Winners and losers are often sorted not by merit but by privilege (or subterfuge). And even the winners lose. Actually, all of us do, because through this overwrought culling, we’re teaching a generation of children values that stink. There are moral wages to the admissions mania, and we need to wrestle with those.
At its worst, it “corrodes the development of core aspects of young people’s ethical character, often fueling their self-interest, compromising their integrity, and depleting their capacity to either know themselves deeply or to authentically articulate their identity,” reads a draft of a new report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project, which for the last few years has been a leading advocate for a less calculated and cutthroat process. “Many young people become cynical both about a system that seems unfair and divorced from their interests, and about the adults who created it.”
I was given an exclusive advance copy of the report, which will be published on Monday. Although it was written before the bribery and fraud arrests, it almost seems to have anticipated them. And it articulates the concerns that many of us have long had about the road that kids frequently travel toward the country’s most venerated and selective schools: the plotting of every major and minor step in terms of how it will look on an application; the lavish expenditures, by affluent families, on a veritable pit crew of tutors and trainers and admissions strategists; the gross overselling of accomplishments; the parental micromanaging; the working of any conceivable angle and pulling of any reachable strings.