Schools and privilege

Can we stand to hear any more horror stories from the college admissions scandal? Of course we can, because it’s ongoing and universities aren’t doing anything substantial to fix the underlying problem (a major part of that is the college athletics loophole, which, when any university admits that it is corrupting the educational mission of the college and shuts the whole nonsense down, will cause me to faint.)

But it’s the parents who are pissing us off right now. Such causual greed, such arrogant assumption of privilege.

The word entitlement—even in its full, splendid range of meanings—doesn’t begin to cover the attitudes on display. Devin Sloane is the CEO of a Los Angeles company that deals in wastewater management. Through Singer, he allegedly bribed USC to get his son admitted as a water-polo player. But a guidance counselor at his school learned of the scheme and contacted USC—the boy did not play the sport; something was clearly awry. Singer smoothed it over, but the whole incident enraged Sloane: “The more I think about this, it is outrageous! They have no business or legal right considering all the students privacy issues to be calling and challenging/question [my son’s] application,” he wrote to Singer.

How dare they notice that he lied about his participation in water polo!

But the college counselor at the girls’ high school had always doubted that the first girl rowed crew; when the second one got into the same school for the same reason, she realized that something suspicious was going on. She confronted the girl.

The counselor was acting honorably. Loughlin and Giannulli—if the affidavit is to be believed—were in the midst of a criminal operation. Yet instead of hanging his head in shame, Giannulli apparently roared onto the high-school campus apoplectic. Singer got a panicked email from his USC contact: “I just want to make sure that, you know, I don’t want the … parents getting angry and creating any type of disturbance at the school … I just don’t want anybody going into … [the daughter’s high school] you know, yelling at counselors. That’ll shut everything—that’ll shut everything down.”

How dare they notice that she lied about her participation in crew!

That’s the thing. These parents are indignant about being confronted with their lies — they have a right to lie, cheat, and bribe their children’s way into the prestigious school of their choice, and what will the kids learn? That learning and knowledge are irrelevant, that their presence in a school is a status symbol, one that doesn’t need to be earned but only paid for.

Rich people. Up against the wall, assholes.

But wait…are middle class white people, you know, the ones who are happy to see their kids go on the state school, blameless? You want to see more poison, look to privileged parent associations. They can get ugly, too. Here’s what happened when a public school proposed to broaden the school boundaries and let in those other kids, the poor ones, the brown ones. The parents freaked out.

The Thursday night meeting at Quince Orchard High School in North Potomac, attended by about 50 people, included questions of what would happen if students from schools with poor academic performance were moved into schools with higher achievement.

“They won’t be able to keep up and they won’t study,” one parent said.

Other parents said white families are being punished for “working hard and doing well and choosing to live in a certain community.”

If they can’t keep up, they will do poorly. But how does that detract from your child’s performance? I went through school with a range of my peers, some smarter and more disciplined than me, others were slackers. It did not harm me. And why assume they will be unable to keep up? Maybe new opportunities, better teachers and facilities will inspire them to excel.

Somehow, I think that’s their real fear, that if they don’t keep those others down, they might prove themselves the equal of their little darlings.

I don’t see how having a more representative student body punishes anyone. And why do you think you’re working harder than people in a poorer community? My experience has been that the opposite is true. I grew up with a father who was often working two jobs to make ends meet, so that assertion is BS.

“If Montgomery County was paying my taxes, then they could do that. But they’re not, so I have a right to go to my local school,” one parent said. “I made a decision to live where I live and pay the price I pay based on that school. They want to change everything and you can’t pull the rug out from under our feet. That’s wrong. Actually, it’s criminal and they will all be voted out.”

That’s the attitude of the Loughlins and Giannullis. An education is not a right, it’s something that the privileged deserve and anyone else should be begging for scraps. Yes, you should have a good school in your neighborhood for your children, and so should those kids in other neighborhoods. How can you justify depriving one child to meet the needs of another? Just because you’re wealthier?

Capitalism poisons everything.


  1. Howard Brazee says

    Have you seen Commander in Cheat, about Trump’s golf playing? It’s obvious that Trump believes that cheating is how to play his games (and everything he does is a game). He doesn’t deny it, he embraces it. And he can’t conceive that any real competition does not cheat. Which is why he accuses his opponents of doing what he does bigly.

    These parents are playing the same game. The kids can be accepted in other schools which do as good of a job of teaching (but with fewer contacts and less parental prestige). But the parents are playing their game the way they see it is played. By cheating.

  2. Akira MacKenzie says

    I never, ever want to hear any of these assholes lecture me about “personal responsibility,” “rugged individualism,” or any of their “just work hard and you’ll succeed” bullshit again. I’ve been in the full time workforce for nearly 20 years and after putting in my best efforts I’m still working paycheck to paycheck, living at home with my psycho-right-wing father. I’m to the point where I’m trying to find a part time job or a way to monetize my useless hobbies (tabletop RPGs and miniature gaming) to earn enough money to pay my rising bills. Meanwhile, these upper-class twits lie, cheat, and bribe to get their brainless, spoiled spawn into an prestige college then have the temerity to complain about being caught?

    Where the fuck is Robespierre and a guillotine when we need them?

  3. Kaintukee Bob says

    I really do want everyone to have access to adequate education, but I can understand the desires of people who choose where to live (despite increased costs) based on the quality of the school system.

    That said, as long as the school system has adequate space for additional students, I’d be happy to have other students from outside the local community able to attend! I fully believe that diversity within any system improves the system.

    For the record, I’m one of those middle class white people that picked an expensive area to live in because of the local school system. I picked it because it had a reputation for inclusivity, strong anti-bullying stances, and they were very accepting of my transgender children. This had NOT been true of their previous school system.

    Our entire education system in the US needs to be revamped. I’m happy to work towards that, but until it does I will do what I can to ensure that my kids get the benefits I can (legally) give them. It’s (IMHO) the only moral thing I can do.

  4. says

    “My taxes” is a not so subtle racist dogwhistle by now.
    As for parents: I work at an inclusive comprehensive school in a not so good area. In Germany secondary schools are stratified with the “Gymnasium” (no, this has nothing to do with sports) for the “more gifted” kids and the comprehensive schools for everyone else, with parents being able to choose freely which school their kid goes to. Study after study shows that this is extremely correlated not with intelligence or performance but parental income.
    Although I’m qualified to teach all grades from 5-13 I’m happy to work at a comprehensive school (some of which go to level 13, though I’m currently working as a special ed teacher). My kid, though really bright, goes to a comprehensive school as well, but to be honest, I wouldn’t have sent her to the one I’m working at.
    Many of our kids come from poor homes, and many of those kids suffer from borderline neglect, with all the problems that come with poverty like violence and substance abuse. We’re doing our best to help these kids, but school alone cannot fix these inequalities.
    What is absolutely not different from the parents described here is the lying and the entitlement, only that it is expressed in different ways.
    Here it’s the Syrian kids who are always to blame. If it weren’t for them existing their darling boy wouldn’t have beaten them.
    Or it’s the school and teachers who are unfairly picking on their very bright little darling who doesn’t do shit and loses worksheets faster than Trump is losing staff. Would you believe that teachers refuse to hand them out again and again, making other people cover the cost?
    And it’s the lying. I don’t know why they think they’re getting away with it. They give us permission to talk to doctors and counsellors and then of course we find out that they’ve been lying to us about their kid’s therapy and medication and whatever.
    Seriously, parents are the worst part of teaching.
    No, actually it’s this complete lack of power that you feel when you know that an 11 years old kid is about to ruin their life and you can’t do shit because the parents don’t cooperate.

  5. says

    I pay taxes as well. Never had children. I’d rather my tax money helps poor children.
    Here in Austin a lot of tax money comes from businesses that have no interest in one child over another.
    Also, my near relatives mostly live elsewhere.

    As far as athletics, I have to wonder if it is really that different from dances programs in college.

  6. says

    @Howard Brazee
    That ‘Commander in Cheat’ article is both hilarious and depressing!
    That story about the 16-year old golf prodigy had me laughing out loud. Kid’s losing, and Trump starts trash talking him to the crowd that’s watching. Kid gets mad and stages a comeback, tying Trump on the 18th hole and beating him on the second hole of the tie-breaker, and the ‘big man’ can’t even look him in the eye when they shake hands after. I’ll bet Trump still fumes over that today.
    But then there’s that case where Trump wasn’t even present for a club championship, and some other guy plays the best game of his life and wins the title. Trump returns to the club a few days later and sees the staff putting up the guy’s name on the wall, and declares “Hey, I beat that guy all the time. Put me up there instead!”
    I mean, WTF? This guy’s an average player, but manages to pull out all the stops, plays the best game of his life (and during a championship no less!) and Trump’s just like ‘Nah! He doesn’t belong. Give it to me!’ I mean, it’s just sickening in its pettiness.

  7. says

    As for the college admissions scandal? My Dad was the first guy on his side of the family to go to University (in Canada). The only reason he got in was because of a special program; specifically, our version of the GI Bill. His father’s service during WW II got my Dad a place he likely never would have achieved on his own (coming from a rural Northern Ontario mining town). He worked his ass off and the whole time there was a clique of trust-fund babies there to remind him that he didn’t belong. That he didn’t deserve the education he was getting.
    And this was Laurentian University! An excellent school but hardly an elite institution!
    Sorry about double-posting here but this whole issue is just sickening.

  8. atgc says

    Has PZ always been radicalized? Second post in the last few days where he blasts capitalism. We approve, comrade. ☭

  9. Michael says

    I can sympathize with the Quince parents to a certain degree, but for other reasons. While parents like to think they have a big influence in their children’s development, they usually only interact with their children for a couple of hours a day, while the majority of their children’s time is spent with their peer group. If most of their peers are academically-motivated, then that will rub off on them; however if most of their peers aren’t, then motivating them to push themselves academically will be harder. I’ve taught at several schools that I wouldn’t want my kids attending, because the school culture doesn’t align with my values (eg. few students planning on post-secondary education, problems with drugs or crime, etc.). So if the Quince school is high achieving, and the students from the poorer schools are motivated to do the same, then that is great! However, if the effect is that the poorer students aren’t motivated to achieve, dilute the school culture, and standards drop, then that is a problem.
    Assuming my thoughts on the two schools is accurate, my suggestion would be to divert more resources to the poorer schools to improve achievement there, and also move students who show academic potential to the Quince school, rather than just a carte blanche.

  10. says

    Chances are children that transfer into a better school system either have parents that are striving to get their kids better education, or the students themselves are trying for that.

  11. says

    So the Quince kids get to attend the “nice” school by value of their “birthright”, but the poorer kids need to prove their worth. Sounds about white to me.

  12. microraptor says

    rob @11:

    An apparent lack of knowledge about PZ’s political and economic opinions despite the fact that it should be freaking obvious to anyone who’s followed this blog for at least a week combined with using a Soviet hammer and sickle.

  13. DanDare says

    “The quality of the local school system”
    That statement is the problem.
    Every school needs to have roughly similar quality for society to thrive. All schools should be funded to a hogh standard regardless of neighbourhood.
    Progressive taxation does not mean the wealthy own more of the system. Being in a wealthy neighbourhood might mean that thete are wealthy patrons. However the benefits should not be kept by the school but shared about through the system.

  14. says

    The aspect of this essay that resonated the most for me was the outraged response of the entitled being called out on their cheating and lying. In the 80’s and 90’s I was a Union President for a dozen years, and spent a LOT of time in meetings, negotiations and arbitrations with right-wing contemptuous entitled a-holes who would lie reflexively.
    If you contradicted them verbally it was “How dare you insult me and question my professional integrity/personal dignity!”
    Presented with a report, analysis, calculation, or mutual correspondence that proved their mendacity, it would usually be met with, “I’ll have to check this against my records, let’s table the discussion for now.” Never, not once, got an admission or apology.

  15. Michael says

    @14 “Sounds about white to me.”

    I don’t recall mentioning race at all in my comment, and I don’t agree that it applies. In my case, the neighbourhood I grew up in was upper-middle class, and at my high school it was just ‘understood’ that we were going to university (you were the odd one if you weren’t going). Several of my peers/friends were from Asian, East-Indian, and Black backgrounds. Some of the high achieving schools where I live now (West Coast) are predominantly Asian. I can also think of some white-majority schools that are low-achieving as well.

  16. Rob Grigjanis says

    microraptor @16: So atgc is a communist who hasn’t been following the blog as closely as you (or I) have. I think the “troll” trigger is pulled a bit too often in these here parts.

  17. markkernes says

    “Capitalism poisons everything.” AWRIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. rgmani says


    I agree you did not mention race in your comments but there is this inbuilt assumption (among the Quince parents) that poor people are somehow suspect and will ruin the school. If the proposal had been to broaden school district boundaries to let people from the neighboring rich area in, I suspect that there would have been a lot fewer parents protesting. I agree with you that school culture is important and parents have a right to be worried that it might get diluted but rich kids could dilute the school culture just as much as poor kids could.


  19. raaak says

    Rich people. Up against the wall, assholes.

    I share the sentiment. But I hope you don’t support jail time for these people as the prosecutors are apparently seeking. Throwing people in cages is almost never the answer.

    I was surprised when I saw Jerry Coyne actually advocating jail time, being such a staunch determinist and all that. I guess a determinist could still justify a cruel and extreme punishment in the name of “deterrence”. Sadly, atheists are still capable of committing and justifying all the atrocities the religious are capable of as long as they can justify them with some pseudo-scientific crap.

  20. chris61 says

    @22 rgmani

    I agree you did not mention race in your comments but there is this inbuilt assumption (among the Quince parents) that poor people are somehow suspect and will ruin the school.

    Or maybe… radical idea I know but maybe the Quince parents took a look at the test scores of schools from some of the surrounding areas and became concerned.

  21. Ishikiri says

    This ties in so well with the latest episode of This American Life, in which they talk about how as NBA basketball officiating has improved, fan anger at referees has apparently increased. Better officiating means that star players who are used to getting away with bullshit get called more often, and therefore get super pissed off at the refs more often. The fans follow the star players.

    People in general don’t like being told to change their behavior, that increases exponentially with perceived self-superiority.

  22. says

    I thought we were supposed to judge people on their individual merits, not on where they came from.
    The same old lies and bullshit I guess.
    I’m glad I was able to pass as white and not have to put up with that.

  23. F.O. says

    Since we’re here….

    This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it’s true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.

    While the US might be an extreme case, all is not well in EU either.
    Abolishing private schools in Italy would be unthinkable.
    (Most private schools in Italy are Catholic and even if the Constitution forbids the State from giving them money, every few years or so another piece of legislation is added that works around the Constitution and effectively funnels money from public to private schools…)

    every now and then more work arounds to that

  24. says

    You’re commenting on a specific situation that actually does have a racial component:

    Here’s what happened when a public school proposed to broaden the school boundaries and let in those other kids, the poor ones, the brown ones. The parents freaked out.

    Not to mention the structural racism that keeps certain neighbourhoods white and black neighbourhoods poor. But since you have reached “I have Asian friends” level already, I guess there#s no use in discussing matters.


    Or maybe… radical idea I know but maybe the Quince parents took a look at the test scores of schools from some of the surrounding areas and became concerned.

    So those poorer, less white neighbourhoods are also, coincidentally, inhabited by less intelligent more lazy people…
    Not just poorer people whose kids got worse schools and would benefit a lot from better schools…

  25. says

    Test scores. Ha.
    I once told a coworker who was testing for his GED about the routine I use on tests. Run through the test and answer the easy ones, go back to the start and do the ones you have to think about a little, then go back and do the hard ones. He had never heard of that strategy, and it helped him quite a bit.