• All school
  • Alumni
  • Early Childhood
  • Intermediate
  • Middle School
  • Primary
My parents think I’m not good enough and they just spent $500,000 to prove it to me

by John D. Fixx, Head of School

My fellow headmasters and other educators have been writing and speaking with each other, appalled at the grotesque manipulation of the college admissions process by families with money, aided by unscrupulous educators, admissions officers, and coaches. All families should be offended that some parents have been gaming the system by hiring a consultant--and there may be others--who crafted unfair admissions access, fraudulently selling enrollment spots for large sums of money.

While this news about corruption in college admissions is shocking, it is also a reminder of the importance of focusing on ethics and personal fit in a college or school search. A strong college counseling process--like every year of a good education--promotes self-awareness so that students can be in charge of finding their "best fit" public and private schools as they shape their futures. Through a guidance system and personal reflection, students are taught to understand their personal strengths, goals and areas of potential growth.

Particularly galling about this breaking news is that ambitious students playing by the rules tackle a challenging array of school clubs and activities, rigorous homework loads, and sophisticated assignments. However, this intensity of work does not guarantee any access to particular colleges or universities; rather, it prepares diligent students for their future. When they enroll wherever they enroll, they will be well-equipped to achieve strongly, feel productive, be solid community citizens, and elevate the quality of the discourse in any classroom, hallway or dining room.

While countless families have the means (and most do not, of course) to pay $10,000 or $15,000 to have someone take their child's SATs or $50,000 for coaching throughout the admissions process or even $500,000 for a guaranteed acceptance, 99.99% of public and private school families would never do so even if they could afford to.

Why not? Because most parents understand what these fraud-committing parents are missing. When parents allow someone to change their child’s SATs or superimpose their child’s photo on a pole vaulter’s body or falsify the fact that their child rows crew, they are conveying to their child this statement: “You are not good enough.”

Lying about your child’s achievements or even embellishing them is contrary to the behavior I have observed from morally-guided parents for the past 35 years. Thoughtful parents convey to their child, “You are terrific just as you are. Sure, maybe you have to work harder than others in some academic areas. And maybe you got cut from a team or did not get the drama part you wanted, but I love you just as you are and you are going to do well. Keep at it.”

Are the children whose parents cheated the system victims? They are sure victims of something. Bad parenting? Entitlement? An inability to say, “Mom, Dad – I want to do this on my own. I am not a pole vaulter.”? 

There is one aspect of this debacle I have not seen discussed. That is the parents’ fragile egos and the way they must see their children as ornaments for themselves, rather than as talented young people they want to help grow to be independent. Hidden behind this fraudulent behavior is something in the pathetic parents that has them imagining their child’s future – a need to attend a “top” college rather than the right college – and then cheating the process to get their child enrolled, perhaps in over their head and set up for academic failure. Are these sad, desperate parents worried that if they let the college admissions process play out, their child will be accepted only to colleges whose car window decals would embarrass the parents?

If these cheating parents are doing all of this because they are worried that they need to impress their friends with where their child attends college, that is lamentable. A new longitudinal study out of Yale University (alas, named in the recent news) has made some headway in identifying parental anxiety as amplifying anxiety that young people naturally feel--and can usually process--as they face uncertain futures. But what if a teenager applying to college has learned all along that her parents feel the child’s achievement is unsatisfactory? What if the child knows that his parents’ Facebook pages distort who the child actually is?  New Yale Study - Treat Anxiety in Kids by Treating Their Parents

School is – and should be – one of America’s great meritocracies: it does not matter how expensive a car your family drives or how large your house is: you earn grades and advancement in school through your own brains and hard work and how you treat others. Thoughtful parents create opportunities for their child but with no guarantees. Hard work usually pays off in life but, as adults know, not always. That is an important lesson of ambiguity for young people to learn in life. It is certainly a better lesson than, “My parents think I’m not good enough and they just spent $500,000 to prove it to me.”