The Illusions Of Meritocracy.

The one good thing about the crazy college admissions scandal story is that it has brought up a lot of excellent conversations about the illusion of meritocracy in college admissions. I know my default state – before ever challenging my own thoughts on privilege – was to think that my kid getting into college and receiving scholarship money to help was simply about MERIT. But if I hadn’t already started realizing this was false during my years of trying to educate myself on systemic injustices, I definitely would have realized it in the critical opinion pieces I’ve read in the last few days.

Ways in which I have used my extra income as a solid member of middle class to give my kids an advantage for college admissions:

  1. Pay for extracurricular activities like sports and creative endeavors. Some which cost anywhere from $200 to $1000 annually for practice, competitions, gear and travel.
  2. Pay for extra educational experiences in the form of travel and museums and theatre and art exhibits and books.
  3. Pay for summer camps and outdoor activities that build confidence. And the most specific and underrated of all…
  4. Pay for specific ACT/SAT test-taking tutoring/counseling.

The last one is the key right there. If your kid is not great at standardized testing, you can find moderately-priced tutoring designed to teach kids A) what to expect and B) How to take these important tests. We payed $600 for one and it helped our kid get a partial scholarship to the college he ended up graduating from.

I love my kid and obviously think he is smart enough to deserve the partial scholarship he got, but do I think he deserved it MORE THAN EVERY KID WHO DID NOT? No. Not anymore anyway. Maybe I did once. But now I understand that tons of kids probably had more natural aptitude or potential but were lost in schools that were not funded well, or kids who missed out on important experiences – both educational and developmental – because they were…born poor? I mean, think of some of the kids who get to college age and never went to a museum, or live theatre, or never owned a book or got to play organized sports, or who never had tutoring or parents who had the time and the energy to advocate for them? Or maybe simply suffered from food insecurity or the lack of a safe environment, both which do terrible things to a child’s brain while they’re trying to simply learn to read or do addition. Do those kids who then don’t get admitted or don’t get scholarships to college…do they actually have LESS MERIT? Or did they start off so far behind there was never enough to help them catch up to even compete?

It’s all false. There is no way to look at college admissions as a meritocracy unless you ignore all of the underlying privileges that middle class and especially being white, can give you in the 18 years before you start applying.

So while what these parents did was definitely illegal, I’ve been legally giving my kids advantages their whole life. My kids are going to take spots in colleges because of the money I used to support them academically and developmentally to help educate them and to help them build confidence and to gain life experience. All of this to improve their overall education. Even in public schools I have used my money to give them advantages over less fortunate kids in the form of piano lessons and year-round swim teams and trips to new museums and books to own and put on their bookshelf. To pretend any educational opportunity awarded them is based 100% on merit is a dangerous misconception that perpetuates the unjust systems that built the framework for their success.

2 Comments

  • Julie

    Once again–you nailed it!!!
    Will be sharing this post for sure, and by share I mean printing it and setting it on someone’s desk 😉

  • Grace

    Amen. I wonder why those very very very financially rich parents spent so much to get their kids in. If they have that much $, why not just let the kid stay on the parental payroll?

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