#18. Take a course on a college campus

IDEA #18. Take a course on a college campus

While this could indeed involve finding a suitable course and setting off for a far-off destination, this suggestion could also involve something as modest—and as relatively affordable—as enrolling in a course in a nearby community college. This is probably a suggestion suitable to high school students, but some colleges have ongoing programs or even special events–MIT’s SPLASH program in Cambridge, Massachusetts, draws kids from all over the country–specifically aimed at students as young as upper elementary

This should not be done for any other reason than that the student is interested in or curious about the subject matter. If indeed the course is part of a summer residential program, then it requires a serious commitment of time, energy, and intellectual curiosity—as well as money. He student needs to be ready to work hard to make the most of the opportunity.

This is the time for a strong, even stentorian, caveat: The world is full of ambitious high schoolers busily padding and polishing their c.v.’s by amassing college courses and summer programs set on college campuses. While such activities may have educational value for participants along with whatever luster they might add to a college application (and college admission offices are quite good at distinguishing expensive résumé-building from authentic learning), they are generally regarded by participants only as mildly—or more—distasteful rites of passage, a summer or nights spent fulfilling an obligation.

The kind of college course that the provocative parent offers to a child will be one in which the child is genuinely interested without its having any particular instrumental value in making the student look good; if a record of the course makes the curious student look curious, that is all right. Let the student really look for something that he or she regards as intellectually fun, even if it bears no relation to any category needing fulfillment in a list of graduation requirements. And let the student work hard because the material is engaging and not to earn yet another accolade. The thinking child will acquire plenty of those in time, and they will be accolades with real significance.

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