College Scandal! “I’m shocked! Shocked! There’s [bribery] going on in here.”
Every year at this time, as our 18-year-olds are getting their college acceptances, there is a spate of articles about the imperfections in the college admission process in America.
The articles always focus on what a hard, unfair and unequal rat-race it is. This year has been spiced up by lawsuits, scandals and bad behavior. Marcia Goodrich of Michigan wrote this comment to a New York Times article: “How is bribing a coach all that different from writing your child’s essay? It’s just a heavier thumb on the scale.”
Yes, it’s an unfair system, but what’s worse is that it drives parents and applicants to play the Pyramid Game. Taking certain people to court doesn’t do anything for our young people, either. Parents who blame the system are still not helping their children. Why? Because the key ingredient in raising strong, successful, happy children is for the children to be the agents of their lives, the protagonists in their own dramas. For best results, we want the kids to take responsibility for their present and their future regardless of the system. If a parent cares more about it than the child it absolves the child of responsibility.
The key question is not, What college did she get into? There are two more important questions: 1) Who decided where to go? and 2) How determined are they when they get there? The level of determination is a function of the degree of self-determination. Self-determination is the ball for us to keep our eye on.
Here is what a graduate of Children’s Day School in San Francisco, Gillian Cooper, had to say about the latest stories about going to college: “The parents’ actions are a complete betrayal of their parenting responsibilities, because they presented a totally false concept of what success in life actually is, or what the skills are to achieve it. It sets these kids up for ultimate failure, because they are unprepared to define their own passions (which might not involve going to college at all) and then strive to make a meaningful contribution.”
Yes, there is a socio-economic pyramid and most people who play the pyramid game don’t rise to the top. It’s not a level playing field; it’s a pyramid.
What then are we to do? Shaking your fist at the system? No. It actually perpetuates the system and preempts agency, keeping the young people in the victim position. Deciding to change the game and play the Game of Life would be more efficacious. Here’s my first draft of the rule book; feel free to add:
The Game of Life is an adventure through a series of moments. Players move from moment to moment. Each moment is an opportunity to create something. Players get points for:
- creating moments of beauty, truth, love or justice
- noticing new things
- causing friendly interactions
- doing work you love
- connecting with other people
- finding someone to love
- helping someone
- making mistakes
- learning from them
- turning conflicts into collaborations
- participating in groups that create great moments
- Committing generosity
- Expressing gratitude
- deciding to climb the pyramid
- deciding to get off and “strike out on your own.”
- learning how to hit curveballs, when life throws curveballs
- learning from failure
- seeing an opportunity and taking it
- doing something someone else depends on
- making a difference
- speaking truth to power
- hearing and acting on your genius
And the winners are those who, ignoring the scores of others, feel good about themselves when the time runs out.
Parents can join in the game, too. They get points for believing in their children, letting the child perform, delighting in the moments the child creates, providing wisdom when called for or necessary, identifing “things we just don’t do,” giving advice only when requested, asking sincere questions. Parents get negative points for prompting, upstaging, asking questions with a purpose, praising with a motive.
Don’t play the pyramid game. Play the game of life.