Written by Sara Garfinkle
Among stained recipes and coupon clippings, my fall semester report card was posted on the kitchen fridge with an I Love Lucy magnet. I was proud of my grades, but my parents—to whom the College mailed my report card—were even prouder. Mom, who has been an elementary school teacher for more than twenty years, pressed a yellow happy face sticker next to my miraculous chemistry grade.
Hillsdale College does not accept federal funding. This means that it is not bound by the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which circumscribes parents’ access to their students’ educational information and records. This means that twice a year, my parents receive copies of my report cards. This means that, if they choose, my parents can call and inquire about my progress in class.
As a freshman, I was disturbed by the access my parents had to my education. I’m an adult, I thought. My college experience is mine, not my parents’. They have no right to know the details of my time here. I was wrong—for a long list of reasons. As a senior, I now appreciate the intricate partnerships that support my success. This means, I now appreciate my parents’ involvement in my education.
I asked my parents what they thought about receiving my report cards.
“In the business world, your work is always being judged,” said my dad, Rob Garfinkle. “Your progress matters. What gets measured gets done, and there are consequences for not meeting standards. Getting your report card in the mail means I can help you hold yourself accountable. It’s great that Hillsdale is preparing you for work after college.”
And help hold me accountable he did. My final grade in Human Biology had much room for improvement. “Dad, I’m a rhetoric major,” I protested. “I won’t ever need to recite the KREBS cycle in a speech. And if for some reason I do, I can look it up.”
“I don’t think the point is to memorize the KREBS cycle,” he said. And he was right…as usual. “Do better in chemistry next semester.”
My dad reminded me that the purpose of doing well in Human Biology was not to memorize various biological processes and facts. The purpose was to cultivate an understanding of how we ought to live from a biological perspective. In chemistry, I would learn about what it means to be a human through a chemical perspective. (I did indeed do better in chemistry, thanks to my dad holding me accountable.) The knowledge that my parents would receive copies of my report cards motivated me to earn grades that would make them proud.
Tracie Garfinkle, my mom, also enjoys receiving my report card.
“I want to celebrate your successes and watch musicals with you when you need some cheering up,” she said. “I can’t help you with your homework anymore, but I can always support you through happy news and disappointing news.”
Freshman year, my mom and I watched Mamma Mia! and The Sound of Music too many times to count. This past semester, we did not need to watch a single cheer-me-up musical. I am proud of my progress. My parents are likely even prouder. Without my dad holding me accountable and my mom’s gift for encouraging me in any circumstance, my grades would not have improved as much as they did.
Dr. Arnn frequently reminds students that college means partnership. As a freshman, I thought that partnership existed only between students and faculty. Now, as a second semester senior, I recognize—and finally appreciate—that partnerships must include parents as well. Hillsdale College thrives because of parents’ time, talent, and treasure, and I thrive at Hillsdale College because of my own parents’ support.
I am going to graduate with a B.A. in Rhetoric and Public Address, most likely with high honors, in part because my parents receive my report cards in the mail.
Sara Garfinkle, ’20, studies Rhetoric, Pulic Address, and Hebrew. She plans to be a speechwriter and teacher after graduation. Until then, you can find her baking bread, watching science fiction shows, going on adventures with her Pi Phi sisters, and pranking her younger brother Ben.
Published in March 2020