The college admissions scandal unfolding in Hollywood powerfully debunks the left’s view of America as a rigged and racist society.
The 50 or so actors and executives implicated so far did not believe their wealth and power were enough to get their kids into top schools — hence their criminal scheme to lie and cheat their way to the top.
In truth, their lies were a corrupt expression of the anxiety that grips so many well-heeled parents.
Decades ago, the rich took their children’s success for granted. That sense of entitlement and privilege has vanished. So-called helicopter parents hover over their progeny like drones, ever watchful for fear the slightest misstep will spell doom.
The worried wealthy strive to give their kids a leg up. They hire piano teachers and tutors, arrange summer camps at MIT and mission trips to Africa. As a result, they produce children who are more likely to earn the grades and test scores, to possess the extracurricular skills that elite schools prize. It is that demonstrated achievement that explains a 2017 Harvard study that found that more kids at 38 top schools come from families in the upper one percent of income than from the bottom 60 percent.
Is this unfair? In the abstract, yes. In reality, wealth will always be distributed unequally and parents have every right to spend their money as they see fit. Don’t we want parents to help their children reach the limits of their talents? Shouldn’t we reward that effort?
Voices on the left ignore those dynamics, painting a portrait of privilege by harping on one area where some kids do enjoy unearned advantage: legacy admissions. It is troubling that applicants whose family members had attended the school before them receive extra consideration.
Still, there is no hard data detailing the size of the advantage given to legacies.
By contrast, we know that affirmative action programs make it easier for black and Hispanic kids to gain admission. The Harvard Crimson reports that between 1995 and 2013, “Asian-Americans admitted to Harvard earned an average SAT score of 767 across all sections [out of 800 points] …. white admits earned an average score of 745 … Hispanic-American admits earned an average of 718 … African-American admits [had] an average of 704.”
Harvard is not an outlier. One study reports that nearly 25 percent of in-state Hispanics and 42 percent of African-Americans were admitted to UNC-Chapel Hill through racial preferences.
The real issue — the one that gets obscured by the left’s focus on fairness — is the poor performance by blacks and Hispanics on standardized tests. A 2017 Brookings Institution report found that blacks “lag far behind, with an average [SAT] score of 428 out of 800, significantly below the average score of 534 for whites and 598 for Asians.”
Note that Asians — an ethnic group, like the Jews, that long encountered discrimination — now comprise more than 20 percent of the student body at many Ivy League and other elite schools. Many of these kids come from poor families, who believe in, and are living proof that America remains a meritocracy.
In what rigged society built on white privilege are the golden tickets of elite education given so freely to nonwhites simply because they earned them?
But there are too many other poor kids, especially African Americans and Hispanics, who are not reaching their potential. That is unacceptable. It is especially frustrating that decades of expensive interventions have not closed the achievement gap.
To assign that failure to dark forces is not only false, it’s a sign of surrender. It tells our most vulnerable kids don’t try. What they need to hear is that you raise yourself up in our meritocracy, where nothing is guaranteed and everything is possible.
This column appeared first in the Raleigh News & Observer on March 28, 2019.