Let’s begin by making fun of folks in ancient India. Dry spells, they believed, were caused by a dragon standing guard over the clouds. But a storm god could lure the dragon away. The people, therefore, cheered for the storm god. The resulting rain, or lack thereof, was attributed to the storm god having enticed the dragon. Or not. Why the dragon wanted the water for himself is not clear.
Let’s move on to ridiculing ancient Italians. Etruscan soothsayers, based on their appraisal of the weather, claimed to be able to predict good times and bad. Their interpretation, they said, of thunder, lightning, and wind could foretell the quality of the harvest. That their forecasts were imperfect is not talked about.
But under no circumstances should we lampoon families today who insist that their high school junior start a foundation to ensure that Missy is admitted to her first choice, highly selective college. Or that the majority of Missy’s adolescence is sacrificed to preparing for an event that is essentially random.
We shouted for the storm god to entice the dragon! Therefore, there is rain! We listened to the prophets! Hence, we have bountiful crops! Percy organized a bake sale! Thus, his admission to Cornell!
The currently accepted understanding of weather forecasting involves satellites, computers, and instruments monitoring conditions across time-zones. Whereas predicting who will be admitted to which highly selective college is frequently a process of determining after the fact who got in where. That Dartmouth needed a goalie for the hockey team and that Susie is neither the requisite size, gender, or skill is seldom articulated. That Susie raised three thousand dollars for the Glee Club is not the point if she falls down on ice skates.
A more insightful author than I would be able to draw an analogy here: throwing an entire young woman into a volcano versus throwing away an entire childhood. Both actions are predicated on a result which is not connected—a good harvest, a good response from a highly selective college.
As always, our children would be better served focusing on who they are rather than where they will matriculate. Kids who have ability—a predilection for reading books, say, rather than zapping virtual zombies—will do well in college even if—gasp!—they end up at State U rather than Olde Brick University* The research is clear: if Tommy is admitted to both Harvard and the University of Massachusetts and chooses to attend U Mass, he ends up the same by every outcome measure–income, number of children, golf score. It’s who you are, not where you go that matters.
Wasting four years of high school focusing on the appearance rather that the reality of ability, commitment, and competence is a darn shame. Believing that those appearances will make a difference is admissions to highly selective colleges makes as much sense as cheering for the storm god to distract the dragon so that the rain will come.
* The author is indebted to Richard Moll’s 1979, Playing the Selective College Admissions Game for this apt phrase.