Illustration by Andrea Nebhut
We’ve all heard about the college scandal just a couple thousand times too many, so that’s not necessarily what I’m here to talk about. Quite frankly, you don’t need to hear my opinion on what is, if you ask me, a pretty black-and-white issue.
There’s not much we can disagree on here. Yes, parents bribing their children’s way into college is pretty repulsive, and it’s much more surprising that there are consequences at all than the fact that it happened in the first place.
Instead, I want to share some of the instances I witnessed growing up that started to pop back up in my memory in the last couple of weeks amid all this college admissions talk — instances that are ultimately a reminder that this whole scandal, while disappointing, is anything but a surprise.
First, I remembered sitting in a classroom at lunch during my senior year of high school. Two boys who had both already been accepted into Ivy League schools (which they wouldn’t let anyone forget) started sarcastically joking about their “full rides” to Houston Community College (HCC). In case it isn’t obvious, they would never even think about going to HCC and looked down upon those who did.
I remembered an instance at one of my friend’s high school graduation ceremonies that same year. Each student had to stand up and say where they were going to college. The students who were going to big name schools received much more applause than those who weren’t. It was made a point that these students were not only being publicly validated with thunderous applause but also being shown that they were so much more worthy of praise than those who were attending less competitive schools.
Needless to say, this starts way before high school — way before the guys who sarcastically brag about getting full rides to community college are the same people who wear a different T-shirt every day for a week displaying each elite college they had been accepted to. I really wish I had made that up.
Then, I remembered sitting in another classroom, but this one wasn’t in high school. I was in elementary school, and while all the kids in the Gifted and Talented program were herded away to a special room and given their special weekly lesson, the rest of us just sat there in a half empty room doing little to nothing just for them to come back later and tell us about all the things that “exceptional” kids got to learn while the rest of us waited to go on with our lesson.
All this to say that the U.S. has had an elitist education system way before rich parents started paying a Trinity alumnus to Photoshop their kids onto stock images of athletes. Kids are taught to feel that they’re better than others based on these kinds of privileges as early as elementary school.
In a system where being rich and having your mom on the parent-teacher association allows you to learn decimals in a room separate from than the rest of your classmates, we really shouldn’t be all that surprised when high school students who flaunt their Ivy League acceptances make condescending remarks about community college or when undeserving and under-qualified rich kids take spots at elite universities because their parents had an extra $500,000 laying around.