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The Recent College Admissions Cheating Scandal is not the Biggest College Admissions Cheating Scandal

By Michael A. Johnson

Let’s face it, many Americans applaud and reward cheaters and liars. My wonderful 1950-60’s   teachers at Brooklyn’s P.S. 9 elementary school told us that if we were honest, well-behaved, decent and studied hard that we could grow up to be President. Politically realistic or not, I get that they were trying to encourage and inspire us to be our best possible selves. Nowadays, U.S. elementary school students could conceivably be told with confidence that if they misbehave, cheat, lie, act indecently crude and then collude with a foreign government, they, too could become President!

Principals of Title 1 (poor) high schools must find this college admissions cheating story painful. After all, you can see the faces of those brilliant college-worthy children from working-class/poor families, those (barely) living in temporary housing, group homes or foster care, for whom moving into a college dorm and acquiring a college meal plan could mean the first stable and healthy “homelife” they experience in their lives. These are the kids who hold down full- or part-time jobs for 3-4 years because they must contribute to the survival of their families and yet they always maintain high academic-achievement standards. That very smart young lady whose parents had to work weekend jobs to make sure the family had a roof over their heads and food on the table, so I had to come into the school on Saturdays to baby-sit her two siblings while she took her SAT prep course. The wonderful “college dreamers” living with hardworking parents who never had the opportunity to attend college and therefore couldn’t play the “legacy admissions” card to “sidedoor/backdoor” their child into college. The disinherited youth with no hope of receiving a rich financial inheritance, children of parents without powerful contacts and connections to guide, mentor and support their successful ascendency in society. How can they compete when the fake meritocracy game is rigged for the aristocracy to always win?              

Title 1 high school principals will need to be extra creative and work extra hard in selling the: “Hard Work and Perseverance will win” storyline, but sell it they must, even in the face of societal hypocrisy; what other option do they have? For many students, a college education is their best opportunity to “break the chains” of many painfully debilitating social, educational and economic narratives, some of which have haunted their families for generations. 

Our national values allow for the “doubling-down” on the vulgar advantages of wealth. A child who enjoys 5-star homelife conditions attends high expectations and student empowering schools–the same schools with enriching (and rich) learning equipment, materials and resources, quality learning conditions, classrooms with highly effective teachers, the superabundance of out-of-school informal educational learning experiences. Why would these kids need illegal unfair advantages when they already have all of the legal, unfair advantages society can offer?  

College admissions disadvantages begin early by virtue of a child’s race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, parent education, wealth and access to information; and if all those barriers don’t succeed (amazingly, they don’t always) in shrinking or sinking a disenfranchised child’s college hopes, there is always their zip code. The zip code is the last line of defense of advantage for the wealthy, for it can almost guarantee that even the smartest and ablest disentitled child will attend a school malnourished of essential equipment and resources; share their school with lots of struggling fellow students who don’t receive the necessary academic, counseling and social services support they need; be exposed year after year to inexperienced/uncertified teachers and/or teachers who are not allowed to teach in the “good zip code” schools. And although these exceptionally bright children would be perfect candidates for Gifted & Talented Programs, they will find a hard time finding one in their school or district.

One “hot news” college admissions scandal won’t affect the many other more common “undercover” forms of entitlement admissions cheating. Do we really expect Congress to pass a law banning philanthropic individuals from making financial donations (with “invisible strings” attached) to universities? Not in a world where what you have, who you know and not what you know can define a child’s future possibilities.

Americans of fairness and decency can act by stopping the college admissions disadvantages that prevent many children in our public schools from accessing a quality K-12 education worthy of their ability, gifts and talents. We need compassionate citizen-activists to protect our most unprotected children, those students who only need an opportunity, not a bribe to get into college. This would mean that these “good-hearted folks” take a stand and be in solidarity with our nation’s disentitled parents, whose hearts and hopes for their children are continually broken by broken public education systems. Somehow, I keep writing and hoping that this “moral task” is not too far an empathic distance for the “good-hearted folks” to travel.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public schoolteacher, Science Skills Center director, principal and a school district superintendent. He recently completed a book on school leadership: “Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership.”[http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/]                                 

TAGS: College Admissions Scandal, College Admissions Cheating, College Admissions News.

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