Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Quiet Day

I wrote to Scott Anderson about his post: " I had a similar queasiness about The Choice profiles. It turns this
things that seemed just one more part of life (back in the dark ages
when I applied to college) to this life or death obsession. Yes, it
details the angst, pity and tragedy that this has become, and sometimes
over-deserved glee, but at the cost of feeding the beast even more!" I got to thinking it is always about perspective. When I had individual counselees, I dreaded this time of year. Sure, it would be great when kids came bounding in when they got into their dream school. I was happy because they were happy, tempered by the knowledge that this would not, in retrospect to these young people, be as big a deal as it was at the time. But the sadness of those kids who did not get into their dream school really made me feel terrible. Though I knew they would be fine, I could see how they believed at the time that something truly horrifying had occurred. Now, some people have begun asking me about how are kids did, especially the kids applying to the most competitive colleges. I had to think for a second, then I thought, I didn't really know, and, for that matter, didn't really care. Sure, I have been asking around to see if there are kids who got
waitlisted or denied everywhere and have been fielding calls from parents of kids who only got into their safety school. I, maybe smugly, think about how so many of my students have had the best college experiences when they attended their safety schools. I had two kids who went to St. Lawrence and U. Rochester who were distraught at not getting into Colgate and Bowdoin yet became these colleges biggest cheerleaders. I guess its all about expectations, and I would bet that many more kids have their safety schools widely exceed their expectations than first choices meet them. There are also so many more things in my focus now, running our second on-site college event, this one with technical schools and employers, to make sure that seniors have something to do next year who have not applied (or shouldn't) to college. I am trying to figure out how to build a master schedule with no idea how many teachers we have to work with or how I can run the
department with fewer staff. I think about the staff member I had to tell we were letting go, thinking about how this person was going to pay his mortgage or take care of his young children. I realize that our department will be judged by how many kids got into mega-selective colleges, particular the Ivies. I always think the same thing whenever someone asks me how many of our kids were going to the Ivies: Its an ATHLETIC CONFERENCE! Rutgers was in the Ivy League, but left because the athletic competition wasn't strong enough for them (that decision probably didn't work out so well for them in a PR sense).

I never had an interest in looking at colleges that were high focus when I was applying to colleges. Sure, I applied to Georgetown, but that was well pre-Patrick Ewing, and only because my uncle (a rabbi) worked there. I had no interest in going into fields like the financial services industry where I felt the lable or the contacts really mattered to me. When I told people I was going to Swarthmore (that was pre-US News Rankings), I would always have to correct them when they would say, "wasn't that an all-girls' school. No, that was Skidmore, I'd be ready to apply. But as my wife is entering the most brutal job market for teachers (she was a high school dropout who, in her late 40's, got her GED and is student teaching now to get her social studies certification), I started thinking that the way jobs are going to be had are going to be had through contacts. Then it hit me: This whole college thing that is being profiled in The Choice with these
profiles, as I read them, is not about education, but about power. Harvard, the ultimate lable, is now admitting less than 7% of its applicants. In bad economic times, for many, the best match or education (not that Harvard does not provide the best educational environment for some) can take a back seat to what is perceived as providing the most future opportunities.

I also have been thinking about my daughter's experience, also at Swarthmore (you are free to have cynical thoughts about legacies here...). She was one of those who danced around at her admission, and I had to feel happy for her because she was so happy, thinking at the end, she'd be just as happy at Middlebury or Haverford or any of the other colleges to which she was already admitted. But every time I call her or see her now, she let's me know in one way or another, how much she feels that it is the perfect place for her. I've started to think about the cynicism I feel when students are crying with joy or sadness over college admissions, and realize it is really not a good thing. I don't know, and can't know, whether this elation or feeling of tragedy is about education or power (or proof of worth to the student or good parenting to the parent). It is probably all of these, in some way or another, to many students and parents.

Its the day between Good Friday and Easter, two of the holiest of days for Christians. But to a Jew like me, it is a quiet day that doesn't have the kind of meaning of Passover or Yom Kippur. But it is an extremely important day for many, many people. That's what makes it important to me. For some, it is about the reverence and meaning of the day, for others it is about finding Easter eggs, and for most Christians, a combination of both. I guess the point is that I cannot really ever ascertain why Easter or getting into Stanford is really important to someone, I need to just respect and appreciate that it is. I just feel that what I have been reading does exacerbate the meaning of this (college admissions) into a commodity rather than an experience, in the minds of many.

No comments: