The University of Southern California this week announced that it is reviewing everything to do with the academic status of students whose parents are implicated in the cash-for-college scheme that's been called "Operation Varsity Blues."
In case you were on Mars and missed it, several dozen celebrities, business leaders, financiers and others who appear, based on charges filed, to share at least one trait — more money than sense — have been accused of buying their kids admission to top-tier colleges through a variety of schemes. Some allegedly had a ringer take college entrance exams, while others reportedly schemed to get their kid admitted for sports prowess the children don't possess.
The allegations outline a series of events that seem nearly incomprehensible, though I know that parents do a lot of truly bizarre things out of genuine love for their kids. Sadly, though, wrong-headed behavior on behalf of a child nearly always snaps back and hurts that beloved child the most.
There's a sliding scale of harm parents unwittingly do, I think. A helicopter parent can "protect" a child in ways that ensure the child will feel incompetent and insecure, perhaps for a lifetime.
I had a young acquaintance, now grown, whose mother drilled stranger-danger in so thoroughly that to this day she's tentative and reclusive in ways that stunt her quality of life. Her mother's goal was to keep her safe and it was done with love. But the level of harm is astonishing.
A parent can grab tools from a child's hands and do the cutting and sawing and nailing themselves instead of teaching a child to do the tasks safely. The result is a child who can't use tools. I had a neighbor who always changed his daughter's tires instead of teaching her how to change her own. She tells a harrowing tale of the night she blew a tire and had to change it herself on a rural road.
I cannot begin to guess the degree of harm done to the offspring of "Operation Varsity Blues," who face the uncertainty of their parents' futures, as well as the humiliation of being the butt of jokes. That's compounded by the fact that students admitted to college under false pretenses then have to perform at that college's level to stay there. If they couldn't get in, what does keeping up feel like and how is that life-affirming?
Will any effort expended in honest endeavor be for nothing? Will the students be tossed, their academic gains erased, while the world watches and snickers? And what should happen? Part of me feels like they should lose any ill-gotten position and everything that flowed from it. Another part of me — the part that is a parent, I suspect — feels bad about that considering even if a child knew what a parent was up to, that child was the child. Who on the cusp of adulthood can truly stand up to a parent's pushing? College is a tricky time developmentally, the brain not fully formed, the future beckoning, while parental expectations, influence and hopes are huge.11 comments on this story
Parents who cut corners on their child's behalf guarantee painful consequences. Maybe it is most like receiving stolen goods: The spot at the school is not yours, so give it all back. But part of me wants to beg for mercy for the kids, who suffer for parental action.
I feel bad for the others whose places were poached. And part of me thrills a little to see the very rich caught cheating because they somehow felt entitled.
Mostly, though, I am curious. Why would any parent with all those resources not invest in a tutor or college prep help instead? And if college really wasn't in the cards, why not invest in a child's skills and interests and leave their future intact?