Do you know who wasn’t surprised when the college admissions / standardized testing scandals broke? Educators. Do you know why? Because we have been dealing with Aunt Becky and her kids for a long, long time.
They are the family who doesn’t live in the school zone but lies to come because there’s a “good” reason to. Maybe the school has a better reputation for academics or a better sports team, or maybe the kid just likes the school colors better.
They are the kids who can barely put together a coherent sentence when asked to write something in class but somehow marshall their cognitive abilities to compose gorgeous essays outside of class when Mom or Dad is there to “help” them.
They are the kids who are late or absent because they just didn’t feel like coming to school and have an excuse letter from a parent in hand. “Please excuse X. She was sick.”
They are the parents who fight over every accurate assessment — down to the last point — that suggests that their child is anything less than extraordinary.
We see it at science fairs when kids turn in projects that were clearly completed by an adult. We see it in the front office when a lawyer shows up to meet with the administrators along with the parents even though the kid absolutely broke a school rule. We see it when a kid brings in a note from a parent, excusing the student from doing homework, summer reading, a project, or anything else that they didn’t feel like doing. We see it when a kid has an evaluation written by a private psychologist to support an IEP or 504 plan that would allow extra time on assignments and tests when no teacher or school psychologist thinks it’s warranted. We see it when parents discuss their child’s college plans by using collective pronouns as in, “We’re looking at the University of X as our first option.”
They are the helicopter parents who hover over their kids and swoop in at the first sign of distress or discomfort. They are the lawnmower and Zamboni parents who travel ahead of their kids and smooth the way for them, eliminating obstacles and ensuring that nothing obstructs their chosen paths.
And do you know what makes Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman and all of the other parents who scammed their kids’ way into college different from all the parents I’ve rolled my eyes at over the years? Do you know what makes them different from me, if I’m being totally honest? Money.
If I close my eyes, I can still smell the sweet baby heads of my own children. I remember that fierceness kick in, the feeling that commands me to protect those little people above everything else. I know that the “protection” is supposed to be of life and limb. but man it’s hard to see your kids struggle!
I’ve cut a few moral and ethical corners for my kids. Sometimes it was simply because it was expedient to my purposes and because I figured no one would care. It wouldn’t really matter. Other times it was because I wanted to level the playing field a little. I wanted to make sure that my kids weren’t at any disadvantage, that they had what everyone else has and therefore an equal chance at success and happiness.
My pockets are nowhere near as deep as Felicity Huffman’s or Lori Laughlin’s. If they were, do I think I’d lie and cheat to get my kids into better colleges? No, I really don’t. But I do know that there is a very thin line between what they did and some of the things that I’ve done and a lot of the things that I’ve seen other parents do for their kids over the years during my tenure as an educator.
I get it that it feels good to clear the road and make sure everything is wide open for our kids’ progress and success. It feels like being a “good mother,” right? But I know that being a good mother means letting my kids fail, giving them the chance to learn from their mistakes, allowing them the room to screw up and then move on.
I, like I think a lot of other parents, have been a little smug about the thought of Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman getting caught. I mean, who do they think they are? But if I’m really honest, I know that I’m connected to them in at least the impulses and rationales that made them do what they did. And even though I’ve never actually committed a crime on behalf of any of my kids, I have robbed them at least once or twice of opportunities to grow as people from the discomforts and failures I protected them from.