Beautiful & Sad and all too true

Joseph Bottum tells a too true story:

There are some real championship athletes on the rodeo circuit, and she wasn’t that. But she was good enough to get a minor riding scholarship to a school off on the other side of the state, joining the rodeo team of one of those big land-grant state universities that engulf midwestern and western towns. And she lasted less than a year. Three, four, maybe five months before she dropped out and turned up at home again, pregnant.

Not pretty enough to be a real target, her youth and her innocence were attractive enough to get her seduced and abandoned. She knew enough not to have an abortion—the pro-life creed is almost the only one that kids get, anymore, even out in the rural areas—but she didn’t have the sense or the character to keep it from happening in the first place, and nobody else was looking after her. She had a single talent: She sat a horse like a dream, and she thought that the school that had recruited her because of that talent would be her ticket to education and sophistication.

College let her down.

College is letting a lot of kids down, for a lot of reasons. I know a bunch of kids in college, right now, some at “very good” schools, some at smaller, meaner ones. None of them are particularly happy; all of them feel like they’ve been sold a false ideal. Some of them feel stranded–they’d like to quit, but if you’re going to pay the loan, you may as well have the degree, and besides, it’s not like there are any jobs, outside in “the world.”

But it’s not just the colleges that have let them down. If they are so susceptible what Bottum calls “bacchanalia of the contemporary American college experience,” then perhaps their weaknesses were reinforced by a media-and-trend embracing society that rushes to discover the lowest common denominator of human behavior, and by parents who have thought too much of their own desires; perhaps the kids have been finding the mud to be sticky and immobilizing because the churches have chosen to teach warm-puddle “specialness” over the whys and wherefores of faith, and thus foundational building blocks are being left unused.

Read the whole thing, though. It will make you sad, because it is true, and it is regretful.

But it is, at least, beautifully written.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Mimsy

    It is interesting to read the comments after Mr. Bottum’s article. With our daughter in a big university right now, I have reason to feel nervous about the collegial milieu, but she and I are very close and have talked about many things. I have brought up these topics with her through the years and continue to do. We talk nearly every day. She has fantastic and uplifting relationships with her father and her brother. In addition to continual prayer, these are the ways to guard one’s daughter or son. I feel such sadness for the young lady in the article. Her parents must not have realized that they needed to prepare her. I hope that she will find another path to a fulfilling life.

  • Trump

    I’m not sure how the college failed the girl in question. If anything, it seems that her parents failed her, and maybe more importantly, she failed herself.

    College is where you go to get the degree you need to pursue your chosen field. And that’s it.

  • tim maguire

    I agree with Trump. Colleges sell our children a bill of goods. A college degree is about the same today as a high school diploma a couple generations ago, except it’s horrifically more expensive to the person getting it. A person in no position to pay for it, so he gets loans, and upon graduation becomes an indentured servant to the finance company.

    This kid? She wasn’t in college long enough to be failed by it. She failed herself.

  • Jeanie

    Haven’t read the Bottum piece yet but knowing just what you pulled from it…I am wondering how the college failed her. College is where you go to learn to be on your own–it isn’t where you go to have someone else be your parent and watchdog. This girl’s story is sad. I wish she’d been better prepared to say No.

  • dymphna

    I think there is one lesson that most parents need to face: American culture tells your daughter to be a tramp. And that culture is probably more powerful than you. Unless you have raised a saint she is probably going to mess up as soon as she hits college if not sooner.

  • Elizabeth Anne

    1) I am amazed by a line of thinking that says when an 18 year old is a fully mature, free thinking adult when he joins the military and a fragile child who needs protection when he goes off to college. (To be fair, I find the inverse perspective, so often seen on the Left, to be even more insulting.)

    2) I really hope the girl he writes of never recognizes herself in this post. What a sad, pathetic, tragic character he’s made her out to be. Her “one talent” was sitting a horse? She wasn’t “pretty enough to be a real target”?

    This is one chapter in this girl’s life. *She* made a bad decision. Luckily, she did not compound it.

    But he makes it sound as if her life was over, as if shortly after delivering the child she threw herself in front of a train a la Anna Karenina. Yes, her life will be more difficult now. But she still has most of the same options open to her. She can still go back to school, or learn a trade, become a vet tech and work with the horses she loves so much, discover a hidden talent and passion for photography, or simply find a really nice local rancher who wants to marry her and be a father to her beautiful child.

    Sadly, the kind of thinking that says “She fell pregnant, game over” is precisely the thinking the pro-choice movement wants to encourage. It says that a pregnancy at 18 ends your life, that your future is now a pile of burning wreckage, and that only the lifeline of an abortion can save you.

    She became pregnant. It could have been much worse. She could have conceived a desire for a PhD in Comp Lit,for example.

    [There is a vast difference between sending an 18 year old into the military, where he/she will be supported and, in a sense, shielded by codes and disciplines that are meaningful and strictly followed, and where there is an overriding effort to conform the soldier's identity to the unit, and commitment to the mission, and to something greater than themselves. Sending an 18 year old into college, on the other hand, launches them into a place of mostly meaningless, lip-served "codes" and disciplines that are not generally enforced unless someone brings charges. In college, the "identity" and the "mission" all revolve around the student and, unless that student is a social iconoclast, into "fitting in" which is not the same as serving something greater. The service and college are not equal and cannot make a good comparison, here. A young person may wash out of either, but a young person going into the service is not being launched into a thoughtless world of self-regard, self-pleasure and self-importance, where if one cannot swim, one must sink. -admin]

  • Doc

    It’s pretty easy for an 18 year old to lose their soul at college. Some are eager to do so once they escape the gaze of their parents. Some just get swept up in the current that is college life at most schools these days. I’m glad there are a few good Catholic schools available that resist the cultural current (TAC, WCC).

    Also, don’t underestimate the power of the professors to influence students to shift their thinking and their moral compass. Much has been written on that topic (David Horowitz, Ben Shapiro, Michelle Malkin and many more).

  • Jeanie

    Okay, I’ve read the Bottums piece. You are right; it is beautifully written, even if it is a bit hysterical.

    My children are still middle-schoolers so I cannot claim yet to have gotten them through college (or high school) with no trouble. My method could be all wrong but my husband and I talk to them frequently about how to handle peer pressure. We tell them that the offer of drugs/booze/sex will not come from the scary-looking stranger on the corner; it will come from their best friend, their roommate, from someone they admire. Then we talk about how to answer those offers. We talk about when it is good to cut off a friendship on account of those offers, and when it is worth retaining those friends.

    This girl could have used some of those talks. Bottums assumes that the girl would have lived an exemplary life if she had stayed at home with her horses…but there is plenty of horsing around with sex/booze/drugs in rural America.

    I agree with Elizabeth Anne. This girl’s life is not over, as Bottums seems to think.

    [I didn't get Bottum saying her life was over. -admin]

  • ricki

    I think also society is failing a lot of college-aged kids. They’re taught that flash and bling are what’s desirable, that the main goal in life is making lots of money. And college is seen (sometimes) as a necessary stepping-stone to this.

    I’ve counseled students who barely knew what certain careers were, what they entailed, but they wanted to do them – because they read somewhere on some list that they were high-paying careers.

    I have students who don’t want to learn “this crap about plants” because they think they need to save their brain cells (I guess) for what really matters – the stuff they will need to get into med school. Or law school. Or whatever. I have students who are unwilling to entertain the thought of taking a class that might not directly be on the path to certification for whatever job they want.

    People don’t care about being well-rounded any more.

    I don’t know why and how college got so expensive. I have my suspicions. We suffer from terrible administrative bloat at my school – people making a couple hundred thousand a year who have never set foot in a classroom. And many colleges fall prey to having fancy dorms nicer than some apartment complexes I’ve lived in, and flashy workout facilities, everything better and newer and shinier, to attract students. And of course, all of that costs money.

    I teach college. I try to do my best to equip the students with the knowledge in my particular subfields. I try to help foster good writing (even though I am a scientist, being able to write well is important!). I try to encourage true critical thinking, not the vague “question authority if they’re religious or conservative, but swallow what your profs say” excuse for critical thinking.

    And it makes me sad, it makes me extremely sad, to feel like I’m in a dying industry. That I’m a “parasite,” as some people seem to have claimed, because I’m affiliated with a campus.

    Yes, there are a lot of bad things about college campuses. The whole “drink and sleep around and try drugs and be irresponsible” culture makes me sick. It made me sick when I was 18 and in college myself – I was the biggest square in the dorm and I was proud of it.

    But I hate being tarred with the same brush that some profs are. I admit some days I wonder what else I could – what else I should – do with my life, if teaching college is so non-viable.

    I don’t know, and it makes me sad.

  • roc scssrs

    ricki, you’re probably helping students in ways you don’t even know. They may not know it yet, either. I know now that certain teachers made huge impressions on me, both for good and for ill, but I was not particularly aware of what was going on at the time.

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  • Jeanie

    I didn’t get Bottum saying her life was over.

    You’re right. Bottum doesn’t say that; in fact, he says “she’s a survivor.” It’s his tone, I guess. Getting pregnant the way this girl did is not smart, it isn’t good planning, it isn’t moral, it isn’t desirable. But it also is just not that out of the ordinary. To hang the condemnation of universities on this one’s girl’s bad judgment seems over the top. If she had gotten pregnant during the summer before she went to college, would he bemoan how small towns/rural life let her down? I doubt it. He’s using her circumstances to make the point he would have made anyway: universities are bad places. She happened along and he’s making use of her. She’s “not pretty enough to be a real target,” but she’ll do for his purposes.

  • Hantchu

    “I was the biggest square in the dorm and I was proud of it–rikki”

    Actually, I thought that was me. My close circle of tea-drinking friends and I really enjoyed discovering Western Civ, the great books, the intricacies of science, and the humbug of some of our professors and many of our classmates. We were very influenced by a few profs like yourself, rikki.

    “Sadly, the kind of thinking that says “She fell pregnant, game over” is precisely the thinking the pro-choice movement wants to encourage. It says that a pregnancy at 18 ends your life, that your future is now a pile of burning wreckage, and that only the lifeline of an abortion can save you.–Elizabeth Anne”

    Excellent point. Unplanned pregnancy is not the end of the world and abortion does not “undo” anything. We need to build a society that understands this and that shows TRUE compassion for women and children, not just the surface appearance of things.

    This is not something the State can do. We need to start ant the community and family level.

  • J.

    OK wasn’t going to read the article but I did. It doesn’t say “game over” for her. Mr. Bottum goes on to say she is a survivor but he does make it sound like others would not and that she would not return to school…a lot of assuming going on. I didn’t want to read this article because, it cuts too close to home. Oh, I didn’t do anything that was morally reprehensible, I just didn’t do anything that made me feel like I was an adult and responsible.

    I hated college; I went to a big state university that was second in the field of study I wanted to be in. I did OK but came away with a sense of total abandonment by society (not my family and I knew the difference). I did not encourage by children to go to college (one did; the other did part time and did not finish. They knew what they wanted from their education and took it.)

    I wanted an independent future and did not find it at college–just people who stole my work (all original research is owned by the university) and who had no moral center. They were not my friends and cared for little but themselves (it was the 70s and self was a big deal then).

    After college I worked but eventually I joined the military (it paid real money) and went through basic training (not as an officer but as enlisted). There I met people who not only had a moral center but who knew what it mean to sacrifice and be a friend. I was almost 9 years their senior when I joined but I knew I found the “occupation” (vocation, really) that I was being called to. I stayed 32 years; I would not be who I am if I had not joined and would be some very unhappy file clerk with a degree if I had stayed an academic. Today I am retired as a senior officer and enjoyed a fantastic career and have a great family. Since I met my husband in the military neither family nor career would have been possible without joining.

    Going to college isn’t school; it’s the rest of your life—that is, it is the beginning of your adult life. Joining the military is the same but interestingly those who join generally know why they are joining and know they are committing themselves as adults; college students still view themselves as “students”–unfinished and perhaps “unfinishable.” There was no sense of responsibility; for self, for others, or for things that should drive your moral compass.

    Recently I thought of returning to earn another degree; applied and was accepted to attend. However, I found the college (a different smaller one then I attending 40 years ago) to be as inflexible as ever about students i.e. I am an adult yet they couldn’t think in those terms (really!) I was going to pay with my money but they couldn’t work out why I didn’t want to fill out federal funding. The head of the division I wanted to study in decided he didn’t know how to treat my 40 year old credit in the subject that the administrators had decided I had. I asked for him to just drop them but they decided (department and administration) I could just take them over again but not get credit. Since I thought that was crazy (although it accomplishes basically the same thing I had asked for) I decided I didn’t want to have to study with such tortured bureaucratic thought and will take on-line courses without benefit of a “degree”….my goal is knowledge after all not a title or entry into the job market.

    So what’s my point? Well, the point is there is always an alternative to what you think is a life stopping moment and many of these are better than what you originally thought you couldn’t live without :-)

    And although I wanted to be an academic, God led me to be a military officer who went to three wars with her people and hopefully was the catalyst that kept them safe. I also raised a family by meeting a man who understood why I was in the military and knew that duty meant that sometimes (lots of times) I wouldn’t be home….none of this is what I thought about as packed my books and clothes up for the last time leaving university with no money, no employable degree and no self-respect. Is God wonderful? Good thing He views us long term…

  • Left Coast Conservative

    My disappointment with college is the lack of communication between the parents (who are paying or co-signing) and the college. When / if there are problems, they will not / cannot talk to you.
    In our case, they didn’t have the paperwork that we had signed – the paperwork that gave them permission. It was gone. We didn’t have a chance to be a good parent because we didn’t know anything.
    College this next year will probably be closer to home, less money and greater oversight. I wish my children were stronger – they had a parochial education through grade 8, went to public high school, were in venture scouts, went to Mass weekly, were confirmed, went to confession every 6 weeks or so, were seen as all around great people. But, they slipped – and no one told me.
    My advice to everyone – when you see a child / adult struggling, talk to them. Talk to their parents. We are ready to help- we just need to know that they need the help. We aren’t mind readers.

  • Elizabeth Anne

    LCC – Believe me, I have wanted to before. But federal restrictions quite literally forbid it. Students are legally adults and educational information is now considered akin to medical information and cannot be released.

  • bt

    It could be that many of our girls want to get married as they graduate from high school, but there are no men who are willing or able to commit, so they go to college as a default. Could part of the problem be a lack of character formation in our young men? What is the best way to instill discipline and to educate the sexes that truly prepare them for a happy adulthood? The state of our media, and our education system don’t instill much confidence for the task at hand. And if the state of most people is to be the married life, why not have everyone take a little home-ec?

    As for the military, it seems a laxness has settled in there as well, encouraged by the decisions of recent presidents. And the Rolling Stone “interview” today had me pondering if our military hadn’t become part of the MTV generation.

    I recently drove through Montana all the way to Billings. Going through Missoula and Bozeman, the two college towns, I wasn’t impressed by the effect that the more rapid growth had had on them. The new housing in both cities, close to I-90, was shoebox style houses, close together, on small lots. Give me the small town without the college where houses and yards look normal (and I’m sure life is more normal too)! And the writer of the article is correct. Colleges keep trying to be like other colleges–there is definitely an inferiority complex out there (pride and vanity). Instead of searching for their own unique mission, a mision which in character is probably very similar to our own unique calling by God, these institutions try to imitate their larger counterparts, but I suspect that with institutions it is just like with people–it is the humble institution, the humble person, the “Little Flower”, who best accomplishes God’s work.

  • Sally June

    I belong to a homeschool group that easily includes 40-50 families. I get the impression (as a former university professor) that getting into a (solidly Catholic) college/university with lots of scholarships is the be-all and end-all of their homeschooling endeavor. My attempts to expain that college is just a way-station on the journey was met with incomprehension.

    I agree that girls of 18 have a hard time finding a man ready and willing to marry and settle down (thanks to The Pill). It therefore makes sense to help them figure out what they can do to support themselves (in addition to following their interests) and tailor the college experience to that. After all, a breadwinner could be taken out by the errant bus, and then where are you?

    And I agree with those who have noted above that you take every opportunity to point out that actions have consequences. The tattooed females at the grocery store, the self-centered denizens of reality tv — for me, they are all fodder for the mill. After all, the greatest inducement for me to practice chastity in high school was The Supremes’ “Love Child.”

  • Alexander S. Anderson

    Well, I’m a 19 year old Junior at Iowa State University, and I admit that I see the ridiculous fruits of the Sexual Revolution and the hyper-secular philosophies all around me. I’m also in a fraternity, and I witness many of my brothers seeing women as objects of sexual pleasure. But I’m also involved at St. Thomas Aquinas. There, the Thursday Night Liturgies (Which is just a mass on carpet squares) consistently draw around 125 people a week. The small groups become large groups, with a Theology of the Body group based on Christopher West’s book being by far the most popular group. Our alumni generate quite a lot of vocations, at least one guy has gone to seminary every year for the last five years, we’ve had a couple of nuns, and many, many, many faithful marriages. And, for the most part, the students have built this community themselves right in the middle of a big, secular state university. It’s not all bad, there’s plenty of hope for those who go to college.