Confessions of an Overachieving Parent, Part V

By: Matt Mitchell, Head of School

Dominion offers a compelling college-preparatory education using the time-tested classical model in the context of a Christian worldview. We are passionate about the liberal arts and about helping each child achieve to his or her fullest God-given potential. Yet, we also recognize that the overachieving culture of Northern Virginia often creates unique challenges. The following blog post is an installment in a series of reflections that will be posted from Matt Mitchell, our Head of School, as he shares observations, perspectives, and personal experiences in support of balancing the pursuit of excellence with the pursuit of reasonableness.

As a young teacher, I lamented often that our society has made it ignoble to pursue a vocation where one works more with the hands than with the mind. Did God really make us all to love the pursuit of math, literature, history, and art more than carpentry or electrical work? If that were so, then how would the world go ‘round? I believe passionately that our country must restore honor to vocational callings.

A few years ago, it struck me anew that one of my boys is thoroughly fulfilled when he works with his hands. He is most alive when he is painting walls, building something from wood, or taking things apart and putting them back together (well, he puts them back together most of the time – insert fatherly sigh here!). So here it is – my confession: The realization that he may one day desire vocational employment bothered me. And, if I’m very honest with you, I’ll admit that it bothered me until I reached a more suitable conclusion: Surely my son will become an architect, engineer, or some other professional, right?

My hypocrisy still embarrasses me. Through the years, I have often urged parents to give their children space to be whoever God has made them to be. “Vocational callings deserve a place of honor,” I would muse. These pathways are good, essential, and noble. So, why should it bother me for my own children to pursue such a path?

Over the course of the last few years, I have wrestled with that tension before the Lord. There is no question that I value and believe a liberal arts education is good for every child, no matter what path he or she chooses. I still want that desperately for my son. Studying human history, literature, languages, math, science, the arts, and theology is about being fully human—not about being fully trained for employment. Yet, is it not equally human to pursue and do that for which God made you? Indeed, it is.

I would guess that, if most of us are honest, we will admit that we tend to think of vocational work as being noble—for other peoples’ children. Our children need to go to great colleges so that they can get the best jobs and earn the best wages. What if God made them for something else–indeed, something they will find to be more fulfilling? What if my conceited expectations are an imposition upon my children? What if those impositions set my children on a course towards a life lacking fulfillment? What if that path in life creates dissonance and misery? Thankfully, God is sovereign, and I do not believe we can thwart his plans. But, I do believe we have a responsibility to wrestle well with his precepts and the norms of the world He created. It is good, right, and holy for a child to toil in an area of God’s universe that fulfills him or her.

I still want my son to be thoroughly educated – to be formed, not just trained. He will likely attend a liberal arts college no matter what career path he chooses. However, as I have reflected upon my own family and the overachieving environment of our region, I am increasingly concerned that we too often press our children towards directions for which they were not created. In so doing, we cause stress. Dominion graduates are doing great things. Do we also have space for some to do extraordinary things in ordinary places? Ours must be homes where we monitor our words, hearts, and thoughts to ensure that we support our children in whatever life-path they choose.