I find myself compelled to comment on the trending “college admissions scandal.” If you haven’t been following the saga, you may be shocked to learn (hold on to something to steady yourself) that wealthy parents often use their influence, fund endowments, pay for building construction and brazenly just bribe elite institutions to get their mediocre academic offspring admitted.
Those of us not likely to ascend to the top 1% in wealth find it almost comical. If your kid doesn’t have the grades or abilities to enter a college through the front door, they probably do not have a burning desire to study particle physics at MIT in the first place. Why pretend that your darling is being groomed for academic greatness when it's apparent that nothing remotely intellectual is coming forth? Family wealth will ensure that your offspring will never be required to demonstrate any real ability or compete with those less fortunate who do. They can pursue any “career” (or the United States Presidency) for pure vanity or entertainment.
Why bother working at hard stuff, like studying for your college entrance exams, when you can just parlay your status and parents’ celebrity to start your own cosmetics line? Scholastics and athletic discipline are for everyone else who has to fill in the "common application" to get accepted.
Personally, I remain un-scandalized. The only part of this whole pathetic story that surprises is that cheating parents got caught cheating, and their cheating kids (presuming they already knew something about the moral fiber of the adults who raised them) are actually experiencing a little public shaming.
But, here’s where I find myself on the very margin of outrage. The professed excuses for the parents are that they just “want what’s best for their kids.” Supporters say “family is everything” to Lori Loughlin. All that motherly love caused her (and her husband) to spend half a million on a scheme to get her daughters into USC as bogus members of the school’s crew team.
That steaming pile of fraudulent motherly love is so high that it makes your eyes water just reading it.
First off, I know two young women who did make it to an elite college on a crew scholarship. To get there, they had stellar grades and got up every morning at 4:30 am to row and row and row for six years.
That determination made them great athletes, excellent students, strong professional women, great mothers and meaningful members of their communities. They earned their success.
Their mother was a preschool teacher and did catering on the side. She got up every morning at 4:30 AM as well, made them breakfast and drove them to the river in the dark for their workouts. She has character herself and she built character in her children by demonstrating it every morning. Her daughters are examples of integrity to their own children.
Loughlin’s shining example to her youngsters was to simply buy what you want by any means. If there is no legal option, find a criminal opportunity. This does not fall into any category of "love". It rests solidly in the column labeled "fraud". Most of us do not regard the practice of fraud as a valuable life-lesson to teach our young. Her celebrity sister-in-scandal, Felicity Huffman paid to have her daughter’s test scores taken by a pro and to buy off the test proctor. The message there is, “Look kid, you are a dimwit and don’t have enough brain power to do well on the SAT on your own.” Hardly a positive mothering message. If you truly want what is best for your kids, you don’t pay for their faux achievements. You make breakfast, you get them to the river, you order the SAT prep test and encourage them to get a good night’s sleep before the exam.
When and if they do poorly the first time around, you offer encouraging words, urge them to study more and apply to retake the test. They sink or they swim on some combination of determination and talent and you celebrate when the right envelope comes in the mail from the right school. Or you accept that Stanford isn’t going to offer your kid entry based on their SATs, and she, and you, move on to your next best option. It’s just one step in a long chain of learning about taking personal responsibility and growing to full adulthood that every psychologically healthy human navigates.
However, this is what I find truly shameful…contaminating your kid's life experience only to serve your own ego.
Humans are big-brained, curious, problem solving creatures. We function best when we have engagement and challenge. Life is pretty reliable in that it is constantly offering obstacles to overcome, puzzles to solve, twists in the narrative, and surprising plot lines. It's a game of risk and chance, raising the stakes and folding. Some paths have a degree of predictability built into them...if you return as an English teacher to the high school you graduated from, for example, the landscape will at least be familiar. But on balance, how the story unfolds for a person depends on so many factors, internal choices and external events, that it is all a mysterious origami.
Unless, of course, your parents decide what kind of life experience they want you to have and then they buy it for you. No challenge, no adversity, no accomplishment, no growth. Loughlin had her daughters pose for a photo in front of a racing shell wearing rowing gear. It was the first time either girl had ever held an oar. Huffman contrived some story about her daughter needing to take the SAT at another location due to a family emergency. The proctor at the alternate location was in on the cheat. While their daughters have financial privilege and, no doubt, enjoy a comfortable life, I would say that they got seriously shortchanged by mothers who cheated them out of a chance to develop independently.
When our kids' freshman year started for the rest of us, we helped move boxes and bedding and guitar cases into dorms of a university and it was a bittersweet joy. Maybe we couldn't afford an elite school, or maybe our kid just didn't meet their standards, but here is where we were.
We hugged them goodbye, and mumbled something uninspired about studying hard, having fun and making good choices. Then they bounded away from us, not looking back and breaking our hearts. Sometimes they sail on, and sometimes they hit a hard edge and need to reroute, making a different plan in a different place. Either way, they are out living their lives and all that entails. We did our jobs - raise and release.
Not raise and manipulate. Not raise and cheat. Not raise and conspire.
The justice system will judge these people for their criminal activities. I judge them for being terrible parents. And that is not a debt that can be repaid.