Saturday, November 19, 2022

The Wealth and Power I Never Knew I Had

From an interesting article about the effects resulting from the post-pandemic practices of some colleges making submission of SAT scores optional:

Hannah Wolff, a former college counselor at Langley High School, a top-ranked high school in the wealthy suburbs of Washington, D.C., heard from admissions counselors at several public universities that a few Langley seniors who were rejected might have been admitted if they had not submitted their SAT scores, which were in the 1350 range. While a 1350 would have been considered a good score in the past at those schools, now, when the only applicants submitting scores are mostly those well above the average, the expectations of admissions officers have risen with the scores — especially for applicants from wealthy academic powerhouses like Langley.

Wealthy academic powerhouse? I went to Langley, class of 1976 (yes, the American bicentennial, which nonetheless ended with The Beautiful Popular Kids Who Decide Such Things naming us "the class with class" in the yearbook; pathetic). It was dreary, doctrinaire, and overcrowded (2,400 students in a square two-story building, surrounded by chain-link fences topped with barbed wire that was angled in towards the school, not out, and what's that tell you?). Students who valued scholarship were reminded of their place in society by cute cheerleaders in short skirts decorating the lockers of football players whenever there was a home game that night (there were only five minutes between bells, so the cheerleaders were allowed to leave class early to go decorate the football players' lockers, of course).

As a local elected official in the neighboring county of Loudoun, I heard over and over from our public school administrators that "ninety percent of success in school is determined by what happens at home." Now, it's true that some people with money and power do live in the "wealthy suburbs of Washington, D.C." My father was a senior military officer, so he did have a certain kind of power, though not really the kind people think of when they contemplate power in the context of the nation's capital. Wealth? He drove a ten-year-old Mustang to work every day. The old man spent at least a couple of hours every month, on his back, underneath the thing, replacing and resetting worn-out parts. We had more copies of the J.C. Whitney catalog in our home than most people had of the Sears Christmas wishbook. He called the continuing process of torque-wrenching the old Ford's greasy bolts his "hobby."

As a military brat, I did not grow up in the "wealthy suburbs" (or, as the press still likes to call the specific census designated place we lived in, "affluent McLean, Virginia). By the time I got to Langley, I had lived in a half-dozen other places. But, of course, I had always lived in just one: my home, with my family.

Now, I did get to submit a SAT score with my college applications. In those days, it wasn't optional. Mine was higher than 1350 and, in all humility, if you Google this you will find out that scores today are on a different scale, such that any score today would equal a score about 20 points higher back then. So my SAT score was pretty dang good, to be quite blunt about it. But, to be equally blunt, it was not the result my being a student at a "wealthy academic powerhouse." Those school administrators knew what it was a result of: what happened at home. My home, with my family, and my military officer-and-spouse's personal philosophies about what mattered. I will also credit a program that rescued me from failure at, yes, Langley, called ALP ("Alternative Learning Program"). It was mostly for hippies and slackers, but it embraced the identity of the individual, which helped me score a bunch of As and Bs in my last two years. It is important to know that the vast majority of Langley students, teachers, and administrators detested ALP and frequently tried to shut it down. Without ALP, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere, certainly not the wealthy powerhouse college I did get into. But Langley itself would rather not have had ALP at all. Today, I believe, it is long dead.

Perhaps Langley is a wealthy powerhouse today. Maybe (who knows?) it was back then, too. But you wouldn't have been able to prove its goal was to do anything for a person like me by either whose lockers the cheerleaders decorated, nor by which programs it supported. What you could prove is that academic success happens mostly at home, no matter where that is, nor how often it changes. That's where my SAT score came from, and nowhere else.

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