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March 22 2019

Vanity Fair and the College Admissions Scandal

by Charlotte Hays

Like the rest of us, Kay Hymowitz is riveted by the college admissions scandal.

For Kay, the scandal is an American Vanity Fair, with the wholesome Aunt Becky of Full House transformed into ruthless, conniving Becky Sharp of the Thackeray novel. 

What were the parents in the American Vanity Fair seeking? Kay writes:

What sets Operation Varsity Blues apart and caused the public outrage, of course, is its American context. The parents were not seeking riches, fame, or even elite status in any conventional sense: they already had that.

Between the two of them, Felicity Huffman and Bill Macy are estimated to be worth $45 million; their daughters would never be lacking in American Express black cards or invitations to friends’ Aspen chalets. Olivia Jade was already on her way to online stardom, at least within her peer group.

No, they were not looking for financial rewards or klieg lights. What they wanted was for their kids to fit in as members of the cognitive elite. Anand Giridharadas, NBC political analyst and fire-and-brimstone scourge of America’s richest, tweeted about the scandal that America’s ruling class “confuses its privilege for merit.”

That’s exactly backward. The Operation Varsity parents opened their wallets precisely because they knew their children did not have the right stuff. They wanted elite status for their children, and in a meritocracy, even one as tattered as our own, high SATs and extracurriculars leading to a hoity-toity college degree are the ticket. The parents of Operation Varsity will probably get over the humiliation of a mugshot, but their kids will never live down being outed as meritocratic losers.

Of course it all backfired horrendously:

Which takes us to the only good news in this whole sordid affair: buying your way into cognitive-elite respectability is trickier than anyone thought. Even if you avoid jail, you are surrounded by people who are expert at sniffing out meritocratic poseurs, namely those with modest IQs.

Just a thought of my own about today's "cognitive elite:"

I've compared their values (and previously mentioned this comparison) to older American values, specifically a quote from an older private-school environment, something my grandfather quoted admiringly until his dying day.

It was what his boyhood schoolmaster had used as a motto for the boys committed to his care:  You may not all be scholars, he told the boys in his charge, but you can all be gentlemen.

This didn't mean that he wanted kids to be dumb, or didn't value brains. It just meant that there is something more important.

Meritocracy is a great thing but somehow it's careened onto a funny course; today's cognitive elite doesn't seem to do believe in the former purpose of education, which included shaping the whole person.

If the whole person were important, these parents would have been looking for the right schools, some place the kids could flourish, not mere status symbols, for their progeny.

And they would not have cheated.

 

 

 





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