Privilege and schools

This is a simple discussion when it comes to education and a complicated one when it comes to the free and capitalist society our republic has chosen. Say, you have money and you wish to apply it to your kids’ education. What could be more American than buying your kid a mechanical pencil, a calculator, better basketball shoes, hiring a coach for swimming or a tutor to catch up in math? If you feel these are acceptable, then it is very possible — and a very short walk — to the other side of the ethical line.  

All schools engage in pandering to parents, to one degree or another. They need to justify your kids’ attendance. They need to justify the fees they charge, the school taxes you pay, the results they need to achieve to get more money. There is always a negotiation between what the school wants and what the tax payer wants to pay whether it is public school or private. That negotiation, whether it be at a PTA meeting, or a taxpayers’ meeting of the school board, or a private school’s tuition hike notification — that negotiation (for that is what it is) pits your needs and desires for your child against the school’s need to continue that level of education you demand of them.

If your kids do not understand the sacrifice you make to give them an education, they are living as spoiled, under-aware young people who will pay the price later. If you rent your house, you may think, I don’t pay for public schools’ taxes, but you do. It’s built into your rent. In fact, if you rent, you pay proportionately more property and school taxes than the landlord does because the landlord adds a percentage to finance those taxes. So if the landlord has to pay the county say, $1,000 then you’ll be paying annually as part of your rent a likely amount of $1,100. Next time you are faced with a property or school tax hike, remember you’re paying more than the people who own their houses. And do your kids understand your sacrifice, do they begin to understand what you are paying for? Why not? Why are you hiding the reality from them? Won’t that make them spoiled, unappreciative, adults later?

And that’s what has happened with college and university applications recently in the news. Buy a school a building and stick your name on the building to make sure your kids are legacy kids? Bad parenting. Bribe admissions’ officers? Really bad parenting. Cheat on tests? Parenting designed to create crooked kids. Steal money from a charity to enable bribery to get your kids into school? Demonstrate to your kids that clever criminality and organized crime are a shortcut to success. A shortcut to your kid’s stupidity more likely.

In the end, the parents paying for criminal activity to get their kids into school are like the buyers of stolen goods. The guy organizing it is the fence and the people and the schools taking the money are the thief accomplices. Yes, the whole school is complicit, not just the few bad eggs hiding in plain sight. Anyone who has gone to a college or university knows, within seconds, every bit of scandal or imbalance in the status quo. Campus gossip is faster than lightning. There is no way you can smuggle a kid — athletic scholarship or not — past their peers’ laser sharp review. They know, the school knows, the deans know. The trustees know (if they care to check).

In law, there’s a statute that says if you know a crime has been committed and you do not report it you have been obstructing justice. Like the University of Michigan doctor who was abusing gymnasts, people way above his pay grade are going to jail because they knew, should have known, and did nothing. I would say to every kid, every teacher, every coach, every dean, be prepared to fess up. Fess up as a good example to the kids all around you. That’s called good parenting. Fess up before someone asks you that moral question: “What did you do when you found out — and when did you know?”


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.