Sure. I believe in integration… but… College!

Some of the objections/concerns we hear from parents about sending their babes to integrating schools goes something like this: “the world is just SO competitive. Getting in to college is SO crazy-fierce. I just can’t take the risk of not sending mine to the best high/middle/elementary/pre-school!

Setting aside for now the much-needed conversation about “good/bad” schools and what criteria defines that, here’s a little dose of valium: colleges aren’t as hard to get into as we have been led to believe. In fact, the hype that causes such anxiety is directly in service to the universities who get cookies and alumni dollars, etc. etc. by claiming increasing selectivity. This: “while universities and colleges may be bragging about record numbers of applications, there are notrecord numbers of applicants….if anyone should be worried these days, it’s the colleges.”

In addition to the university-admission-frenzy, we parents also face the question of what kind of adults we want our kids to be and what kind of game we are making them play… Is it one in which we are “twisting American high school students into moral and intellectual pretzels” … by “distorting their high school experience to create a perfect but phony profile they deem necessary to get into the best schools”?

This game, researchers note, has created a “nationwide epidemic of school-related stress….Expectations surrounding education have spun out of control. On top of a seven-hour school day, our kids march through hours of nightly homework, daily sports practices and band rehearsals, and weekend-consuming assignments and tournaments. Each activity is seen as a step on the ladder to a top college, an enviable job and a successful life.” There’s a lot of sketchy cultural math right here. Does a successful life depend only upon an enviable job — where is happiness, emotional fulfillment, personal relationships, spirituality, etc etc etc in this equation? Does an enviable jobrequire a top college or just A college, or (gasp!) even any college? Does a top college guarantee these successes?

This is a problem not only for students (and their ever-traipsing, why-can’t-we-have-dinner-together parents) but for universities as well. Indeed! Universities are starting to question whether all this AP-class-mania/GPA-grubbing/application-padding high school game prepares students to be the good, successful citizens they hope to claim as alumni. Says Harvard’s Turning the Tide report, “too often, today’s culture sends young people messages that emphasize personal success rather than concern for others and the common good.” Turning the Tide was written by a “broad coalition of college admissions offices” to encourage high school students to focus on meaningful, ethical and intellectual engagement and aims to reduce excessive achievement pressure. To be a good college candidate might not be all about just being out for oneself.

So when we get swept into this (false!) game of believing that there isn’t enough college for everyone, and that the likelihood of a “successful” life depends so heavily upon high school Achievement (which may, then, in turn depend on middle school, elementary school and even pre-school Achievement), we are not only feeding the beast, but we are also:

  • beating the living crap out of childhood
  • limiting children’s meaningful experiences that build empathy and kindness in favor of a narrow definition of success
  • disadvantaging other people’s kids by eschewing integration because we assume it won’t offer what we think our kids need and thereby concentrating privilege (it’s hard to push for equity when we are continually seeking advantage)

The competition is not so fierce. What we/our kids have to do to play the game is awful. And it may not lead to the life we hope for our kids. If any of this resonates, then perhaps we can cleave away some of the risk we associate with integrated/ing schools, with “bad” schools, with schools that aren’t privilegey. If any of this resonates, then thinking about ALL children and not just ours isn’t such a “sacrifice.” If any of this resonates, integration might just be a little more appealing, and upholding a “common good” may include our kids.

**Of course there are integrated/integrating schools that push hard at this game, too. But when we hear white/privileged families talking about college anxieties, these are not the schools they are imagining will set their kids up for “success.”

Is the Drive For Success Making Our children Sick? (NY Times)

How College Admissions are Distorting the Character of High School Students (Deseret News)

Good News for College Applications: Getting In is Easier Than You Think (Hechinger Report)

Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern For Others And The Common Good Through College Admissions (Harvard University)

see also:

The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture

The Rat-Race of Childhood: Why We Need to Balance Student’s Lives (Washington Post)

(I’ve written about this before… I Just Want the Best for My Kid)