Wednesday, March 13, 2019

My Spot

For a long time, we've listened to white students complain about Black students taking their spots in college admissions, blaming affirmative action for their failure to get into the college of their choice. They rail against "reverse racism" and being treated unfairly, as if this spot at their ideal university is somehow guaranteed to them, and the only reason they didn't get it is because someone cheated them out of their birthright. This is one of the effects of privilege, the idea that something is owed to you, especially with a racial context, or the assumption of another person's inferiority, again, especially based on race. To be clear, it is prejudiced and privileged to assume that you didn't get into a specific university because some faceless Black student took the last seat in the classroom, and further assuming that this stock photo Black student must have been less qualified and therefore only got in because of his or her race. And now, the real fraud and "affirmative action" is coming to light.

Recently, all the scandal involving rich white parents committing outright fraud, plagiarism, and cheating to get their kids into elite schools has highlighted the real effects of privilege and discrimination. To be sure, not all of the privilege is connected to race, and more of it is connected to class and wealth, but I'm still waiting for the families of color to be indicted or exposed in this cheating ring, as opposed to the LITERAL Aunt Becky. The truth is, if there were any under-qualified and undeserving students stealing your spot at a university, they were far more likely to be white and rich than Black and poor. These families were sending ringers in to take the SAT test for their kids, or paying officials to change their scores. They were falsifying athletic records, including photo-shopping their kids' faces onto real athletes' bodies, in order to get them a rowing scholarship or a polo scholarship, or whatever other rich kid sport you can think of.

On a side note, can you think of a more elitist, rich snob sport than polo? It's as if they looked at soccer and really wanted to play, but my goodness, all the running!

The truth is that these kids already had every advantage over poorer students, and it still wasn't enough to get them where they wanted to be without cheating. They went to the best prep schools. "Prep," by the way, is supposed to stand for "preparatory," which is supposed to mean that these families pay exorbitant amounts of money for a school to get them ready for entrance into the top universities in the country. Even then, these kids have to cheat to get in. They have the best teachers that money can buy, while poorer kids struggle with the teachers who are willing to work for half the salary. Prep school kids have the best resources available to them, while poorer kids have obsolete technology and limited access to scientific equipment. These rich kids have the safest and most luxurious facilities for learning and sports, while poorer kids have schools that are falling apart. Rich kids have access to tutors and all sorts of programs to help them boost their scores on standardized tests, while poorer kids have outdated software and study guides in their libraries. Rich students take week-long field trips to Europe to soak up culture and history, while poorer kids who want to go to better schools take a two-hour field trip every day, riding a bus sometimes an hour each way, just for a better education.

And even then, many of these rich kids are so incompetent and so unaware of the advantages they have, they still don't have the grades or the test scores to get them into the universities that were basically built just for people like them. If one of the poorer students does have the drive to apply their intelligence in the classroom and achieve higher grades, and is willing to put in the hours after school to study independently to fill in the gaps in their education, and is either naturally good at testing or consumes every prep tool he or she can find, and has the confidence and boldness to apply at an elite university, there's a high chance that a rich kid with lower grades and a lower (honest) SAT score will get in instead of him or her.

Just consider for a moment the real function of the SAT and ACT tests, and the reason they have become such a controlling factor in college admissions. There have long been accusations about the test being culturally biased in favor of white male students, and there's a lot of evidence to back them up. The test makers have definitely responded to these issues, and the test is fairer in some ways, but that doesn't change the fact that the test still exists basically as a filter to keep poorer students out of college.

I know that sounds outrageous, but what other function does the test have? Studies have never conclusively proved that there is a clear or causal link between high entrance test scores and higher college success. For years, teachers, students, guidance counselors have been asking why college admissions can't just be based on GPA and actual school performance, and why so much emphasis is put on this limited window into a student's aptitude. The problem is that not every school gives the same quality of education, and straight A's in a low-performing school with a low rate of graduation is not the same as in a school with more rigor and more advanced classes. It could even be said that straight A's in the former school should count for less than A's and B's in the latter. The SAT and ACT are supposed to provide a measuring tool for all students, regardless of the quality of their high school education.

But the problem with this is that, while the test is intended to promote students who are truly ready for college and block those that aren't, it doesn't deal with the problem of disparity in education. Instead of making sure that the poorer kids in our country get the same quality of education as the richest, we rely on this test to weed out poorer students who have otherwise done the absolute best they could with the educational opportunities that we provided them. We put so many obstacles in their path to higher education, and then, if they overcome all of them, we make sure that there's one more gatekeeper, one more bouncer at the door of the club who says, "you're not on the list."

This is what boils my blood about this whole scandal. If these rich kids are having to cheat a system that was designed to promote their privilege in the first place, then how incompetent must they be? If their parents are willing to pay this much money and commit these kinds of frauds to get their kids into college, then isn't it logical to think that they are encouraging cheating and plagiarism in the classroom as well? We know that academic dishonesty is rampant in schools today, and higher in more elite high schools. So with all that natural and unnatural privilege and advantage, you mean to tell me that these rich kids still don't have the credentials to get into an elite university? And with all of this going on, we're still pointing the finger of unfairness at Black and other minority students, as if they're the ones cheating the system?

I hope that this scandal helps to change the way we perceive college admissions, and maybe even the system itself. I hope that we improve education for all our students, instead of placing more obstacles in their way. I hope that when middle and lower class white students think about their place on campus and their chances in college admissions, that they focus on their own talents and accomplishments and make the best of the situation, instead of worrying about the schools they didn't get into. And I hope that if they do feel slighted or cheated out of a spot at their favorite college, the start looking at the kid who pulls up to campus in a BMW instead of the kid who takes the bus.

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