An Anxious Aristocracy

From the Business Insider:

  • Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are among 40 people indicted by the FBI and US attorney’s office in Boston in an alleged college admissions scandal.
  • The scam allegedly involved parents having their children pose as athletes regardless of athletic abilities to get accepted into Division-1 universities.
  • Parents are also accused of paying to have a man take ACT and SAT tests for their children.
  • Schools involved include Georgetown, Stanford, University of California, Los Angeles, Yale, University of Texas, University of Southern California and Wake Forest, according to NBC Boston.

Care to comment Alexis Nedd?

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“Rip Your Hair Out” Pressure

That’s a Los Angeles, California Harvard-Westlake high schooler describing her Advanced Placement heavy course load. HW is L.A.’s preeminent private high school.

A recent article in the LA Times described it as a place “. . . where some families view anything short of an Ivy League admission as failure.” Next week in my graduate sociology of education course, we’re watching a documentary titled “The American Dream at Groton”. Groton is the East Coast version of HW. Check out the tuition at Groton.

HW thrives because even very wealthy parents suffer from economic anxiety. Consequently, they’re desperate to extend their privilege to their children. They think HW = highly selective college = a high paying job = a comfortable life. But not necessarily a meaningful one. Parents don’t send their children to HW to ponder what makes life most meaningful.

But to HW’s credit, apparently students sometimes end up doing just that in classes like “Ethics: Philosophical Traditions and Everyday Morality”. After fourteen students dropped out two years ago citing depression—some at the school have “pulled back”.

Like Matt LaCour, the baseball coach. Recently a player of LaCour’s told him he wanted to try out for the school play, “Hairspray.” Lacour encouraged him to saying, “I’ve got to allow a kid to find himself in high school.”

Theater arts instructor, Ted Walch, said he would like to see more time for his students “to be bored and to daydream and to be kids.” “We are a powerful enough school,” he explained, “that if we pull back just a bit it’s not going to hurt anyone’s chances to get into Harvard, Yale, or Brown.”

The school is planning a workload study this year to determine whether demands on students have become excessive. HW limits homework to three hours per subject per week—more time than most college students spend studying in a typical week. The school’s new president, who was at Groton previously, has identified “academic pressure and stress” as a recurring theme and tension needing more attention.

Private elite schools always do a better job preparing students for selective colleges than the larger, much more economically and intellectually diverse world. But HW, and the new president in particular, deserve credit for recognizing that, in his words, “The great challenge. . . in schools where excellence is a value is to simultaneously have balance as a value.”

It’s important to have some ambition, the problem is when students become hyper-competitive and sacrifice their integrity and health in pursuit of especially ambitious goals. To razzle-dazzle college admission committees, many high schoolers think they must push themselves endlessly, and in the process they often end up cheating and ignoring mental and physical warning signs.

We need to rethink and redefine ambition as fulfilling one’s potential to effect positive change in some small corner of the world. Instead of striving to do well in school in order to graduate with honors, earn lots of money, and gain social status, do well to become the very best nurse, social worker, businessperson, teacher, writer, plumber, and citizen as possible.

Schools should define ambition more broadly and encourage alternative, healthier, more selfless forms of it. Don’t just single out the National Merit scholarship winners and those accepted at Ivy League schools. Pay equal attention to students who serve others on or off campus. And those who show improvement or demonstrate excellence in the whole gamut of extracurricular activities—including the arts and minor sports.

That’s one way to keep students from ripping their hair out.

LSU Removes Tough Professor

Props to my brother for highlighting this blogworthy “LSU Removes Tough Professor” article.

Mid-article I was thinking of this assessment axiom—the quality of your students’ work is a direct reflection of your teaching effectiveness. Therefore, if 90% of your students are failing, something is seriously wrong with your teaching. However, in the second half of the article, Tough Professor explains that she factors in improvement, most everyone was improving, and most people would eventually pass the course just not with the A’s and B’s they’re probably accustomed to.

I’m trying to figure out why LSU administrators caved simply because students complained. A worrisome precedent. A key point is LSU is supposed to be the state’s flagship institution; therefore, shouldn’t administrators error on the side of academic rigor? Why didn’t the administrators say something to the effect of, “If you’re not willing to work harder, maybe you should have picked a different state school.”

The administrators probably succumbed to enrollment pressures and said in effect, “We can’t afford to lose students.” But are short-term enrollment numbers worth the crippling of faculty morale and the chipping away of the institution’s academic reputation in the medium and long-term?

A statistic and a story come to mind. We know nothing about the gender of the students that complained, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a disproportionate number were males. The statistic. In 1960 there were 1.6 males for every female graduating from a U.S. four-year college. In 2003, there were 1.35 females for every male who graduated from a four-year college. I’ve written about this in the past, but from my limited vantage point, female students are leaving their male counterparts in the dust. The story. A couple of years ago I’m driving daughter and daughter’s Yale-bound friend somewhere. Me, “I’m curious, why Yale?” Her, without missing a beat, “Because I want my nose to the grindstone for four straight years.”

Our challenge is increasing the relative percentage of “nose to the grindstoners”.