People get what they want, don't they?

By Thomas Putnam | Mar 24, 2011

Personal achievement is almost always equated with one’s education. Look at yourself and answer the question, how did education affect your life? How did it affect your career choices? How did it affect meeting the people with whom you became long term friends? Most importantly, how did it affect meeting the person you married and the children you raised?

When one listens to the Sunday television talk shows these days, there is much emphasis on higher education. This is in concert with the question: Is the United States beginning its long term decline? The gist of those discussions is that superior education is available in the United States and many non-U.S. citizens are coming to enrich themselves intellectually at our universities. Formerly, most would stay. Today, most foreign students are returning to their native countries as we see the rise again of the Asian civilizations, which offer opportunities not previously available. Those countries are openly competitive with the U.S., as they should be.

America became great during the 20th Century. Our homeland was unscathed by two world wars. Our manufacturing abilities were stimulated by production necessary for the war effort and after by the needs of foreign countries to repair themselves. Those who developed new and innovative companies and mastered their performances were highly educated persons. They were competitive, a trait learned in high school and then honed in college. Those abilities have continued as the world has entered the Cyber Age.

But unlike the 20th Century, we are not necessarily the leader in new industries, and those that originated here are rapidly deployed to other lands. This is not to suggest that the United States should horde its new developments. No, other countries have as much right to newly-discovered sciences and techniques so long as patent rights are protected. We should have the same rights in our own country to use foreign developments as long as patent rights are observed. Of interest is the fact that foreign countries often set up some of their manufacturing sites in the United States because it is economically less expensive for them to do so.

So why do U.S. citizens not extol the virtues of higher education in our own country? Do we perceive those with a college degree as being different and strange from the rest of us? Thankfully the answer is no for many of us. But there must be some reason why parents are not “pre-educating” their children about the advantages of academic achievement, both for themselves, their communities, and most importantly, their country!

Today's great achievement is that our daughters excel scholastically. The world is opening up more and more to women born in the United States. Certainly this is true when one compares their lives to those of women in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East. But with the recent unrest and desire for democracy in those lands, we are beginning to see their women taking a larger and larger role in those nascent revolutions. In my own high school years, I always felt that girls were innately smarter than boys. This was certainly true in English, math, and science. I have come to find out that girls mature faster than boys: boys have a latent, albeit short, period before they have the same abilities to achieve scholastically.

I think this is emphasized by the recent picture of Rockland High School seniors who were honored as high scholastic achievers. There were six seniors in the picture: five girls and one boy. I am not sure that this represents the “normal delay” in male intellectual maturation. I believe that many teenage males do not regard academic achievement as important in their own developing world. Why?

Each male has his own individual reasons. Some of them are engendered by his family, but many of them are a response to male peer pressure. It is not manly to want to excel in English, in mathematics, in history, in science. I want to be out their on the athletic field with my buddies and win for our school. (Not a bad idea.) Studying is for “creeps," to coin a term from my era. I would rather be hanging out with my friends, smoking, testing the effects of alcohol, and in today’s world, covering my body with tattoos, especially if I am good enough to make it into professional sports. Except in special male individuals today, excellence in education is not a sought after achievement. The girls have an early edge in this and fortunately they have the wisdom to appreciate the opportunities opened to them.

Again, why is all this so? I have to go back to my belief that parents are ultimately responsible for their offspring’s achievements. People are born with varieties of intellectual abilities. It is important to make the greatest use of those abilities for the betterment of the world we live in and especially for our families, both now and in the generations to come.

It is much easier for parents who have discovered the advantages of a higher education both in intellectual growth and especially in finding the “right spouse” to raise their children, having that end goal in mind. Their children will find that the world has opened up opportunities for them to explore and develop, both here and abroad. The world is shrinking everyday, enabled by our cyberspace civilizations.

Could the adolescent’s infatuation with their iPods perhaps open up new world’s to explore and learn about? Not if they are strictly used for socializing. Also they intrude on study time. Much has been written recently about the Chinese woman who is raising her two daughters strictly. To many American minds, that is akin to torture. Ask the kid: do you want to live your life that way? You know what the answer will be. The real answer is to look at that kid when he or she is an adult. Which method of child rearing will bring about the best opportunities for the individual, and will he or she and their country benefit.

As the old saw goes, you only go around once. Do your best and when you make it good for others, you really make it good for yourself.


Tom Putnam is a retired pediatric surgeon who lives with his wife, Barbara, in Rockland. He serves on a variety of nonprofit boards, as well as municipal committees, and is a communicant of St. Peter's Episcopal Church.







If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.