In two months, my wife will be giving birth to our first child. Becoming a parent has always been a scary proposition, but never more so than now. You see, in the world of admissions, I’ve now become the enemy.
At least, it seems that way if you take your cue from this recent feature from The New Yorker Magazine about the Internet scandals that have rocked the august New York (Riverdale) prep school Horace Mann. I’ve been to Horace Mann and have marveled at the cutting edge facilities wrapped up in an old world campus. I’ve noted the success rates of their students in applying to top universities. Granted, I was only there one day, but it seemed like a pretty great place to learn and prepare for life.
After reading the feature about Facebook scandals and parental bullying of the school’s educators, I’m not so sure. It seems like teaching (and therefore learning) in the face of a tyrannical parent board is next to impossible. And I’m quite sure this sort of thing is happening at other elite prep schools. I received a first-hand look at parental pressure during my time in undergraduate admission and imagine that that the dial has only been cranked in one direction in the interim. How can students be expected to learn when their lives are scripted, when they bear no responsibility, and when there are no consequences for their actions? We laugh at shows like Gossip Girl for being so ridiculous, but reality might be even more ridiculous.
The worst part is that the cycle will only continue as today’s teenagers reap the rewards from their parents’ insidious behavior and then – having sufficiently learned by example – set off on a path to repeat it.
Fortunately, this sort of boorish pay-your-way-out-of-anything approach to parenting and education does not extend to every pocket of affluence in our country. I’ve enjoyed observing those parents who have fourth grade students in my wife’s class at a private school in Pacific Palisades. In nearly unanimous fashion, this group supports the school and its educators, has expectations for their children’s behavior, and maintains proper perspective. Even more promising, I’ve seen many of these parents adopt the same approach with older children – kids who are gearing up for the competitive process of private high school admissions and then, of course, for college. It’s a great relief to find that there are still some families – some parents – who recognize value in true education.
Hopefully I can identify a few more of those to look up to – and fast. After all, I’ve only got two months left.