"Fernando's insight's into 'Miranda vs Arizona' were the most mature of any term paper I have had the pleasure to read in my 35 years of teaching at St. Harvey's. In addition to displaying a complete command of the subject matter, Fernando went above and beyond, researching primary sources. It is my understanding that he has submitted a draft to a juried journal and that he will soon be a published author.
In my AP Government class, Fernando contributes well reasoned arguments. He is motivated. He mentors less able students. He is intellectually curious, is the opposite of a grade grubber, and is a pleasure to teach. Fernando will be graduated first in our class of 600 students. In addition to having scored a 1600 on the SAT, he has taken six advanced placement tests and received the highest possible mark--a 5--on each one."
The glowing recommendation went on for several more paragraphs and concluded, "This is the brightest, most motivated, most pleasant student I have met in my career. I recommend him to TopChoice University unequivocally and without reservation. I can think of no finer fit for the institution."
When Fernando was subsequently denied at TopChoice, the teacher wrote another note to the admissions committee, this one unsolicited: "I have written teacher recommendations for TopChoice for four decades now. But I will never write another one. It is clear that you do not read them."
The teacher was outraged. His favorite student, an exceptional candidate, was not offered admission. The teacher thought Fernando belonged at TopChoice.
I am sensitive to Fernando's teacher's position: who wouldn't want to believe that his opinion matters? We all want to feel that we have influence. We also like to believe that the college admissions system works in a fair and equitable way. Fernando's credentials were impeccable. Didn't he deserve to be admitted?
My takeaways for this week are not the themes to which I have devoted so many columns. That there is a random aspect to admissions decisions you can read about here. That able students do well no matter where they go, I have written about here. Or you could pick up a copy of my book on the subject by clicking here.
My insight this week is that our children should understand that the world is a large and occasionally unpleasant place. We probably shouldn't sell, "everything is going to be okay" because it probably isn't. Not everything certainly. And not completely okay. We should prepare our kids for the path rather than preparing the path for our kids. Even the best students with the best recommendations are sometimes denied admission to top schools.
From 30,000 feet, it is easy to understand that top schools sometimes admit athletes rather than scholars or development cases rather than under-represented groups. On the ground, it is harder to understand when one of the students who is not selected is the child for whom you wrote a recommendation. Or the child who grew up in your house.
By communicating to kids that who they are is more important than where they go, your kids can't lose. Loving our kids for who they are rather than what college sweatshirt they wear is a big step in allowing them to miss meaningless disappointments. After 40 years in the classroom, Fernando's teacher should be able to accept that pleasant message. Fernando's teacher did a wonderful job sharing his passion for US history and social justice. Whether Fernando goes to TopChoice College or some other wonderful school doesn't make any meaningful difference.