The recent scandal of parents buying their children’s way into prestigious institutions is appalling, but not surprising to many of us who study the area. The Harvard grade scandal, or pragmatic reality, of a decade ago pulled the curtain back for those who actually looked at it.
I believe that several things are lacking in the rhetoric of the recent admissions scandal (and the ongoing grade scandal): the real value of a qualification, the wilful-blindness of the academy, the complicity of the students, and the acceptance by society.
As grade inflation continues,
the value of a degree plummets – unless you actually believe that students are really that much smarter than their predecessors. The children who have had their way into an elite institution purchased for them are likely to get a very good degree. A degree that is essentially worthless.
Both the admissions scandal and the ongoing grade scandal are there because of the complicity of the faculty. Professors from the extremes of elite institutions to community colleges turn a blind eye to the realities of the rotten core of higher education – wilful-blindness. Not just the cadre of administrators who ignore the evidence, but those who teach the students. What does it say about a teacher who can’t tell the difference between a student who has fraudulently obtained a seat in their classroom and one who has legitimately earned a place?
And, what about the children who had their way bought into an elite institution? Do they bear no responsibility for dishonest behavior? They know that they have cheated the system. What kind of people are they? What kind of people will they become? What kind of leaders will they make? Do they carry no responsibility? Responsibility for a decision that will define much of the rest of their lives.
Do the businesses and organizations that accept these graduates after graduation have any role in this scandal? Surely they must be aware that these, and millions of other graduates come to them with very little more than those with little or no education. Other than the piece of paper that these graduates carry attesting to the years gaining a student experience, most of these graduates have few skills beyond well developed short-term memorization and test taking. Unless these two skills have come to define what highly-skilled really means.
The final group that is not in the spotlight is society. I doubt that this scandal would have made the front page of anything other than a local six-page newssheet if it wasn’t for the pop-status of the parents. And, yes, wealth confers idolization status on anyone who achieves it. Even now, this current and ongoing scandal has fallen out of the headlines and will only be remembered by the 17 people directly involved in getting caught. They are the villains – not for cheating the system but for getting caught.
Is it any wonder that we have skill shortages? Is it any wonder that we are trapped in a stagnation for which there appears to be no redemption? Is it any wonder that we generally look to the future with trepidation rather than hope?
We need people who can think – not people with degrees. We need people who can create – not people who can take tests. We need people who can solve problems – not people who are adept at PowerPoint. We need people who are not afraid to work – not people who focus on doing as little as possible to get the grade. As out of fashion as it might be, we need integrity – not degeneration.
Unfortunately, the entrenchment of the system means that the way things are being done is the only way that we think that we can do things.
Where is our Socrates who will shake us out of our educational ruin and reinvigorate us with excitement and vitality in learning? Unfortunately, our progress as a society is inexorably tied to education and education has abandoned learning in favor of lecturing and trivial pursuit.