Jacob,

The "no tuition if you date a shiksa" is "indecent and inappropriate" because we disapprove of the underlying intolerant attitude.

Conditioning tuition on, saying remaining a technical virgin until graduation would be a harder case; the parents legitimately could be concerned about the effect of early parenting obligations and be unwilling to foot the bill for a grandchild. Not having sex (at least the baby-making kind) eliminates that possibility, and waiting until graduation more-or-less ensures that any babies coming thereafter can be supported by the person who is now armed with a college diploma.

Phoebe said...

PG,

Perhaps rather than "maintain" religious convictions, I should have said "observe", which was what I meant to get across. Of course parents can't have full control over what their child deep-down believes at 19 - or at 10 for that matter. But stuff like avoiding premarital sex, keeping kosher, for the duration of parental support, that was what I was getting at.

Re: "Being Jewish in France" - I've only seen Part II of the documentary, and it was excellent. If I get around to Part I, maybe a review will be in order?

JTL,

The Onion always comes through!

In terms of what is or isn't "in bounds," I tend to agree with Will's comment, that we should distinguish between what's legal and what's a good idea. I also agree with you that cutting off funding to a student who's not really studying makes more sense than using tuition as a tool to manipulate non-school-related behavior. Basically, I'm not that swayed by the arguments (see many of these comments) that parents should pay up regardless of the kid's lifestyle because 'college is a time for finding yourself.' Not everyone thinks college means carte blanche for what amounts to promiscuity and weed, and that's fine. Rather, I think those parents who can pay should because it's in both the kids' and the parents' interest to have the degree, not because of anything particular that happens in college, but because a degree should, ideally, lessen the chance of a childhood extending to 30, 40...

Still, I think the main error in the line of thought that would allow parents to cut off their kids while in college, except under extreme circumstances, lies in the question of what the cut-off kid from a well-to-do family is supposed to do at 19 to fix the situation.

We all know students whose parents genuinely can't pay, who work to pay their own ways through school, and who emerge more competent than those like yours truly who worked on campus 10 hours a week, or those who didn't work at all.

But for parents who could easily pay all or some, artificially cutting off their kid in college does not replicate the situation of the poor kid who strove his way to the top. The rich but cut-off kid may or may not make a go of it, but either way, he will resent his parents for not helping when they could, in a way that a kid whose parents couldn't pay because their low-wage jobs didn't allow it would not. Just going through the process of explaining why you're applying for a need-based scholarship despite a home address revealing a mansion in Greenwich, a penthouse on Park, would be a declaration of having split, in what in our society counts as prematurely, from one's parents. The kid whose parents can't pay and who funds his own education may split earlier than middle-class kids from his parents financially, but he is not required to make the same emotional split from them as the cut-off kid from a wealthy background.

(And, back to a question addressed here earlier, one could argue that it takes jobs away from kids from poor families if those kids have to compete for paid work with kids whose rich parents are trying to make a point.)

And, the "shiksa" issue... gosh. I think parents who have such strong feelings about intermarriage, yet live in the US rather than Israel, and send their kids to secular universities where Jews are in the minority, have the right to be disappointed but not to do anything other than shake their heads. If their children marrying Jews was their main concern, there were many things they could have done about it along the way. Particularly frustrating are cases where a kid was given basically no Jewish education growing up, is not raised religious, is not told to date other Jews, is not around many Jews at all socially, but is then somehow expected to summon from the ether a Jewish spouse at the appropriate time. While I do not think opposition to intermarriage is necessarily racism, it's cases like these that make it clear how it can seem like just that.

(Watch as I go off-topic, leading my own comments section astray...)

Miss Self-Important said...

Doesn't all this assume that parents will know enough about what their kids are doing in college to punish them for it? I suspect that most undergrads who are engaged in objectionable behavior are not exactly writing home about it. And the university, if it knows (which, if you're going to the student health center to get your STDs treated a lot, or being caught drinking at a party underage, it does know), has no obligation to tell your parents what you're up to, and might, if I recall correctly, be prohibited from doing so in many cases by privacy laws designed to protect students. So if you do think that parents have the right or obligation to control their college children's social behavior to some degree, then shouldn't the neutrality of the university be a cause for concern? Clearly, a lot of college students use their semi-independence in college very well, and require very little intervention, so we can conclude that college as transitional laboratory between childhood and adulthood works really well for them. But everyone knows people for whom that definitely was NOT the case, and where self-guided transitioning fails, should the university have a right to step in and either inform the parents or act on their behalf to enforce rules?

The other thing that confuses me here is your invocation of statutory rape laws. This is, I think, a terrible place to start from in defining adulthood. The strict ability to have sex (no less bear children) starts much earlier than 18, and if we use sex-having of any kind as a standard for defining adulthood, then the age of majority and all it implies about responsibility for one's own behavior should really be WAY earlier than 18. It also undermines the very protection statutory rape laws are supposed to provide women, since if we say that sexual decision-making is the mark of adulthood, and we see around us that 15 and 16 year old girls are making decisions to have sex, then on what grounds should we be forbidding them from deciding to have sex w/ 20 or 40 year olds? As long as they can demonstrate that there was no coercion involved, it should be fine.

Also, I think it's probably been alluded to above, but "If someone wants to create a person they (morally speaking not legally) are obligated to make sure that person can have a good life" means, among other things, that poor people who have children are acting immorally.

Phoebe said...

Rita,

"Doesn't all this assume that parents will know enough about what their kids are doing in college to punish them for it?"

Not necessarily - my original question was what a student "owes" his parents, who are paying for some/all of his education. The sense of obligation does not necessarily come from the threat of being cut off. Unless premarital sex results in a kid, or refusal to keep kosher in accidentally going home in a lobster bib, there's not a whole lot parents will know if their kids don't tell them. That said, often college kids genuinely don't know what behavior will horrify their parents - it's not always the obvious stuff - and will inadvertently make something known, such as a coed housing arrangement.

"The other thing that confuses me here is your invocation of statutory rape laws."

Did I invoke this? I'm confused about how it relates to the post, but I obviously agree that a sexually-active 15-year-old is not an adult, but that a celibate 35-year-old is.

"[...] means, among other things, that poor people who have children are acting immorally."

I take it you don't agree with this. But is there any point at which you do think money (or availability of welfare/gov't subsidies) should be a concern in deciding how many children to have? Or do we all have a right to as many kids as biology permits? (And where does that leave 15-year-olds?)

Personally, as the descendant of many a giant and impoverished nuclear family, but as someone who do think it would be unfair to a theoretical Little Phoebe to have it in grad school, I'm torn.

Miss Self-Important said...

I was referring to something you said in the comments of the previous post: "As for the Stanford girl and her tuition, the issue of what it means that college students, who are old enough to have sex with adults of any age, to drink and smoke legally, are expected to be financially supported by their parents is another, also-interesting question..." My point was that these are problematic indicators of adulthood since they rest purely on legal conventions which are widely acknowledged to be pretty arbitrary. Does anyone really have a principled reason that 18 is the precise age at which humans can begin purchasing cigarettes? Since these are arbitrary conventions, they're more prone to being challenged by much less questionable biological and material considerations, like that people are in fact physically capable of smoking and having sex much earlier than 18, and if they want to, why should we be preventing them? So if you want to maintain that adulthood begins or should begin later than menarche, it seems unwise to ground it in physical capabilities.

But is there any point at which you do think money (or availability of welfare/gov't subsidies) should be a concern in deciding how many children to have? Or do we all have a right to as many kids as biology permits?We certainly have the right, at least insofar as the government can't and probably shouldn't be enforcing sterility on women it deems too...fruitful. (I suppose a more benign intervention would be to disincentivize excessive or imprudent baby-making through instruments like welfare payments and tax rules, but incentives are not guarantees.) All families have a moral obligation to provide as best they can for their children, which in some cases should probably include delaying pregnancy for financial reasons, but I am skeptical of the suggestion in the comment above that you're only morally 'qualified' to have children if you can pay their way through college, no less through a college like Stanford. The obvious problem here is that it disqualifies most people in America from having children. But the more insidious problem is that it narrows childrearing into an obligation to produce the affluent class of the future.

Not necessarily - my original question was what a student "owes" his parents, who are paying for some/all of his education.Oh, I was thinking about the other side--assuming that college students do owe their parents some of the things agreed on in the comments above (good grades, or an employable major, etc), how can these obligations be enforced if parents have no idea what their kids are doing at school? School authority to intervene also might lessen the either/or problems presented by parents who would simply withdraw financial support if a kid drinks his way through his first year w/ a 1.5 GPA. Rather than cutting him off from college entirely, wouldn't it be better to enforce stricter discipline on him at school so that he stops drinking and gets his grades up?

Phoebe said...

Rita,

I meant that 18 is, for reasons rooted in law but long since absorbed by the culture, the age at which it starts seeming odd that a kid is still receiving parental support, and at which a parent can, without being thought a child abuser, cut a child off. My point was that our idea of 18-as-adult coexists with our idea of undergrad-as-dependent. One way to look at this is, 'adulthood doesn't happen overnight, it's a period of transition'. Another is, 'oh those bratty college students, supported by their parents' and its corollary, 'I don't have to pay my daughter's Stanford tuition because she's a grown-up, she can figure this out for herself.' I mean, 18's as arbitrary as the next thing - why is conception at 19 and 3/4 "teen pregnancy"?

"But the more insidious problem is that it narrows childrearing into an obligation to produce the affluent class of the future."

I don't think there's much of a danger in only the wealthy reproducing - has that ever been the case, in any society, without enforced sterilization being involved? In any case, I can't speak for him, but I don't think that's what Will was getting at. I think it was more along the lines of, if you can pay, you should do so.

As for who owes whom what, there's something appealing about the European-socialist-type system of higher ed, if only in the idea that, although adults generally pay for university generally with their tax dollars, it's not your parents paying for your college. (I.e. how it works for public school pre-college in the US.) Because in our system, parents understand themselves to be paying for their own kids' education, whereas universities understand themselves to be producing a new generation of The Educated, not specifically making sure Mr. and Mrs. Helicopter get what they, for their particular reasons, consider their money's worth.

Matt said...

On the "adult" student question- as to the actual page, I assume they just want to find a way to say "non-tradition student" that doesn't sound potentially offensive. "non-traditional" sounds fine to me, but where I went to school as an undergrad, where 40% of the students were 24 or older, "non-trad" became a sort of term of abuse. "Older" is another option but one that also might make people unhappy. As to the implication towards "traditional" undergrads, the tendency to see them as "kids" (not children, usually) is easy, I think, given how they are young, usually have little experience, and usually don't support themselves. There are exceptions, of course, but for most, life isn't very adult yet. (I do think that the "adult" usage by NYU is meant just to signal non-traditional in a way that is designed to be minimally offensive to those it's aimed at, though.)

Phoebe said...

"As to the implication towards 'traditional' undergrads, the tendency to see them as 'kids' (not children, usually) is easy, I think, given how they are young, usually have little experience, and usually don't support themselves. There are exceptions, of course, but for most, life isn't very adult yet."

I agree that the intent is to avoid offending, but disagree that 18-22-y-o undergrads should be or even are looked at by universities as anything other than adults. A housewife (or househusband) isn't considered a child, nor are the too-rich-to-have-to-work considered children, so the fact that they're not typically self-supporting need not define college students as non-adult. Or is the issue that they're often supported by their parents - if so, does that make students with loans and/or grants 'adults' but their counterparts 'kids'? Other signals of adulthood - marriage and kids, say - do not apply to plenty of people universally recognized as adults.

I mean, it's a transition time, obviously, and one can say 'college kids' without sounding ridiculous. But in terms of official university documents (and that website, by the way, is something I only found looking for what's behind a ton of subway ads for college program for 'adults', not just a fluke wording on one web page), I think it's odd and potentially offensive to have wording that suggests a 20-year-old sophomore is something other than an adult.

Matt said...

Yes, as I ride the subway to work every day I see the adds, too. But of course there's a difference between "kids" and "children" in the same way that there's a difference between "boy" and "man". Most college kids will say "this boy I know" or "this girl I know" about their colleague, and no one thinks they are calling them children. And even with the house wife or the idle rich, they are usually engaged in adult activities- caring for others or themselves and the like- that college kids usually are not. I think it's not peculiar and not, in most cases, inappropriate. (Through much of college I did mostly care for myself- paid my own rent, tuition, etc. But even then, there were aspects of my life that were somewhat dubiously adult.)

Phoebe said...

I see what you mean about language, and have already agreed with you that "kids" can mean 19. But "kid" and "adult" are not, in this case, mutually exclusive. A news article about a 19-year-old refers to a "man", not a "boy", because that's not colloquial language, and because the standard form is to call the 18 and up "men" and "women," or collectively, "adults." I can't imagine an ad for a program aimed at the 18-22 set referring to "boys and girls"...

And in terms of college students using "boy" and "girl" to refer to one another, I agree re: "girl" but don't think male college students are often referred to - certainly not by one another - as "boys". "Guys", which could also be used for a man much older than 19.