"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Competition Without Constraint = Ultimate Corruption

If we are aghast at the level of corruption in corporations and government today, one must wonder what the next generation will look like after being thoroughly schooled in the art and science of clawing one's way to the percentile pinnacle, regardless of what it takes to get there. There is not a more sadly appropriate morality tale to portray this phenomenon than this one told in the NY Times, which concludes with what happened to Harvard sophomore, Kaavya Viswanathan. Here is a clip:
. . . . One result is a frenzied search for angles. Parents seek to have their children classified as learning disabled so they can receive unlimited time on the SAT. Children invent clubs so they can list themselves as president of something on college applications. Scott White, a guidance counselor at Montclair High School in that New Jersey suburb, recalls the envy of one student for a classmate with cancer because "he'll have a great college essay now."

Beyond these dubious personal choices, entire industries have emerged to meet and further stimulate the demand for any perceived edge. The undergraduate test-prep business now has revenue of $726 million a year, up 25 percent from just four years ago, according to the market research firm Eduventures; even the College Board, the nonprofit organization that oversees the SAT and that for decades insisted that the test could not be gamed, sells its own test-prep program online. The Independent Educational Consultants Association, which represents private academic counselors, claims about 3,500 members, up from 200 only a decade ago. About 100 more consultants apply for membership each month.

THE private operators charge an average of $3,300 for their services, said Mark Sklarow, the executive director of the group, and consultants routinely start working with students in ninth or 10th grade. The typical client, Mr. Sklarow said, fits the boomer stereotype, with parents in professions, an income of $75,000 to $125,000, and residence in a high-performing public-school district.

While his field has reaped the financial benefits of the college-admissions frenzy, even Mr. Sklarow cringes at the picture, perhaps because he is also a father of a high school student.

"There is no question in my mind that the system is broken," he said, "and it's broken in so many ways. And all the principal players agree it's broken but that it's not their fault and that they're reacting to a situation beyond their control." . . . .

So this insanity is a result of cosmic law? Or the fact that we were too busy clawing up to notice that what we left has been irrevocably altered? Can we begin the reclamation now?

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