O Tempora, O Mores! Bribery at Elite Schools for Millionaires

The Gate to the Ivy League:  NOT FOR EVERYBODY.

Did you know that Felicity Huffman, an actress I’ve never heard of, and Lori Loughlin, another actress I’ve never heard of, have been “accused of spending or laundering millions of dollars to falsify school records of high school students so they could be admitted to elite universities” (Source:  NBC news)?  Their names are followed by a long list of millionaires.

I’d like to say I’m outraged.  But if you’ve worked at an elite private school, you know what’s riding on college admissions.

Parents are mad to get their kids into college.  They will hire expensive consultants to guide them through the system. They will make unreasonable demands on the school’s college counselor.  They will hire experts to write or edit their kids’ college essays.

Private college prep schools provide a top-notch education ($15,000-$45,000 a year). But it’s not always about the education. Parents want the connections.   Even if the administrators can’t guarantee acceptance at Brown University or Mount Holyoke, they have connections to prestigious “fallback schools,” like the University of Notre Dame, Pomona College, or the University of Michigan.

Elite universities automatically accept “legacy students” (the children of rich alumni).  And it doesn’t hurt if a parent donates money for a building:  the school will respond in kind.  Jared Kushner’s father Charles Kushner pledged $2.5 million to Harvard.  Jared was then accepted at Harvard , though his grades and SAT scores were mediocre, according to Daniel Golden, author of The Price of Admission.  But the Kushners are hardly the only family to do this.

The best and brightest do occasionally get into elite schools.  One of my best students, God bless his/her heart, wrote the college essay in Latin and was  accepted at an Ivy League school.   Another equally bright student did not get into Princeton and screamed that it was all my fault. Was it the straight A’s I’d given him/her?  Or the  glowing recommendation?  In retrospect, the student came to me because I  didn’t give a shit about Princeton.

Remember Rory in “Gilmore Girls”?   She became a mess after she started dating the rich newspaper heir, Logan, at Yale.  And his father told her she was a bad writer.

Some of my best students did NOT apply to Ivy League schools. Who had the money?  Not their parents.  Their parents scraped together the money for private high schools because they genuinely valued a good education.  But their well-educated kids went on to affordable, excellent state universities.  Fun fact:  the professors at state universities  have often been educated at Yale, Princeton, Smith, Wellesley, etc.  (Which is not to say that these are the only excellent professors.)

You don’t have to spend a million dollars for a first-rate education. But it isn’t about the education, is it? It’s about connections and money.  And making more money.

Shame on the universities that make it ABOUT the money.

The educational system is corrupt, but it’s hard to sympathize with students who  have a nervous breakdown because an admissions department randomly accepted or rejected their application. The older you get, the more random you know these acts are.

Whatever Happened to Mass Market Paperbacks?

A cheap Signet classic

Whatever happened to mass market paperbacks?  Do you ever wonder?

Over the years  I’ve gone from a cheap Signet mass market paperback edition of Pride and Prejudice to  a more attractive Penguin trade paperback to an oversized Folio Society illustrated hardback–and the latter was unnecessary.

In the mid-20th century, anybody could acquire an inexpensive library of classics. At bookstores you could opt for rival brands: a Penguin, a Signet, a Bantam, a Dell, a Washington Square classic, or a Pocket Book.  We carried around copies of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (the David Magarshack translation),  Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Orwell’s Animal Farm, D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, Trollope’s Phineas Finn (a BBC tie-in), George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and Dickens’ Hard Times.  Books were the cheapest entertainment.  No wonder we were all so well-read.

But the accessibility of cheap mass market paperbacks has declined, according to Publishers Weekly.  Publishers originally considered mass market paperbacks the “gateway” editions to entice readers, and  these small books began to dominate the market after World War II.  The publication of this format has declined, partly because publishers are cutting out the midlist writers, partly because of  e-books. Walmart is the biggest seller of mass market paperbacks these days.  Genre books like romances and mysteries are often published as trade paperbacks.   PW says, “According to NPD BookScan, which tracks roughly 80% of print sales, mass market titles accounted for 13% of total print units sold in 2013; that figure dropped to 9% last year.”

In college we moved away from mass market paperbacks. The more scholarly the books, the more expensive.  And we developed expensive tastes.

Imagine a  town of backpacking undergraduates burdened with hardcover chemistry tomes and anthropology textbooks. As a freshman I lugged The Complete Pelican Shakespeare to a class where a chain-smoking professor squinted at the small print in columns and made dry allusions to poets I had not yet read.  At home  I “cheated ” with comfortably compact Pelican paperbacks, because I had an aversion to reading text in columns.  But the hardback accompanied me to class, in case the professor suddenly called on me, which he never did.  Perhaps I imagined he would ask me to recite a footnote!

Professors of other literature classes often assigned inexpensive Penguins, which until the ’90s (?) were still  mass market paperbacks.   They also assigned Signets, Modern Library paperbacks, and others I don’t remember. And so we pored over Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, Chekhov’s plays, Tolstoy’s The Cossacks, Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa, and Machiavelli’s The Prince.

Mind you, my classics (Greek and Latin books) were  hardbacks.  But in my other literature classes, we read paperbacks.  I became hooked on trade paperbacks with footnotes.

Most of my books are trade paperbacks. I have to say, mass market paperbacks don’t hold up well over the years.  The paper gets very brittle.  They’re for one-time reads.  Of course many trade paperbacks are printed on cheap paper, too.

I wonder if people read as many classics now that so few mass market paperbacks are available.  In my world, everybody’s a reader, but that may not be the same in THE world.