Everyone focuses on neurasthenic high school juniors desperate to get into good colleges, but let's shift for a moment to the professors awaiting them.
Today's New York Times features exactly the sort of student I want to see in my classrooms at George Washington University. He's independent, odd, intellectually curious, and living a somewhat difficult life. I'm thrilled that our admissions committee saw what there was to see in him.
He's the senior with wispy blond hair and sunburned cheeks, in his international relations class, discussing the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war with a classmate wearing a Notorious B.I.G. T-shirt. There's Kevin a couple of periods later, playing guitar with the school's jazz ensemble, getting ready for a gig tonight in the cafeteria.
Notice how Kevin looks kind of relaxed, at peace with himself? That equanimity isn't a case of senioritis. Back in April, he got accepted to a very good college, George Washington University. And he did it - I kid you not - on his own merits, through his own efforts.
Check this out. Other than some free test prep classes the high school provided, Kevin didn't do anything to game the system. He decided to live or die with who he was. Statistically speaking, that meant a 3.6 grade point average, a class rank in the top twenty percent, a score of 1950 out of a possible 2400 on the SAT.
And here's the beauty part. He wrote his admissions essay about "Parliament Funkadelic," comparing George Clinton to Shakespeare and "Atomic Dog" to a fugue. Not even his mother read the essay before he sent it in, though she is a pretty big "P-Funk" fan.
I've already told IHE readers I'm a slightly unreconstructed 'sixties person. I like this kid's 'sixties feel:
He has a bedroom adorned with Jimi Hendrix posters. One year, when [his mother] got an unexpectedly large tax refund, she took Kevin on vacation to Greece. When he turned eighteen a few months ago, [his mother], her ex and her parents pooled their money to buy him a Gibson hollow body electric guitar, the same model played by Joe Pass.
I think he'll do fine at GW, though he'll find the many rich people there unsettling.
Still, there's no denying the reality of inequality, if you're a middle-class mother watching people with a lot more money buy their children advantages.
"It frustrates me to know there isn't a level playing field," [his mother] said as we talked in a coffee shop. "You have some kids with options and advantages that others don't. And the colleges have no way of knowing. They think they're comparing apples and apples when they're not."
There's not a level playing field, but on the other hand her kid got into a number of colleges the rich kids pant after. The article doesn't say anything about financial aid, but here's figuring that this student got a pretty generous package from GW.
Of course, GW's the most expensive university in the country, so even a generous package will leave his parents plenty to pay out.
My student-to-be (I hereby extend a formal invitation to read James Merrill's poems about Greece with me) ends the article with some words of wisdom:
"If you're not dreadfully concerned with how you're going to turn out, you'll probably turn out fine."