There were some opinions expressed about the “Turning the Tide” report (as outlined in a piece by Frank Bruni) in “Letters to the Editor” in “The New York Times” that we figured we’d share with our readers. Unsurprisingly, we both agree and disagree with some of the expressed opinions, but they are worthy of sharing nonetheless. The initial letter comes from a longtime professor at Swarthmore, Barry Schwartz, who believes that the “Turning the Tide” report is well-intentioned but it will not cease the “credentialing” that is rampant at high schools and highly selective colleges across America. As he articulates, “As long as there are any criteria used to distinguish spectacular students from merely great ones, it is just a matter of time before new system-gaming strategies will emerge.” He also then refers to highly selective college admissions as a lottery system, which couldn’t be further from the truth — but his point about how this report won’t have the impact some think it will is well taken.
In the second letter, our personal favorite, a high school student, Jack Mollin, writes, “Mr. Bruni vilifies the ‘A.P. everything’ culture, but the A.P. classes I’m taking are both interesting and immensely beneficial. Taking advanced courses in both STEM subjects (physics) and the humanities — American history and language and composition — allows me to see what classes I might enjoy in college and what profession I might enjoy. Mr. Bruni says many students who apply to top colleges are ‘slavish adherents to soulless scripts that forbid the exploration of genuine passions,’ but that could not be farther from the truth for me and many other ‘exceptional’ students. It is possible for me to take three A.P. classes, play sports, do community service, participate on the student council and do everything else that I do while still having my own life. I still joke around with friends, spend time with my family, and find time to be addicted to iPhone games and crosswords. Painting adolescents as obsessive robots is not a path to meaningful change.” Well said indeed, Jack! We agree on everything Jack has written about AP courses. The only thing we’d point out is that highly selective colleges don’t need — or want — students who are well-rounded. The notion that a student needs to do community service, sports, etc. to get into college is an outdated one.
Harvard Graduate School of Education folks may not be able to change a lightbulb but they sure can generate lengthy reports that nobody and their great aunt will ever read.
And in the third letter, Gerald Zuriff is skeptical there will be genuine change that comes from this “Turning the Tide” report. As he writes, “There will still be a ‘competitive frenzy’ among these applicants, which ‘jeopardizes their mental health.’ The “hoops” will still be there, but they will be different hoops. Sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression will continue at current levels.” We couldn’t agree more. What happens when you put a bunch of Harvard Graduate School of Education students in a room together to generate a report? They generate a very long report that nobody reads. And they have trouble changing the lightbulb that goes out while crafting the report. Ok, this was a terrible, no good, very bad joke. Whatever. You’re reading a college admissions blog. This isn’t “The Daily Show.” Oh wait, that show isn’t funny anymore either. We miss you, Jon Stewart.