About Me


Powered by Blogger.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Getting into Harvard

It's an election year, and the polls suggest it will be a tossup as to who will be president come next January. But we already know one thing. Barring an untimely death, or a stunning third party surge, we will have a Harvard graduate as president for the next  four years. In fact, President Obama and Governor Romney have three Harvard degrees between them, Romney with two (law and business) and Obama with one (law). This is not news really. Harvard and Yale graduates have monopolized the presidency since 1988. If you are 24, you have yet to see a non Harvard or Yale grad as a president, and we look to take that to 28. By comparison in the 43 years between Roosevelt and George H.W. Bush, only John F. Kennedy had an Ivy League degree, also from Harvard. Harry Truman did not even have a college degree.

Considering the tiny percentage of our population with degrees from one of these two institutions, who can blame parents and students for concluding that the single most statistically significant step you can take on the road to power is an Ivy League education. In a competitive society like ours, the importance of a high class education has not been lost on parents who want their children to succeed, and on children who want to succeed. No one wants to be left out, and no one wants their children to be left out.

Academic success starts young, and getting children into first rate childcare, pre-Kindergarten, and elementary schools has become a contact sport. Entrance into top notch prep schools or magnet high schools is equally competitive. Whole industries have developed around getting kids into the best colleges. Three articles I came across recently have heightened by awareness of this concern.

This article appeared on the front page of the New York Times a week ago Sunday, about students taking prescription drugs to improve school performance as well as test scores. Taking these drugs for purposes not intended is illegal, and also comes with health risks. Stimulants taken by students include Aderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse. A New York psychologist who treats adolescents says of private schools in the area, "It's not as if there is one school where this is the culture. This is the culture." According to a Drug Enforcement Agency agent, "We're seeing it all across the United States."

And why not? The pay off is high. Not getting into a top school leads to a less than satisfying life with potential unfilled. Getting into a top school is the path to a rich, fulfilling and satisfying life. For the same reason incentive is high for a AAA baseball player to take something to push him into a major league caliber player, so it is for children looking to get into top schools.

I read a review of this book on the purpose of a college education. The author is troubled that a college education has become utilitarian, another consumer product which will help the student achieve economic success, getting a good job, making good money. The author makes the point that college used to be about making citizens who contribute to society. The children taking Aderall and their parents seem to be more concerned about preparing students for personal achievement rather than contributing to society.

Finally, this book seems to me to be a variation on the theme. Although the topic of this book is not higher education, it fits the theme of parents spending family resources of time and money to enhance the likelihood of their children's individual achievements.

These things have me in a reflective mood. Why do I want my children to do well in school? Why do I want them to be in challenging classes? Why do I want them to go to a good college? Do well on ISTEPs? SATs? Why is it so important that they learn how to pitch a baseball, how to act, play the piano well? Is it for me? For them? For society? What is the point of a college education? What is the point of raising children at all? What does it mean that some children have access to a good education and some do not? Should I be answering these questions differently as a Christian?

These questions don't have simple answers, but they are important question with which we should be wrestling. How do some of you answer them?


Stuart Showalter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stuart Showalter said...

Thank you, Phil. Insightful. Excellent commentary. I'm thankful for an excellent education received at a Mennonite college and, for graduate school, at two public universities. None of which are Ivy League or located in the Northeast. Education is important, but in my judgment, parents have gone overboard in the pursuit of what they perceive to be the very best.

Dan Koop Liechty said...

Jill and I have spent a great deal of time grappling with these issues and would love to be involved in an ongoing conversation related to the role of privileged Christians in helping bring up the quality of education for all students. This is, in part, why Jill spends her time volunteering in a school that our children do not attend.

Phil Waite said...

Dan, This is an important question. I think this is a conversation wealth worth our time at CMC. Perhaps a Sunday School elective? Anyone else interested?

Jim Caskey said...

I'm interested.

Phil Waite said...

Thanks Jim.