There was an article on a comment I wrote “A Plea for Change in College Admissions” in Inside Higher Ed and below is a comment on it:
I am struck by, stay with me here, how this abuse of students is, like in the #me too movement, perpetuated by the nature of the unequal power position. Except most of this discussion is not about adults, it is about children. There was an opinion piece today in the NY Times, ‘Aziz Ansari is Guilty. Of not Being a Mind Reader‘ with the author stating that the woman who accused him had agency to be explicit about her concerns or to leave. And I thought about how these students are acting and reading some of the comments implying that there are many fish in the sea and students don’t have to play this game. But, by their very nature, children do not have agency. This competitive cycle begins early in high school or even in middle school for many. We adults need to protect our children and we are not. We as parents, as schools, as media are sometimes tacitly or at other times actively pushing our kids to their limits with the premise that it potentially improves their future. Number one, that’s all a lie. How many adults do you know that are where they are due to contacts they made in college? How important is it for experienced professionals what undergraduate college they went to when seeking employment? And how much of a setback is it that a kid only went to Cornell rather than U Penn or Vassar rather than Tufts or Drew instead of Muhlenberg?
My daughter found some colleges she wanted to go to and did what she needed to do to get there. She went to Swarthmore, and it was a great choice for her. But was the cost worth it? She’s, luckily tough as nails (she got this, honestly, from her mom) so didn’t wilt under the pressure. But most of the kids who were decompensating in the schools I worked in were those kids who did wilt under the pressure, with the message that they were not worthy if they did not keep up. So let’s be honest here. The colleges keep raising the bar to get in not because its best for the kids or best for their schools, but because they keep needing to find some way of easily separating the wheat from the chaff with the influx of applications with perfect grades and perfect test scores and perfect activities and perfect athletics. Something that’s easy to peruse and measure and something only the absolutely driven and obsessed and talented can do. Let’s have some perspective here. I graduated in 1976. I did not have stellar SAT’s or all A’s. I took two high level classes (AP Physics and AP BC Calc), electives in history and English and no language in my senior year. I only applied to 4 schools (Swarthmore, Haverford, Rutgers and Georgetown) and got into all of them. I would not have a prayer at any of the the schools but Rutgers if I applied today. Not because I was not well educated or well prepared- I was a good student at the college I attended- but because the bar is much higher now. I’m okay with a little higher bar (I probably should have stuck with a world language) but it has gotten WAY out of hand. We are supposed to be protecting our children, not putting them in harm’s way. And the reason is, simply, inertia. More kids want to get into an ever more elite group of colleges (something which really elevated after the Great Recession) and as requirements kept going up and up, no one, except for Dr. Farmer at UNC, stopped to think and say “is this okay”? “Are we taking responsibility for the massive effect we have on the health of our nation’s children.”?