The Consequences Of A Corrupt Academic System

‘I’ ON CULTURE

I was standing in line at a restaurant to get some food and heard a few women in front of me complaining that their children were all upset about the start of the formal testing season. One woman said that her eight-year-old had been hysterical; he was taking the standardized test for the first time and was terrified. The other women said their kids were also scared, and all complained that their children had been forced to work on test questions for the past month instead of doing regular school work.

My daughter told me that a friend she knows who has children in the same nursery school as my grandsons is planning to switch schools because the new one is “more academically oriented.” We seem to be competing for the kids while they’re barely toilet trained. What ever happened to childhood? When do our kids and grandkids get to play?

All of this is about the great competition known as “getting into a good college.” Of course, we know the system is fixed. There are all sorts of factors that have replaced excellence as part of the competition. Yes, we have the open cheating scandal in the news. And there was another case of it, less covered because there were no celebrities, where Chinese students had others taking key tests for them. Some of the replacements had taken and done well on a dozen of these tests for other people. And we have rapper Dr. Dre, who proudly said that his daughters had made it into USC without having to cheat. Others pointed out that he and some friends had donated $70 million to the school. Most of us don’t have that much ready cash on hand.

So, we are giving up our children’s childhood in order to prepare them to enter a fixed lottery. When I was in school, many years ago, by the third grade we were reading cut-down versions of books like The Three Musketeers. Reading was fun. All of us of a certain age remember going through Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear in high school. Not to mention Dickens and even Thomas Hardy.

Now students read selected short stories and books designated at Young Adult to focus on materials for standard testing. And the trend continues: I read that even at Harvard, an English literature major does not have to take even one class on Shakespeare.

The system is so fixed that a lot of students who never would attend top colleges are there, and so the colleges water down requirements. It does not happen as much in engineering, math and science because of subject matter. A student who is just “pretty good” at math is going to have a horrible time competing with the brilliant. Yet courses are watered down, and many students change majors. Sociology is not nearly as challenging as doing variable analysis in calculus.

We know all of this and have accepted the unfair practices although, in general, most of this has been hidden from the public. There are teams of academic obscurers and legal specialists who use reams of paper to justify but also hide all of the discrepancies.

But it is our children who suffer while the government sends tax money to colleges that violate any sense of true equity. The Ivy League schools are considered the springboard for real success. Every member of the U.S. Supreme Court attended an Ivy League school. So, the best students want to go to places like that and are often turned away, not because they are not good enough, but because the game is fixed.

It has been suggested that only students who receive a specific score on the SATs be allowed to take part in a lottery that would pick the possible future leaders of the nation. Sounds crazy? It is certainly less unfair than what we have.

In the meantime, we are pushing our children and grandchildren to give up their childhood in order to take part in a crooked crap game that will determine their future.