Failure to launch

Core Knowledge’s Robert Pondiscio spent the summer tracking down his first class of  fifth-graders from 2002-03.  The South Bronx students should be high school graduates. Many are not.  Three were accepted to four-year colleges. One will live at home and go to Pace. But the two who were planning to leave home for college have decided they’re not going.

The boy was accepted to SUNY Oswego. The girl — “cheerful, eager to learn” — got into Boston University.

The Oswego-bound young man opted to stay home and enroll at a CUNY college.  The young lady, however, is no longer headed for BU.  She has no firm plans for September but is “thinking about going to Hostos,” a South Bronx community college.

In both cases, these two kids cited the same reason not for going away to school and in nearly identical words.  There is “too much going on at home right now.”   Both said they have sick relatives.  The young lady said her mother was not well and that she was needed at home. 

 “I don’t feel ready,” she told her former teacher.

So many of her classmates have already failed.   So many have already repeated the mistakes of their parents—quitting school, becoming teen parents.  Lives going nowhere fast.  But here’s a terrific, sweet kid who grows up right, with a good family in a tough neighborhood.  She has the brass ring not just in her sight but in her hand and decides, “I just can’t.”

I suggested he persuade her to defer at BU for a year, go to community college and plan to transfer after a year. That will keep the goal — and the BU scholarship — alive. 

A number of college-prep charter schools that serve students whose parents aren’t well-educated are providing counselors that follow graduates through college.  Students are much more likely to persist if they can turn to someone for help with financial, academic or family problems.  It helps if that person expects them to earn a college degree and will push them to keep going, despite obstacles.

About Joanne


  1. When your family doesn’t help you fly, doesn’t help lay in the course, doesn’t build the runway, doesn’t gas up the plane but instead siphons it out, it isn’t failure to launch. It’s something else.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    I wonder how much of the mother’s illness is a ploy to keep the daughter at home? It is more like the mother wants to keep control instead of seeing her daughter succeed.

  3. I am aware of several cases and have heard/read of others where the success in a way/field unususual in the community is seen as undesirable, threatening and/or a betrayal of the family and community. In communities where academic success is not highly valued, going to college – especially at a distance – may be discouraged. I think that this has been documented in Native American communities on the reservations, but I’m pretty sure it exists elsewhere. Some family/community values are at odds with upward mobility.