Lately, I’ve been wondering if I’m a bad parent. After all, according to the new rules, in order to be a good one, you have to essentially bribe your kid’s way into a top college. 

In the aftermath of the college admissions scandal, my wife and I have decided to forgo pushing our three kids (ages 9, 12, and 14) into the Ivy League and instead concentrate on a task that, these days, seems more difficult: raising them to be good people.

The scandal — where the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston indicted 50 people as part of a $25 million bribery case in which wealthy parents are accused of paying “enormous sums” to get their children into elite universities — got me thinking.

I know what I’m prepared to do to further my children’s education — and, just as importantly, what I’m not willing to do. 

I’ll pay the registration fees for my kids to take standardized tests, help them study, make them breakfast the morning they take the test, and drive them to the exam. 

But I’m not going to spend weeks leading up to the test micromanaging and reminding them what day and time it’s scheduled for, and where it’s being given. 

Staying on top of all of this is their responsibility. It’s not my job to make sure my kids get high test scores, or write the perfect application essay, or get into the best colleges. 

What is my job, and that of my wife, is to instill values, model behavior, develop social skills, and show them to be the kind of people who other people want to be around.   

I’ve made a list of 20 things I want to teach my kids — and not one of them involves how to get into a selective university. I pulled off that magic trick on my own, and from a more humbling upbringing than the one they’ve had. And they can do the same — if they work as hard as I did. If not, that’s on them. 

Over the next few years, I plan to tell my kids to:

Not look down on anyone. No one is better than them. But they’re not better than anyone.

Listen carefully. The old adage is correct: We never learn anything from hearing ourselves talk.

Be curious. More important than always knowing the answer is being eager to find it. 

Look for the worth in every human being. Everyone we meet is a gift, and it’s up to us to appreciate their value. 

Think critically. You can’t fully understand a fact, theory, or concept until you’ve seen it from all sides.

Be good to people. It’s how you treat others, more than anything, that defines your character.

Take in different views. No one has all the answers, but we can all learn from hearing different opinions.  

Honor your heritage. You belong to several communities, but the most important is the one connected by blood.  

Respect your elders. Those who have lived longer than you often know a lot more than you do.

Love your country. Your ancestors came here from other places because it promised something better, and it delivered.   

Follow your passion. Determine what you’re supposed to do, and do it with all your force. 

Seek out mentors. If you’re lucky, others will show you how to do what they’ve done. 

Defend the little guy. Notwithstanding the story about a giant felled by a stone, the big guy doesn’t need protecting. 

Resist elitism. One of the more insidious forms of bigotry, this “-ism” leaves a society divided to the point of dysfunction. 

Find your voice. Learn to express yourself. Decide how you feel about the world. Then tell it.  

Cherish your family. They were there when you entered the world, and they’ll be there when you leave it. Respect that. 

Travel extensively. Get out of your comfort zone, and see the country, and the world, in all their splendor. 

Talk to strangers. Everyone has a story to tell, and some of them are pretty good. Consume as many as you can.

Make your life count. You only get one. Make it unique and impactful, and make sure it has a positive effect on others. 

Get close to God. He created you. What better way to say “thank you” than to spend time with him?

Whew. That’s a lot, isn’t it? In fact, as they say in Texas, a list like this is already more than enough to say grace over. 

If my children learn all those life lessons, it’ll make for quite an education — the kind that isn’t for sale, mainly because you can’t put a price on it. 


Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.” 

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