Penny S-K discusses exams, the US college admissions scandal and the determination to succeed at almost any cost in tonight’s blog.
I’m not usually one for celebrity gossip, but the scandal currently rocking Hollywood has had me hooked. Earlier this week, it was announced that actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among 40 people charged for plotting to cheat on college entrance exams. Partially because I am a big fan of Huffman’s, and partly because I am a teacher, this story has captivated me.
The ins and outs of the case are for finer minds than mine, but what struck me most about this horrible situation, where parents are accused of paying to get their children through difficult entrance requirements, is the desperation that is felt by so many to achieve academic excellence. As a teacher, I’ve seen that desperation first hand too many times to count.
At its most mundane, it’s the pushy parent who phones up demanding to know why their son “only” got an 8 on their most recent exam. Or why their daughter has been placed in the middle set, rather than the top one. At its worst, it’s reading a student’s essay and realising, with a horrible sinking feeling, that you’re not reading their own work. A suspicion that is usually easily confirmed with a quick google. These are opposite ends of the spectrum, but I believe they are linked – at both ends, the actions are driven by a desperation to do better.
This determination to succeed is understandable, I guess. We live in a world where it is becoming increasingly hard to find a decent job, and where self-worth is often measured in financial terms. Small wonder that both parents and pupils want to give themselves the best chances in life. As teachers, we ourselves probably add to the pressure – we need those results to be good. We need students to do well, so that we can, too.
But something’s got to give. It’s desperately unfair to pile this pressure on teenagers. Sure, most people don’t resort to actually cheating, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a parent who hasn’t, at some point or other, put pressure on their children to perform. It’s how we manage those pressures – how we balance encouragement with sanctions – that is the difficult part.
I don’t know what the answer is. But at the bottom of it all, I think of those young people implicated in the current scandal. Of the whispers and rumours that must be surrounding them now. Of the sinking feeling they must have that maybe they don’t belong at their chosen college. Surely, no amount of academic success is worth that?
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