Let’s talk some more about that college cheating scandal, shall we?
There’s been a bit of shoulder shrugging since the news broke last week that 50 people were indicted in an alleged scheme to secure spots in elite colleges and universities for students who didn’t earn them.
This is news? This has been happening forever. Nothing new here.
I’ve heard a lot of that. You probably have too.
Now we can start demanding accountability from colleges — particularly public ones — about their admission processes and procedures and how they’re being protected from bribery and scams.
“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases,” as our old pal Justice Louis D. Brandeis said. “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
And we can examine the way we approach and talk about college with the kids in our own lives. Let some sunshine in there too.
I wrote a column about what I want high school seniors to know in the wake of this scandal. Namely: College is the beginning of something, not the end.
College is where you fill your mind with new ideas and binge on new philosophies and try on new personalities and fall in love with new friends, new books, new buildings, new partners. College doesn’t define you. College shapes you.
More than half a million people have read the column online so far, and many hundreds have emailed me — high school students, parents, teachers, admissions officers, a guy from Perth, Australia. (Hi, Perth!)
Some wrote variations on “This is news?” But most offered thoughtful, layered perspectives, shaped by parenting a high schooler or being a high schooler or attending a tiny, barely known college and absolutely loving it or not attending college at all.
“I hate the emphasis on ‘college,’ “ Peg wrote to me. “Why can’t we say post-high school education? Two of my three children attended traditional college, one even earning a master’s degree. Both are very successful and happy. My third child attended a trade school and is also very successful and happy.”
A reader named Colleen shared a similar thought. “My son didn’t go to college, he went into the trades,” she wrote. “He was not one to sit in a classroom. My daughter has not started college yet because she was in no way prepared for it. They are both in their mid-20s. My husband and I have stepped back and allowed them to explore life, to learn some significant life lessons that will help them become independent, empowered adults. They always have our support and encouragement, but only they can determine how they want to live their lives.”
And a reader named Meg added this:
“At some point when our oldest child was looking at colleges, someone shared the following with me: ‘Think of five people you admire (who are not related to you) and tell me where they went to college.’ I can’t, nor could anyone else I know.”
Author and educator Rosalind Wiseman, best known for her 2002 New York Times best-seller, “Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence,” added her voice to the conversation with a brilliant essay on Grown & Flown, a parenting blog.
“Our children’s happiness will never be dependent on what college they attend,” Wiseman writes. “Their happiness is, and will always be, based on contributing to something larger than themselves, curiosity, meaningful social connection, a hope of success, and having a place to process and find peace as they navigate the inevitable conflicts and challenges they face.”
To that end, she urges grown-ups to stop asking the high schoolers in their lives where they’re going to college.
This feels especially urgent at this moment — when a whole bunch of seniors are waiting for acceptance letters, and when we’re engaged in a national dialogue about the entire admissions process.
Reflexively asking high schoolers where they’re headed in the fall adds to their anxiety.
Wiseman asked some of the young people she works with what they’d rather hear from adults. Here’s what they said.
Are you taking any classes in school that you like and are really interested in?
What do you think are important issues high school students care about?
What do you think is the best use of your time after you graduate from high school?
I’m sure you can think of your own questions as well.
The point is, we can use this moment to examine all of the big and small ways we’ve veered off-course when it comes to helping our kids grow into productive, fair-minded, successful adults.
Whether and where they go to college isn’t shorthand for who they are. Let’s own — and adjust — our part in making them feel as though it is.