Once in a while, there’s an article I’ll read that sticks with me for a long time and gets me to think more about what it tells us about society. Caitlin Flanagan had one a couple of days ago, in which she broke down the college admissions scandal in which 50 people faces charges.
I will confess that some of what Flanagan wrote got me thinking about my Six Pack series, in which one of the themes I explore is how the power and influence that the elite and well connected impact society and how that impact can cause more harm than good if not kept in check.
Part of that touches upon the idea that the children of the elite are always guaranteed to go on to elite institutions to further their education, while all other children are sorted out and only the best of the best will get to go to those elite institutions. I didn’t go further in exploring whether or not the children of the elite deserved to go such institutions, though.
But I will set that aside to get to Flanagan’s piece for The Atlantic, in which she reflects on her own personal experiences as a college counselor at an elite prep school, and ties that into the college admissions scandal in which the accused include a host of CEOs, business owners, white-collar professionals, and — perhaps most notably — actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
Flanagan’s examination of the 200-page affidavit detailing the charges and claims illustrates why we must recognize the role that economic class plays in shaping a person’s views. For those who are lower on the economic scale, getting into an elite institution is a matter of whether or not their children want to go to college, have the grades and SAT and ACT scores to justify getting into a prestigious one and, perhaps most of all, whether or not the parents can afford the tuition.
However, for most of these parents, all is not lost if not every factor falls into place. Sure, some may not understand if they have a child who doesn’t want to go to college, but they’re likely to accept it once the child explains why. But when it comes to grades and the ability to pay, most parents know their child can still get a good education at an institution that doesn’t carry high prestige.
But Flanagan’s article illustrates that there are a lot of parents in the upper economic classes of society — even if “a lot” doesn’t equal “the majority” — who insist that their children are going to attend the most prestigious institutions and, if they don’t make the cut, it’s the end of the world. Doesn’t matter if their children can get into a quality institution that carries less prestige because, to these parents, prestige is everything.
While I don’t have firsthand experience living around those on the upper economic scale, I can reasonably guess that they, like most parents, are worried about what other people will think if their kids don’t turn out to be what they envisioned. More importantly, I know enough about the middle class to know that there are certain expectations from people who are used to living that life. Therefore, it’s not hard to figure out that those in upper economic classes have their own expectations — and Flanagan does more than enough to illustrate how some of these upper economic folks go overboard with them.
Case in point: Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossomo Giannulli had two daughters and one of them, Olivia, said in videos that she didn’t really want to attend college. Some have ridiculed Olivia for how she got into college, anyway, but I agree with Flanagan that Olivia deserves some sympathy. If she doesn’t want to go to college, she shouldn’t have to. Besides, it appears Olivia had some interests that could have led to a successful career, even if she never took a college course.
But, as Flanagan writes, it was her parents her insisted she go to college — and then, per the accusations in the 200-page affidavit, threw a fuss when a high school counselor questioned Olivia’s admission to the University of Southern California. From Olivia being sent to college when she wasn’t interested to the claims made against her parents that they added a sport she never played to her college application, it all reeks of the mindset “power of our socioeconomic status compels you!”
Flanagan notes that it’s not as simple as to blame these parents for denying opportunities for underprivileged students, nor to view it as similar to giving admissions preference to big donors. It’s more about how the social contract in the United States has changed, to where white people who were used to having a good chance at certain opportunities found out the playing field had changed.
I won’t get too deeply into how it changed, other than to say that while a few changes are for the better, and a few have done more harm than good, the majority are changes that were thought to be good ideas at the time they were implemented, but perhaps haven’t led to the most ideal outcomes.
And it does lead to Flanagan bringing up those who voted for Donald Trump, but I think her reasons for doing so aren’t simply for an analogy. I think they are more about the idea that so many of these upper economic people can’t stand Trump — and, therefore, can’t stand Trump voters and heap scorn upon them.
For example: These upper economic folks hear Trump voters say “the system is rigged” and respond by slapping them with their derogatory label of choice. However, these same upper economic folks find out that the opportunities they assumed would be there for them, aren’t really there, and they make the same “the system is rigged” claim that they laughed at Trump voters for making.
And then along comes a scandal in which the evidence suggests that, yes, the system is rigged — by none other than those very upper economic folks who claimed it was.
That’s enough to demonstrate why class matters so much. If you truly want an even playing field, you have to recognize the effects of class — not just regarding what one can afford, but regarding what one expects. And if what one expects doesn’t materialize, one must honestly ask the question as to whether or not what one expects, is truly what one should get.