What? Shocking News That Wealthy Parents Pay for Their Kids to Play!

Yawn. If the story about wealthy parents using their considerable money to get their kids in to elite colleges and universities comes as a surprise to anyone, then I admire you innocent souls. If you want to keep living in your dreamland of kittens, puppies and rainbows, stay away from all news outlets. The fact is that there are many very wealthy parents who want to make sure that their progeny continue to hold on to wealth and power, whether they have earned it — or not.

Parents, in their abject fear that their children may not be able to “compete” or “succeed” (whatever that means), have been cheating for generations. Anyone who has been to a science fair can attest to that. There’s always the kid who has found a potential cure for colon cancer or transplanted the heart of a squirrel to a rat, while your kid has a mangled graph showing that Cap’n Crunch cereal has more sugar than Cheerios. My best science fair memory was one where my daughter used her old baby teeth to compare the efficacy of commercial brand toothpaste to “natural” toothpaste from the health food store.

I remember watching one of my daughter’s high school athletic events and overhearing a mom say to another mom, “Well, you HAVE to write their college essay for them. They’re not going to do it!”

What?! I never even considered writing any of my kids’ college essays – and I’m a writer! I honestly couldn’t believe what I had heard. This was from a mom that I admired for her professional accomplishments, but she went down in my estimation that day. Her child did get into a prestigious school, so I guess the essay she wrote for him was a good one.

Once your innocence is destroyed and the curtain is pulled back, you begin to see how things really work. With a few exceptions, even the most talented poor kids don’t go to top colleges, and most don’t even try. They often don’t know how to navigate the system of applying to colleges. And, if they do get there, they may find that they can’t afford the extra expenses of housing (where do they live during school breaks?), books, and incidentals. These kids are left behind.

In contrast, there are the kids whose wealthy parents get college test-prep tutors for them from the time the kids are in ninth grade. These parents can afford to have their kids take the tests over and over again. I taught a test-prep class (the English half, not the Math), and I have seen that kids definitely can improve their scores by getting tips and tutoring, and by taking the test more than once. That, to me, invalidates the SAT and ACT. They don’t really do a very good job of predicting how students will do in their first year of college anyway, which is what they are supposed to measure (read the book “None of the Above: The Truth Behind the SATs“). What they do provide is millions of dollars to testing companies.

The rise in the importance of standardized tests throughout kids’ school years has created this false equation of human intelligence to a single test score. Schools have become test-prep factories where cheer assemblies are held before the annual state tests, and kids are encouraged to get that high score so their teachers and parents can be proud! Schools are graded on their standardized test scores! That test score is used as bragging rights by many parents. I’ll admit that I was always proud if one of my kids scored well on a standardized test.

In this highly competitive, artificial atmosphere, it is no wonder that parents and kids feel pressure to get a high score on college entrance exams, because that has become the measure of worth. The high score is the end goal rather than the value of what kids have learned, how they live with others, how they think, what they can imagine and create. It’s no wonder that so many young people feel anxious and depressed.

I’ve been through the college admission process with all three of my kids. I told them that whatever college they went to, they would get a good education, and it was up to them to take advantage of the opportunity they had.

There will always be cheaters. There will always be people who have what I consider to be questionable values and a questionable definition of success. Many of those people are very wealthy and can go behind the scenes and buy what they want for themselves or for their children, even a place at an elite college. They will also be able to buy their kids great jobs of their choosing when they graduate.

While this particular scandal is outrageous, it might offer a good opportunity to look at ourselves, individually and as a society. What do we value? What are we teaching our children? They’re watching us.

Categories: Editor’s Blog