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The World’s Oldest Profession

August 7, 2007, 10:13 pm

Inspired by a terrific post on the Advanced Placement program from my favorite Zenith University student blog (correctly in my view, they oppose the AP, as well as everything else that makes high school such an anxious drag), the Radical wants to take up the challenge. What annoying behaviors will we who teach at Selective Liberal Arts Colleges (otherwise known as “SLACs”) soon be navigating? What false information will we be forced to dispel? Misinformation for which we cannot fault the students themselves? That I am charging directly to the account of the pressure to get into college that has been created by SLACs like Zenith and their buddies in the Ivy League, and reinforced by slavish private, public and parochial schools? Read on for the Radical’s pet peeves during first year advising:

1. The International Baccalaureate. I had a relative in an IB high school, in a state that is somewhere in the 40′s in its national ranking in the quality of its higher and secondary education. From ninth grade on, the students were told that they were doing “college level work.” What this meant, in United States History for example, was that they had to memorize hundreds of pages of a textbook every week and take long tests on the “facts” therein. OK, so even if you are coming to my survey from the United Nations International Baccalaureate School in New York — guess what? you still haven’t taken a college course. You have taken a high school course that is either really time consuming or maybe really good. Or maybe both. But it’s a high school course. Tell me you took the United States survey at the University of Michigan while a senior at the public school in Ann Arbor and I will start listening. I would bet you dollars to doughnuts that the same number of people who go to International Baccalaureate programs become hookers as the proportion of the general population who choose that path independently of having tested into an IB program. Although the hookers with IB diplomas might speak a second language, I will grant you that.

2. Helicopter parents. Why are they so called by we educators? Because they…..Hover! When the student who is your advisee does not get into a course s/he wants to take, these parents call:

a) you, the advisor;
b) the class dean;
c) the provost;
d) the president of the college;
e) all of the above.

Now I would argue that although they probably had tendencies in this direction already, to paraphrase Simone de Beauvoir and Monique Wittig, helicopter parents are made and not born. They are like this because they are sure that if they take their eyes off the mark for a second, their child will not get what s/he deserves. Why do they believe this? Well, because in most high schools, it’s true. My observation is that every time a high school administration turns around it is enforcing some stupid district, state or federal rule such as: you can’t take AP Calculus IV because you don’t have enough PE credits to graduate, so you have to take swimming instead. And if you don’t take all the AP credits available to you at Whitebread Manor High, in Whitebread New Jersey, where the competition for Brown and Zenith is so intense you can taste it in the water, you will probably not get into any college at all and will have to become a hooker.

3. Any sentence that begins “I can’t get a C in this course because…” and ends:

a) I’m going to law school;
b)I’m going to medical school;
c)I’m going to business school.

This too is not the fault of the student: it is the fault of every gatekeeper that student has met so far, and the gatekeepers that their panicked parents have become, who have warned that student that one bad grade will bring a whole world of pain crashing down on the entire family. Possibly the whole town: it’s hard to know for sure how extensive the damage will be. And that instead of becoming a lawyer/doctor/businessman, this formerly promising young person will have to become a hooker.

Not that there is anything wrong with becoming a hooker, in my view. I’m a feminist after all. It’s just that most parents I know don’t see it as a desirable outcome. Do your own research: ask a parent who has decided to drop by to be part of the first year advising process. It’s important if you are a scholar to be clear about who thinks what, and why, and not just take my word for it.

By the way, did anyone but me read in the Education Magazine of The New York Times a week ago that the University of Chicago is hellaciously easy to get into? Who knew? Is it Chicago? Is it the lack of sports teams? Is it the fear of being swept up by Obamarama? Enquiring minds want to know. And check out this AP story published in the New York Times, about “a disheveled package” delivered to Eastern Illinois University. “The stuffed and stained envelope was strange enough that police officers alerted the bomb squad,” the reporter writes.

It turned out to be a college application.

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