Is It Time to Boycott the SAT/ACT?
In light of the news of corrupt admission practices during the last year or two, I have this dream that all students will one day boycott the SAT/ACT as an act of Civil Disobedience.
While the standardized test is not, by definition, an “immoral law,” the test is an impediment for many; an obstacle for all those except the few who have the time and the money to help navigate and game the system.
And for those few with the means, what is the opportunity cost? Hours spent in an SAT or ACT prep center means less time with mom or dad; less time with one’s grandmother, learning the family recipe before she departs to the great beyond. It means less time honing one’s interests and hobbies, discovering one’s talent, or following one’s bliss. It means less time actually reading a book or writing a novel or composing thoughts in a diary.
You know, things that make one human.
It means less time outside on a bike, playing basketball with friends, or finding your stroke on the back nine with Uncle Bill.
You know, things that are fun.
After all, youth blooms but once, and for such short of time. Poets have said such things in much better terms. That time is so essential. One’s future is often composed on a staff of only a few measures; a few notes is all it takes. Why spend months prepping for a test before spending an hour meditating on the future?
Would you marry someone because of an SAT score? Would you befriend someone because of a test score? Would you ask an applicant for a job based on an SAT score?
For students to take on the SAT and ACT Goliaths, they also must consider other obstacles: the entrenched prep centers that make a small fortune on helping Susy and Johnnie improve the scores. Are these centers actually creating lifelong learners?
Is it the best way to spend one’s money and time — for the slim chance of getting into an “elite” college that costs over $70,000 a year?
The college admissions system is not fair. We all know that. Your athletic son or daughter may have a better chance of getting into Yale than a student with perfect SAT scores.
Thinking every student has a fair shot is like thinking you can win at faro in Tombstone against Doc Holliday.
“I reckon that’s not gonna work, pard’ner.”
And why do so many want to be “elitists” anyway?
I get it: for many, it’s a business model. And as Mark Twain tells us in his great essay “Corn Pone Opinions,” one’s opinion is based on where one’s gets his biscuit buttered. A tanning salon would not be happy with published studies about melanoma. A coal executive will also deny climate change.
“You show me where a man gets his corn pone, and I’ll tell you his opinion,” Twain writes.
By boycotting the SAT and ACTs, a huge moneymaker for the College Board, (and don’t forget all those dollars to send reports to each school), students would force admissions to drop the requirement, a de facto “law.”
No violence. No pain. Just change. COVID-19 may have changed the game for good. Here’s a New York Times article.
It would make colleges actually look at one’s application rather than a standardized test score. Many colleges are already dropping the requirement or making it test-optional. It’s easy to look at a number and say yes or no. It’s harder to actually examine a person.
But we all know those numbers don’t really mean anything to many who get in. Rich daddy? You can pay the ticket price? Play basketball? Senator’s son? Diplomat’s daughter? Legacy?
“Oh, you’re from Iowa? We don’t have anyone from Iowa! We hope you’re from an inner-city in Iowa, at least, for our demographics!”
Yeah, you’re in. Fair? No. So stop playing dice with Wyatt Earp.
Instead, spend time with that which enriches your life. Read a book. Take a walk. Study the arts and sciences. Play the piano. ‘Read every treatise off the shelf,’ like Hamilton (a smart man with no SAT scores). Why throw away your shot? Be in control of your shot, rather than the fickle and expensive gods on Mt. Academia.
Spend time as deliberately as Nature, as Thoreau says. Make yourself an interesting individual at a dinner party.
And we wonder why our kids are stressed and depressed. Parents need to read the book, “Where You’ll Go is Not Who You’ll Be” by Frank Bruni. I have my students read it.
Suggestion for parents: stop using ‘elite admissions” to make you feel successful as a parent. It’s not your life. It’s your child’s life. Whether it’s a county college, Rutgers, or UDel, you’ve done a great job!
Students: it’s not a competition to see who can wear an “elite” shirt on College Acceptance Day. Or maybe it is, and that’s the whole other ugly issue. Therapy, I’m afraid, is what’s needed. Don’t believe me? Watch or read “Death of a Salesman.”
All year, I tell my highly motivated and stressed students: “You’re all going to college! One of my brightest students started at Camden County College, and now she’s a doctor! You’re smart. You have grit. You have passion.
The car you take to your dream may not be a Lexus, but it will get you to Chicago for a lot less, and with much less debt. And just maybe you can afford grad school!”
Just the other day I was having a friendly chat with a student. He was bragging about his high SAT scores. He told me what college he wanted to attend. I looked at his grades and the level of classes he was taking. There was a complete disconnect. Low scores in low classes. The kid had so much potential. Why would he spend time at SAT prep and allow actual learning to remain fallow in the field?
One article in Market Watch states that wealthy parents can spend up to $10,000 on SAT prep classes.
So many seeds need watering. Kids just need to find the right watering can. We need to trust our instincts more than we do, and I learned that from Obi One Kenobi. Or was it Emerson?
Boycott the SAT/ACT. Take your life back.
I have a suspicion that Henry David Thoreau would agree with me. But what do we know?
Thank you for reading. Find more of my work on Medium at Walter Bowne.
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