Forget College

Generations of parents have urged their kids to get a college education to succeed in life. Today some talented teens see college as an impediment to success. And their decision to bypass college reveals how our culture is teaching kids tragic lessons about the value of education. One of those talented teens is Kobe Bryant, a 17-year-old high-school senior from Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Last week Bryant signed a multi-year endorsement contract with shoe giant Adidas. And next month Bryant is expected to be among the first 10 players selected in the NBA draft. Now it's hard to tell a kid as talented as Bryant not to go straight into the NBA. But I'm concerned about a culture in which hard work, education, and postponing gratification are increasingly viewed as impediments to success. It's a lesson professional basketball didn't teach until recent years. For 20 years the NBA draft was limited to college seniors. But then a court ordered the NBA to permit athletes pleading "hardship" to enter the draft without completing their senior year of college. Last year a 6-foot-11-inch high-school phenomenon named Kevin Garnett became the first player in 20 years to jump directly from high-school to the NBA. The Minnesota Timberwolves rewarded his decision to bypass college: They signed him to a $5.6 million contract. Garnett's rookie success inspired more high-school players to bypass college. This year three kids, including Bryant, have announced they will forget about college and go directly to the NBA. NBA scouts and college coaches are concerned about this trend. They wonder if these kids are mature enough to withstand the rigors of life on the road. But it took Michael Wilbon, a sportswriter for the Washington Post, to sound the alarm over a much more serious issue: that is, the moral and cultural consequences of holding up these athletes who bypass college as role models. A native of Chicago's tough south side, Wilbon understands the allure of the NBA, with its big money and even bigger prestige. And yet Wilbon warns, "When education is seen as some sort of impediment to success, we've come to a frightening point." Wilbon knows that for every Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, there are scores of players who, in their heyday, were just as talented as today's kids. But they never struck it rich. Today, Wilbon writes, they hang around, "unemployable, uneducated, foolishly passing on to a new generation a dream that far more often than not dies unfulfilled." Of course, we can't blame either the NBA or the talented young athletes for inspiring dreams of easy wealth. Our entire culture exalts big money and a glitzy lifestyle. That's why television programs like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous become hits. Our cultural world view has become so materialistic that it's not surprising that kids like Kobe Bryant rebel against delaying gratification. But as Michael Wilbon points out, it's a world view that can inadvertently lead to poverty for millions of other kids who try to imitate the role models who strike it rich. It creates a snare and a delusion--a dangerous one. That's why I hope Kobe Bryant and talented kids like him will think twice about the message they're giving their peers when they bypass college. Their decisions may lead to wealth and prestige for themselves . . . but they may lead to dashed hopes and poverty for millions of others.


Chuck Colson


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