This is a guest post by Zachary Wright, a national finalist for the United States Department of Education’s School Ambassador Fellowship and 2013 Philadelphia Teacher of the Year. Now he is an assistant professor of practice at Relay Graduate School of Education serving Philadelphia and Camden. Prior to that, he was the 12th-grade world literature and AP literature teacher at Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus.
Somewhere back in the haze of childhood memory, I recall a possibly apocryphal moment when my father told me something.
“There’s a difference,” he said, “between hitting a homerun, and being born on third.”
I thought about this idea after reading about the recently exposed, but really not all that surprising, college application bribery scandals.
Those kids probably thought they hit a home run when they got those acceptance letters. But they didn’t. They were born on third, like I was, I must say, and happily scampered down their privileged base path.
But they’re not to blame. I might go so far as to even say, ensuing eye-rolls notwithstanding, that I feel badly for them.
We parents, whether we know it or not, and whether we like it or not, are our children’s’ primary educators. Our lessons shine forth in our best moments, and in our worst moments.
Think, therefore, of the horrid lessons these children must have been taught.
Do I feel this way for students whose parents lie about their addresses to access higher quality schooling?
No, I don’t. While perhaps being at some rudimentary level “dishonest,” their dishonesty is largely meant to combat inherent systemic injustices that necessitated lying about one’s home zip code in order to access quality education in the first place.
Do I feel this way for students who receive athletic scholarships?
No, I don’t. Certainly not in the same way as I regard privileges afforded to “legacy” students or students whose parents’ names adorn a campus building in recognition of an immense gift to the school. Because unlike the beneficiaries of legacy students or children of the endowment donors, the student athlete has actually done something as opposed to simply merely existing and riding their parents’ coattails.
But I do feel badly for those kids caught up in this most recent scandal.
As Richard Weissbourd, author of The Parents We Mean To Be, notes, parents “are the primary influence on children’s moral lives..Our children’s moral qualities are also shaped day to day by what we registered, or failed to acknowledge, in the world around us, and what we asked them to register– whether we let them treat a store clerk as invisible, or commented when a child in a playground had been treated unfairly, or pointed out to them a neighbor’s good deed.”
So I feel badly for these kids, and for the I’m sure thousands and thousands of other kids around the country, who have been taught lessons by parents who have been duped into thinking that success in life is dependent on the supposed prestige of a school; and so devoid of self-awareness and humility that they would simply open their wallets to bribe their child’s way into such a school.
Because it doesn’t matter if those parents talked a good moral game, if they said the right things about treating people fairly and being polite and decent to others. It doesn’t matter because actions speak volumes.
A parent can say that opportunity should be afforded to everybody equally, but the moment they open the checkbook to provide their children greater access to opportunity, their actions stand in direct opposition to their words – and yes this includes people like me who purchase homes in zip codes to access educational opportunity. There is hypocrisy here that I acknowledge and struggle with.
Perhaps those of us who access our privilege for the betterment of our kids need to honestly account for that. Not with ourselves. But with our children. Because not to do so is, essentially, to lie to our children the way these kids caught in the bribery scandal have been lied to; lied into thinking that the entirety of the privileges they were afforded and enjoyed were due to their own outstanding exceptionalism.
They thought they were home-run hitters, when in actuality, they were born on third.