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What’s the point of trying so hard to get into college?
Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into
By Andrew Ferguson
(Simon & Schuster/228 pp/$25)
In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an
By Professor X
(Viking, 258 pages, $25.95)
Andrew Ferguson, senior editor at The Weekly Standard and a widely published journalist who, like so many of today’s best conservative writers, took his basic training at The American Spectator, begins this saga by consulting his own experience. After taking tests and writing essays, he was told by his career counselor at Occidental: “You must understand…that you have no marketable skills whatsoever.”
“So I became a journalist.”
He shares this anecdote, he writes, “because it encapsulates a larger confusion I have encountered in my….recent efforts to wedge my son into college. While expending vast amounts of money and energy on higher education-both selling it and buying it-we seem not to be sure what it’s for.”
How do parents pay that annual bill that can run $40,000? For advice and guidance, “especially the glories of subsidy and debt, we were expected to rely on the touts of colleges, the College Board, and the Education Department, the whole higher-ed establishment….But please don’t ask why the bills are so enormous in the first place.”
Apparently, it has little to do with acquiring knowledge. Today, says Ferguson, there are “college graduates who can scarcely write a complete sentence and identify John Quincy Adams as the bass player for the Funkadelics.” Rather, the obsession about which Ferguson writes, perhaps most intense if not largely peculiar to the Northeast, where people tend to be obsessive, is focused on the admission process itself.
The notion, spreading like a virus, is that your kid just has to get admitted into a place that the neighbors view as suitable, and if that doesn’t happen you’ve failed as a parent. As Ferguson describes it, it’s become a test of parenthood-a contest involving “our vanities, our social ambitions and class insecurities, and most profoundly our love and hopes for our children.”
As part of that contest, Ferguson writes, there’s a “large, lucrative, and parasitic industry” that has “puckered up and suctioned itself onto the tumescent host of college admissions.” A friend tells him about a woman he “could hire to take all my college worries upon herself and resolve them without fuss. I thought she sounded like a yuppie version of the sin eaters who once served the villages of Ye Olde Scotland.”
“But it will cost you,” his friend added. “A lot.”
Forty thousand dollars: that’s how much it would take to hire one of the country’s most notable independent college admission counselors, Katherine Cohen, for a full-service “platinum package” of advice and guidance that would last from the first starry dreams of ivy-covered brick to the day of matriculation.
Ferguson talks to Kat (as she prefers to be called) as a journalist, and travels with her as she sells her platinum package to a group of mothers in Greenwich, Connecticut, a group warmed up by a banker who tells them it will soon cost $1 million a year to send three kids to college. Money aside, Ferguson asks Kat about the admission prospects for his son, now a high school junior. She questions him on the steps he’s taken so far-making a list of colleges, visiting campuses, taking SAT preps. He’s done none of them.
“Oooooh,” she said. “Baaaaaaad daaaaaaad.”
Bad or not, Dad has been bitten, and he jumps into the college admission process with both feet. There are setbacks. He and his son go for an interview with a high school adviser.
“I can tell you the kind of school I’d really like,” my son told the college counselor, with an air of finality. “I want to go to a place where I can go to a football game, take off my shirt, paint my chest, and major in beer.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online