Shocking and Offensive Advice about Privacy!

"What did your daughter get on your math test?" "Where is she applying to college?" "What did she get on her SATs?"

These are the thoughtful, endearing questions that concerned parents ask one another in the parking lot as they wait to pick up their eleventh graders after school. In our community, all the families care deeply about one another's health and well being. The paradigm in our high schools is one of cooperation rather than competition. All the parents want what is best not only for their own children but also for the children of their neighbors and classmates. Children good heartedly help one another prepare for exams. Every high grade is a victory not just for the child who received it, but also for every other student in the class. After all, each child can achieve top grades; each child can get top SAT scores; every child can go to a top college.

What's wrong with this picture? Nothing much--other than it is complete and utter malarky, a total fabrication without a syllable of truth. Not a word of the above has any validity in my neighborhood. I'm guessing your community is the same. Here's how it goes in the real world:

1) Students are trained to be brutally competitive. Susie won't help Buffy study for chemistry because both girls are close to being in the top ten percent of students in their class. If Susie helps Buffy, then Buffy may be the girl eligible for scholarships and admissions rather than Susie.

2) Counselors post the names of where kids have been admitted to college. Big bulletin boards-or even worse, the school newspaper-proclaim not only where your child applied, but also where she is going to matriculate.

Abigail Van Buren-Princeton
Maria Theresa Ortega-Miami Dade College

Why not just print the tax returns of both parents?

Abigail Van Buren's dad: Piles of money.
Maria Theresa Ortega's father: Not so much.

3) It's an arithmetic fact that not all children can graduate at the top of their class. By definition, only ten students in a hundred are in the top ten percent.

If you believe--as I do--that the choice of college is about the match between student and school, then you may wish to instruct your children to keep their SAT scores and their college lists private.

Here's why: A public humiliation is much more painful than a private one. If the only people who know where your son is applying to college are you and your spouse, then the thin envelope in April can be forgotten in 20 minutes. If, on the other hand, everyone in the school is buzzing "Did you hear? Anthony was rejected at Cornell" then the sting of rejection can last longer-years in some cases.

Imagine how horrific it would be if a dinner guest in your home sat down and, in between the soup and the salad courses, asked you: "Say, nice house you got here. How much did you pay for it, anyways?" Or imagine this conversation: "Yeah, my wife ain't making too much progress with them SSRIs, so we're going to go with an atypical anti-psychotic. I hope she don't gain too much more weight." The boor would never be invited back. Yet, these same louts think it's OK to interrogate your children about private information.

Where your kids are applying to college and what they got on their SATs are no one's business. Their teachers don't need to know; your friends don't need to know, your colleagues at work don't need to know. And the parents of your child's friends at school certainly don't need to know. You wouldn't tell a casual acquaintance the dollar amount of a bonus you received at work, why would you disclose personal information about your son's scores or college list?

And wouldn't it be nice to communicate to our children that we value them for who they are rather than for what they do? Wouldn't we like our children to know that we love them where ever they apply, where ever they are admitted?

This advice applies whether your child would be an appropriate match at a "top" school or at the local community college. When an adult asks your child a question about private information, have your child respond, "Oh, my dad says I'm not allowed to talk about where I'm applying to college. I'm sorry, but he says that's a family matter." Your daughter will have more respect in the community for valuing family and privacy, not less.

Privacy allows your children to benefit from knowing they are loved for who they are rather than for where they are admitted. Our schools will benefit by being places where students can study more and envy one another less. Our communities will benefit in that they will be less obviously competitive places.

If intrusive parents persist and ask again what your daughter got on her SATs, then she has my permission to respond as follows: "'What did I get on my SATs?' Mustard. It's disgusting and it won't come off."

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