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.

An Idyllic Education, Dragons, & Reverse Scrabble

I spent a lot of time in this building.

I am a traditionalist.

After graduating from Hippie High, I was astonished to find the state university provided the inspiration and structure I needed.  I was spellbound by humanities, studied three languages,  relished the Renaissance, fell in love with Latin lyric poetry and Greek tragedy, and read nineteenth-century novels in my spare time.

And so I was intrigued by Ellen Fitzpatrick’s essay in the Atlantic, “Remembering the Bold Thinking of Hampshire College.”    This small experimental liberal arts college, founded in the late ’60s,  sounds idyllic.  Unfortunately Hampshire College is in financial trouble now.

Hampshire College

Here is her first paragraph:

It’s hard to believe that nearly a half century has passed since I stood on a hillside in South Amherst, Massachusetts, with Van Halsey, then Hampshire College’s director of admissions, gazing at the rolling green farmland that stretched out toward Hadley, Massachusetts. “That is where the college will be,” Halsey explained. I was 17 years old, entering my senior year of high school, and convinced that this largely invisible place—then mostly a collection of dreams and ideals—was the only college in the country where I wanted to study.

2. And now a change of subject:  dragons.  At Tor, Mari Ness discusses the fantasy elements in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, the first novel in the Dragonriders of Pern series.

Here is Ness’s first paragraph.

In later interviews with press and fans, Anne McCaffrey would bristle at any attempt to classify  her Dragonriders of Pern series as fantasy. Her dragons, she pointed out, were genetically engineered animals ridden by descendants of space explorers, not magical elves. The language of Pern was not a creation of the author, but descended in a fairly straight line with only a few expected deviations from English and, after McCaffrey moved to Ireland, a few Irish cadences. The plots focused on the development and rediscovery of technology. Most importantly, the presence of dragons, fire lizards, and just a touch of telepathy aside, no one in her Pern books could do magic. They focused on technical solutions to their problems—the use of nitric acid; telegraph machines; metal tools and machines; bioengineered invertebrates; and, when possible, spaceships.

3. And for poetry lovers,  David Lehmann at The American Scholar proposes a prompt.

Reverse Scrabble is a prompt I invented last week. The aim is to derive as many words as possible from one given polysyllabic word and then integrate them artfully into a poem.

The word I suggest we use is operation.

Click on the link for his explanation.