The news that wealthy people paid bribes to college coaches, admissions directors and others to get their otherwise unqualified children into “elite” universities should come as a blinding flash of the obvious.
It brings to mind the famous remark by Captain Renault in “Casablanca,” who says, “Shocked! I’m shocked to find there is gambling here!” just before being handed his winnings.
Rich parents have been writing checks to grease the wheels of entrance to higher education for their C+ sons and daughters since time immemorial. Neither John Kennedy nor George W. Bush were more than indifferent scholars in prep school – the snooty version of high school – but they were whisked into Harvard and Yale as if they had invented cold fusion on the back of a napkin.
For the rest of us poor schmoes, getting into college – if we ever did – was a matter of climbing on the treadmill of community college, student loans, part-time jobs, shotgun-style applications, rejection and much, much hamburger flipping.
If education is the whole ball game when it comes to success in life, the rich are born on third base, and rest of us are standing there at home plate, hoping to get a hit before we get hit.
While we are here in the batter’s box, let’s take a look at some common misconceptions about college.
- Does everyone need to go to college? Heck no. A lot of people – maybe most – don’t belong there. For many folks, there are more rewarding paths in technical careers, entrepreneurship, the military and family. A college degree will make it easier to rise into certain professions and certainly in management, but that might not be your best fit.
- Having a college degree is crucial to a middle class lifestyle. Not always. Some skills and abilities pay better than others, and a lot of those are in “hands-on” professions such a physical therapy, health care, auto and airplane mechanics and environmental work.
- Getting into college shows you are smart. Not necessarily. There is a huge industry today in test prep, especially for the all-important SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). A high score on the SAT can do a lot to mitigate mediocre grades. Well-off families can afford coaching in this area; poorer families cannot.
- To get a “good” education, you have to get into a “good” school. Applesauce! Each institute of higher learning has good professors and bad ones; the charismatic and the droners. The question to ask is not, “is this a ‘good school?’” The question is “Are you a good student?” If you think you (or your child) will just sit there passively and have knowledge poured in like a vase, you have the wrong idea. Knowledge is achieved, not received.
So, are we justified in our outrage at what happened at USC and other schools? Are our innocent hearts broken at the iniquity demonstrated?
Again, heck no. Such parental interference can engender a sense of unworthiness or an inability to stand on one’s own two feet. It can be crippling as poverty, and maybe worse. The spoiled rich kid who never amounts to anything is so common as to be a cliché.
So maybe the best thing your parents ever did was to let you rise or fall on your own merits. Keep your gold-plated key, Mom; in the long run, it’s better – and more educational – to kick the door down yourself.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts is posted on alternate Wednesdays.
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