So, a humongous story in education and parenting politics story hits this week, and where I am? I just dashed out a quick open thread for you all to talk and then retreated to twitter and to another article that I was working on for weeks that is having issues and to handle Ian’s IEP meeting.
But now the problem article has been put on the backburner. I’m skipping a trip to the gym this morning. Ian’s situation is settled for the time being. And here I am. What part of this story shall I handle first? I could probably just write non-stop for hours. Hmmmm. I think I’ll talk in general about high-income parents and the college process.
I wrote about parents and education a couple of years ago for The Atlantic and then spent the better part of the winter putting together a fellowship application to expand that article into a book. (Fingers crossed. I’ll find out in April, if it happens.)
So, I’m out here in an upper-middle class suburb of New Jersey. The parents aren’t at the level of Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman. They aren’t able to bribe people to take their kids SATs or buy a building for a college, but they do have some means. More than we do.
I’m a bit of an outsider in this town, not just because we didn’t have a six figure 529 for our son. We moved here when Jonah was in seventh grade, so I don’t have the strong connections to other families that are typically established when the kids are in nursery school. As a special ed parent, I see the world very differently from other parents; I’ve learned to redefine a successful life as simply a job, an apartment, and a romantic partner. And my academic training always helps me view life here in a detached sort of way.
While those Uber-wealthy parents who are at the heart of the latest scandal, were guilty of some rather egregious crimes — crimes that could lead to jail time and have already lead to much public outrage — it’s not that hard to understand how it happened.
Their crimes are simply the logical and extreme extension of behavior that is seen as normal and acceptable a few notches down on the economic ladder.
To clarify, when I talk about parents in the suburbs, I am mostly talking about women. The job of ushering kids from nursery school to college is firmly on women’s laps. The guys are simply too busy making money. Whether they are full-time parents, have flexible jobs in real estate, or have high powered jobs in law or medicine, women are in charge of the kids’ education.
If they are full time parents, they have more tools at their disposal. For example, they become PTA presidents in exchange for backroom deals with the principals for better teachers for their children. But the women with high powered jobs still have a lot of control. They simply make calls from their offices on Wall Street to their nannies and tutors and other support staff at home.
All of the women are highly educated and very professional. Even the women who are home full time have serious resumes. It is not unusual for the PTA president to have an MBA from Harvard. The PTAs here are run like Fortune 500 companies.
So, these type A individuals are used to achieving and winning. And they attack their jobs as parents with the same zeal and perfectionism that took them to the top of their investment bank before they had children. Yes, some of these moms are former traders on the cut throat world of Wall Street. So, that ruthless competitive personality is now on the pick-up lines at the elementary school. And their children are their new job.
When it was time to get Jonah ready for college, we did way more than my parents did, but way less than another parent in our town. He took a two-week, low cost SAT class. I made a chart for him on the fridge with important deadlines. I steered him to colleges that I knew that he could get into and that we could afford. We visited some of the schools, not all, that he applied too.
At the time, I was a little cross about everything that we did, because my parents didn’t do any of that for me. All those tasks, I did on my own back in high school.
But I didn’t hire a college coach. I didn’t write his essay for him. I didn’t fill in his applications for him. I didn’t film him while he was opening his college acceptance e-mail, and livestream the blessed event on Facebook.
And I told him no, when he wanted to go to a school that was going to cost us about $100K more in four years than our in-state college. I guiltlessly told him no. Are we the most evil parents in the world? Some in our town might think so.
I was chatting with a friend yesterday at YMCA swim practice about all of this. (Sidenote: I spent the whole day on twitter with academics/writers/education people talking about this. Then talked about it with real life moms. And then watched more discussion of this topic later at the gym on the TV console above my treadmill. When does that ever happen?)
My buddy, who is tied more closely to the crazy parents in town than I am, said that a $5-10K college coach is very typical around here. I scoffed at the idea when I heard about it a few years ago. Arrogantly, I think I know more about colleges than any anybody else, so that seemed like a huge waste of money.
But the buddy said that her friends were using the coaches for more than steering the kids to the right schools. These coaches were filling in the essays and short answer questions on their kids’ applications.
I said that if the kids aren’t smart enough to fill in their college essays themselves, they would end up flunking out of college. They wouldn’t be able to pass their exams. She shrugged. The kids with their coached applications were making through college just fine.
Now, why is that? Maybe it’s because the college application process is ridiculous. Maybe it’s because the parents continue hovering and coaching while the kids are in college.
I know people who write their kids’ college term papers for them. Not editing them. Like they do the readings, research, whole paper, footnotes, everything.
Alright, this post is long enough. I’m going publish and write more later.