Every time — every single time — I think I have heard everything, I hear something else.
This week, for example, I have heard things about college admissions that I never dreamed had been going on — not on the scope and scale that they apparently have. Now, understand, I was a school teacher for 38 years. I taught AP classes for a long time. I have been associated with top notch students and students who have attended the very best schools — the service academies, Harvard, the University of Georgia, hallowed be thy name; I’ve taught students who have gone on to do well at the best schools in the country.
And I have seen the pressure that students and their helicopter parents put themselves under when it comes to issues like standardized tests and grade point averages and early-admission guidelines.
I have had parents threaten me for accurately reporting grades that students earned — I never “gave” students grades, good or bad. I once had a father accuse me of “ruining his son’s life” because I wouldn’t raise the D the kid earned to a B so he would qualify for the football scholarship he had been offered at a large Southern university. I’ve been told by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of parents that they were going to have my job because of grades their children earned.
My standard response was, “You couldn’t do my job if you had it,” and I kept cards on my desk with the phone numbers of the principal, the superintendent and the school board chairman to make it easier for these parents to contact my supervisors.
I’ve listened to parents moan and groan and wail and whine and complain that their children “just didn’t test well.” Most don’t, by the way, who don’t know the material. I’ve dealt with the parents who were certain that their kids would earn an athletic scholarship because they made the junior varsity traveling squad in one sport or another, and I even had a father blame me because his daughter wouldn’t wind up playing for the U.S. Olympic team in Atlanta in 1996.
Like I said, I thought I had seen it all.
And then a federal indictment was handed down earlier this week that listed things done that I had never dreamed were being done — not to the degree that they apparently are and not at the places and not by the people accused of doing them.
Who knew a housewife could ever be as desperate as Felicity Huffman? And Aunt Becky! How could you?
In case you’ve missed the story, which is highly unlikely unless you have been on an expedition to Antarctica this week, I’ll hit the highlights.
Some of the richest folks in America have been doing all sorts of things to make sure that their little darlings were admitted to what are perceived to be some of the most prestigious schools in the country — Yale, USC, UCLA, Texas. Texas? Yes, that’s what I said.
These folks have paid millions of dollars, collectively and individually, to a scoundrel named William Singer who accepted payments to his apparently fraudulent charity who would allegedly do all sorts of illegal things.
Kids not “good test-takers?” No worries. This guy would arrange for someone to take the test for little Jack or Jill. Or he would just pay someone to change the answers after the test was taken. We aren’t talking a Friday morning pop quiz, here. We are talking the SAT and ACT.
GPA a problem? He would pay smart kids to take classes for the students of the stars.
Athletics are a big deal these days and most schools allow coaches a certain number of “special admits.” According to the FBI, this guy was bribing coaches, at D-1 schools, understand, to accept kids as athletes who had never played their particular sport. Crew (that’s rowing a boat) and lacrosse were two of the more popular sports for that scheme.
Sometimes he wasn’t quite so creative. Sometimes he just stooped to plain old bribery.
And we are not talking about tickets to a Jimmy Buffet concert — which I was once offered for a favorable grade — or an extra LongHorn gift certificate in a Christmas stocking. These people paid upwards of a million dollars a shot for his services.
Who would pay a million bucks for their kid to go to the University of Texas?
College admissions have changed. When I was accepted to UGA in 1970, my admission letter came addressed to Darrell Huckaby or current occupant. It’s not that way anymore. Luckily, my kids defied genetics in the brain department and all made above 1,400 on the SAT and were admitted early to the college of their choice. 1,400-plus on the SAT. Two of us used to get into Georgia for that. But, thankfully, I never knew the pressure of waiting and wondering if they could get in a good school.
Some, like Felicity Huffman, et al, apparently aren’t quite so lucky. A lot of those people are probably looking at jail time for their transgressions.
Don’t let that happen to you. If you feel tempted to try and bribe an official or pay someone to take your kid’s entrance exam, just remember these two simple words: Auburn University.
Their shade of orange looks a lot better than those tacky prison jumpsuits!
Darrell Huckaby is an author in Rockdale County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.