Yesterday, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education issued a report aimed at reforming the college admissions process. The report’s recommendations were met with much applause from media outlets, and have been endorsed by dozens of other institutions.
However, after reading through them, I find myself having a bit of a Walter Sobchak moment and thinking, “Am I the only one around here who gives a s*** about education?!?”
I don’t want to overreact. The report—“Turning the Tide”—undoubtedly contains some good. It’s responding to widely recognized deficiencies in the current college admissions rat race, namely, an overemphasis on standardized test scores, AP courses, and having a laundry list of extracurricular activities and exotic “service” trips.
But its recommendations don’t eliminate the rat race; they simply shift it to a different track, one that is determined by the modern shibboleths of equity, diversity, and social justice. Here are the report’s three main recommendations:
1) Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good.
2) Assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class.
3) Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.
Specific ways students can woo admissions committees in these areas include: demonstrating “emotional and ethical awareness,” addressing “bullying in their schools or communities or some form of environmental degradation,” and coming to “a deeper understanding of social structures and inequalities.” (What does one expect from a document issued by a project named “Making Caring Common”?)
Listen, I’m all for today’s high school and college students being less self-centered and more focused on their local communities.
But nowhere—in either the current admissions guidelines or this report’s recommendations—is an emphasis placed on knowledge. (You know, the thing colleges exist to impart?) In its first two hundred or so years of existence, hopeful students had to demonstrate what they knew to gain admittance to Harvard in the form of an exam, administered by the college, that tested them on languages, grammar, history, writing skills, and math.
Today, to have a shot at entrance into America’s elite institutions, you need to successfully jump through the hoops and achieve a high GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and have participated in several extracurriculars… or have rich parents. “Turning the Tide’s” recommendations seemingly imply that students should be accepted because they are socially conscious and nice. No one, it seems, actually has to prove that they know anything to go to college.
Sigh… where is the knowledge that we have lost in schooling?