What’s Your College Admission Scandal?

We have been having stimulating and entertaining conversations in our America’s Real War Master Class. One topic we discussed had to do with the terrible job our generation, in general, has done in passing on the values of gratitude, hard work, faith and patriotism to the next generation. Not only has this left younger people vulnerable to warped ideologies but it has also resulted in many of them feeling depressed, anxious and lonely.

There are many reasons, but I’ve been thinking about one potential culprit in particular. Whether articulated or not, many parents have turned their children’s education into a false god. Many of us may have expressed disdain at the recently exposed college admissions scandal. In the desire to see their children attend “top” universities and/or the school of their choice, parents became embroiled in lying, bribing and other underhanded activities. Yet, since few of us have the monetary resources that would make us susceptible to that scheme, honesty demands that we ask if we have done even slightly similar things on a smaller level.

It is no secret that many parents arrange to get their children labeled with a ‘disability’ so that the kids will be given accommodations. These may range from being prescribed stimulating drugs to being given extra time during a test. If that is something that never crossed your mind, how about excusing a child from a family occasion so that he or she can study? While missing some events may be appropriate, is it possible that we sometimes enlarge the window to include times when our teens would be better off hearing that they need to be there no matter what? Maybe getting a lower grade or burning the midnight oil or missing out on partying with friends would help them recognize that sharing in family joys and sorrows is part of being a good and connected person? Maybe juggling a job alongside school would teach teens lessons as, or more, important than the facts they are learning in class?

As well-intentioned and loving parents, we can easily give a damaging message to our children when we venerate school above almost all else.  After all, we don’t tell ourselves that we should only focus on one thing. We expect ourselves to balance conflicting needs including career, spouse, children, extended family, community and associated responsibilities and we call that having a well-rounded life. Why would we deprive our young adults the same opportunity? Telling a teen that this time of life is meant only for studying, participating in activities that pad college or graduate school applications and, incidentally, having a good time, promotes egocentrism, entitlement, immaturity and vanity. Not incidentally, those four paths usually lead to miserable lives. Let’s not wish that on the young people we love.

19 thoughts on “What’s Your College Admission Scandal?”

  1. You said it. Education can be another false god with the message of absolute satisfaction guarantee to success and happiness. Anyone tried interviewing the homeless and downtrodden lately? Many of those on skid rows have degrees from top universities. Many of those severely unemployed and in serious financial debt have degrees from top universities. I’m sure they can tell us stories of all the great sacrifices that were made to get in and get through the college system. And yet, somehow, the false god of education failed.

    1. Lisa, as Ian pointed out in his comment, you and I are not meaning to denigrate learning. Rather, when schooling is separated from wisdom and real-life and becomes something to be worshipped and achieved at all costs, it does not ensure a good life. Balance is a good idea in all areas and academics are not an exception.

  2. Dear Susan,
    As I read your “musings” I recalled the following poem:
    Labor for learning before you grow old,
    Because learning is better than silver and gold
    Silver and gold may vanish away,
    But a good education will never decay … (Desmond Dekker)

    Some of your readers have mentioned that school is not the be all and end all, and have even mentioned that they know successful people who never graduated or barely graduated high school. I am quite disturbed by this, because although it was perhaps not your intention, I believe they are taking education too lightly.

    I think we can safely say that today the most successful entrepreneurs that currently dominate the world economy, had a solid education. For example:
    1) Bill Gates, who for a while was the richest man in the world, got into Harvard.
    2) Warren Buffet, also at one time the richest man in the world, entered Columbia University at 16 years of age, and went to the Wharton school of business at 17.
    3) Larry Page and Sergey Brin the founders off “Google” were PhD candidates at Stanford University.
    4) Jeff Bezos, who is reportedly worth more than a $100 billion graduated from Princeton.
    There are indeed successful mega technology entrepreneurs who never finished university –Steve Jobs comes to mind- however they worked with a single minded focus, and went deeper into particular technological niches than any school could have taught them. Perhaps they hoped there was a school that they could have gone to, but there was none. And I know quite a few entrepreneurs who did not study, but nevertheless “made it”, and they have real regret, that that they never went to college.

    I have heard that one Hindu holy text -the Vedas- teach, that each of us should endeavor to live to be a 100 years old. The first 25 years of life should be spent on your yourself and your education, the second 25 years on taking care of your family, the third 25 years should be spent serving society, and the final 25 years serving God. And although the blood of Abraham flows through my veins, this breakdown of a well lived life outlined by Hindus, seems to have merit.

    While young, study first and foremost, and as much as possible, as long as you can do so without trampling on the rights of others, and you treat others with respect.

    Respect and kindest regards,

    1. Ian, thanks for your perspective. I feel that if we disagree at all, it is only in whether schooling and education/learning are synonymous. Specifically today, I would mention college education. I would remove Warren Buffet from your examples because of his age – college meant something very different in his generation. Even for the other men, I think that college today is an entirely different ballgame from when they attended. Getting into an Ivy League college, especially if you aren’t in a “desirable” group, certainly says something. But campuses, especially in the non-pure-science areas are, tragically, today sometimes places where learning, wisdom and exploration are squashed.
      I hear what you are saying about devaluing education, but I think most people respect learning, yet don’t think that is happening in many schools today. In addition, I would agree (as would ancient Jewish wisdom) that learning that takes place when young is powerful, but it is not for its own sake. As you note, it is to prepare oneself for what one can do in later years. I think you would probably agree that it should not mean even in those years, for example, removing oneself from other people, family and God but rather that interacting and defining oneself within those areas is indispensable parts of one’s education.
      Thanks for pulling us back from an extreme.

  3. At great expense my family sent eight of us through a Catholic grade school and Jesuit high school education …eight of us…for the very reason you illustrate. Another eye-opening column, Susan!

    1. Kristin, I have written about how my extremely academic Jewish school took the whole school out of class for the day to go to rallies advocating for letting Soviet Jews out of the USSR. There wasn’t even a question that they did not expect us to do schoolwork on Shabbat or festivals. Grades were important, but they were never the most essential thing. I imagine that it was similar in your Catholic schools.

  4. Wow, Mrs. Lapin! You hit a serious nerve with this weeks Musing. There’s usually a string of comments from your faithful readers praising your spot on commentary. Well, I guess your very keen observation of how college is “god” for most Americans and how easily family obligations are sacrificed for a good grade. As a parent of two teenagers I make it my duty to explain the importance of knowing and singing My Country Tis Of Thee and that America is a Republic. My children know that my hope is not in their becoming college graduates. I prefer God fearing proud Americans who will be good people who will not compromise their values. Mrs. Lapin you and I both know college does not instill the value of these qualities. Thanks for being brave and for kicking over the “American” idol!

    1. Kecia, to be fair, there actually were a bunch of comments but no one was on duty to approve them. I love your goals for your children.

  5. Agree with missing out on partying with friends because in the end they realize that sharing and being with the family IS a way of growing (values) and connecting.

  6. Schools have the children 180 days a year. TV, social media, friends and Hollywood are constantly undermining parents instructions.

    My dad when I was young was always trying to get me to see his ways and if I’d listened to him I could have saved me a lot of heartache. However I sometimes listened to my friends for advise thinking my dad was old school and he did not understand how things work today.

    Building character, and Building good principle s does not seem to be as important these days to parents as having high grades or being enrolled in a good school.

    Im not sure where to place the blame but the older I get the more I don’t like learning the hard way.

    1. Lee, as Jack LaLanne said (I think), “No pain, no gain.” That isn’t a popular concept today.

  7. This has really great implications for homeschooling parents who feel guilty whenever they prioritize anything above “school work”, such as taking an occasional morning to recover the house and work on habit formation, or visit an elderly grandparent. I hadn’t thought about the danger of making education into an idol. Thank you!

    By the way, any thoughts about making diet into an idol? Future blog post? I see value in examining whether typical food choices might be causing health problems, but I also see it become worship-like: if I just sacrifice enough of the foods I enjoy, if I check all the right boxes (organic raw local keto paleo free range pasture raised gluten free fair trade etc, some of which I do value), if I learn enough about essential oils and supplements, and if I sacrifice enough financially to attain these ideals, THEN my family won’t get sick, I will have security and peace, and bad things won’t happen to us. It is hard to navigate which notions of diet are valuable and which are just expensive and oppressive, and I see it consuming the time and effort of lots of the moms I know. Blessings!

    1. Been there, Heather, and guilty as charged to your first paragraph. Your second one about diet is fascinating. I think you are making an excellent point.

  8. I have written to you folks before saying I felt the blame for these children not growing up learning the lessons we did during our childhood, rests squarely on the shoulders of parents since World War II. The”Greatest Generation”, who fought through both the great depression and the second world war and survived, were never going to let their children face any hardships, and this was their greatest mistake. These children and their children were never told “no”and never faced having to answer for the problems they caused. I know this because I was born in !950, and as an only child I ate, slept, and breathed responsiblity to make my parents proud. Just because there was only me, my parents vowed no one would ever say I was spoiled.. While most of my friends were allowed to get away with all kinds of things, I was taught to face the consequences of my own actions. Yes, I have two children of my own now, who I raised as a single parent, and they are not like the children you are describing. Although both are autistic, this never became an excuse for them. As their only parent, I raised them like my parents raised me. If you ask them, I’m sure they would say I could be a strong parent, but I could never be a mom. They survived to become good productive people today, at age 35 and 37; because we were all blessed with some adversity in our lives; so we could learn how to deal with it, instead of run from it !

    1. Randy, you must be very proud of your children. In a prosperous and healthy society, there is a natural inclination to want to spare our children from tribulation. We do need to fight that impulse since it hurts them in the long run.

  9. You telling how use of false-front hurts. Your reminder of the times wh truly disabled people got under-treated, dimissed……etc. ,by reason of those who abused systems, and cause doubts. Our incautiosly allowing a little leaven here and there is no recipe matza. Then, to not know what put into the bowl makes a Badder Mix, like my metaphors. And don’t turn off stove after warning the neighborhood.

  10. Very good point!! I know that I have been guilty somewhere in your list of possibilities. And I well know that school is no where close to being the end all be all to a person’s success in life. I have know many very successful people who didn’t graduate high school, or barely graduated. Most of the best life lessons are not taught in a typical classroom.

    1. Karen, I think we easily confuse schooling with education or learning. Also, increasing numbers of jobs rule you out automatically if you don’t have a degree, whether or not the degree has any relevance or might even be an impediment to your success in the position. So, I think most of us are guilty of this at times – including me.

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