Friday, April 19, 2019

It's been a long time since I've seen such a completely wrongheaded interpretation of current events gain as much popularity as this Atlantic article by Caitlin Flanagan on college admissions fraud.  Flanagan exhibits multiple colossal misunderstandings of the political and social conditions leading to the fraud, which she attributes to affluent parents' sense of "entitlement":
Huffman, like all of the other indicted parents, was expressing an attitude I first encountered not in the great books, but in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, when Sally dictates her endless list of toys to Charlie. “All I want is what I have coming to me,” she tells him; “all I want is my fair share.”
Now, there's a sense in which all criminals demonstrate reprehensible arrogance by acting as if they're above the law.  But Flanagan isn't referring to their lawlessness:
These parents—many of them avowed Trump haters—are furious that what once belonged to them has been taken away, and they are driven mad with the need to reclaim it for their children. The changed admissions landscape at the elite colleges is the aspect of American life that doesn’t feel right to them; it’s the lost thing, the arcadia that disappeared so slowly they didn’t even realize it was happening until it was gone...They pay thousands and thousands of dollars for untimed testing and private counselors; they scour lists of board members at colleges, looking for any possible connections; they pay for enhancing summer programs that only underscore their children’s privilege.
  Apparently, in Flanagan's eyes, affluent parents express their sense of entitlement not through languid decadence, or arrogant condescension, or expectation of effortless success, but rather by applying themselves with frenetic, single-minded determination (not to mention extraordinarily lavish spending) towards securing their children's future.  (She describes their efforts as "campaigns undertaken with the same level of whimsy with which the Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor".)  Presumably she attributes similar smug entitlement to equally determined but less affluent parents--say, Asian "Tiger Mothers"--as well.  In fact, she even attributes it to, of all people, working-class white Trump voters:
They were experiencing the same response to a changing America that ultimately brought Donald Trump to office: white displacement and a revised social contract. The collapse of manufacturing jobs has been to poor whites what the elite college-admissions crunch has been to wealthy ones: a smaller and smaller slice of pie for people who were used to having the fattest piece of all.
A couple of decades ago, Flanagan's lumping together of affluent Californian "Trump haters" and hardscrabble Midwestern Trump fans might have made slightly more sense.  As ICBW readers are well aware, the alliance between wealthy entrepreneurs (though not the professionals and showbiz types who figure so prominently in this scandal) and working-class whites used to be quite strong.  But it's been deteriorating for some time now, and the rise of Trump signaled its complete dissolution.  For Flanagan to treat both cohorts as linked enemies today is not just hyper-partisan nastiness (poor whites "were used to having the fattest piece of all"?), but also seriously outdated politics.

On the other hand, her disdain for her erstwhile liberal allies--the affluent professional class--signals her much sharper awareness of the deep schism in her own tribe's ranks, between those same professionals and more radical progressives like herself.  While she derides the former for constantly "bitching about admissions", Flanagan, a dedicated English teacher whose family's "god was art, specifically literature", extols elite colleges' "deep attention to the issue of enrollment management; the more elite the institution, the more likely it is to be racially and socioeconomically diverse."  (It's unclear whether she counts those colleges' flagrant discrimination against Asians as a form of "diversity" or just good "enrollment management".)

This allegiance to progressive academia explains the huge blind spot evident throughout the article:  Flanagan's stubborn denial of the obvious moral parallels between admissions fraud and its perfectly legal cousin, "enrollment management".  Flanagan stoutly defends universities against claims that their avaricious leeching of billions of dollars from wealthy (and not-so-wealthy) parents desperate to see a prestigious degree bestowed upon their children just might be disturbingly similar to what certain corrupt athletic coaches were doing:
  As off-putting as most of us find the role that big-ticket fundraising plays in elite-college admissions, those monies go toward programs and facilities that will benefit a wide number of students—new dormitories, new libraries, enriched financial-aid funds are often the result of rich parents being tapped for gifts at admissions time. But the Singer scheme benefits no one at all except the individual students, and the people their parents paid off.
 To most of us, of course, spending money on a whole classful of entitled children of exactly the parents Flanagan has been roasting for so many long paragraphs doesn't seem all that much more altruistic than spending it on a single such child.  But the real difference is who, in practice, gets a cut of that spending, in the form of increased income and comforts: not a single scamming coach, but rather a bunch of professors, graduate students, college staff and administrators--that is, people very much like Caitlin Flanagan.  Most of them no doubt share Flanagan's progressive politics, as well as her devotion to her family's cultural quasi-religion.  They no doubt also see their comfortable academic sinecures as the perfectly natural and merited fruits of the "generosity" of the many parents collectively extorted out of their savings by a voracious academic cartel, in return for nothing more than a job credential certifying that their children have demonstrated their suitability for white-collar employment--primarily by successfully navigating a grueling, corrupt admissions process.

And if one dares even suggest that these academic types' social contribution might not necessarily justify their (and their institutions') stranglehold on the nation's pocketbooks, or that perhaps they haven't always been the most high-minded and selfless stewards of their incredibly valuable and lucrative collective credentialing authority?  Expect to hear an outpouring of outraged indignation from Caitlin Flanagan and her educator friends, of the sort that bespeaks a far deeper and more unjustified sense of...entitlement, than any wealthy Beverly Hills parent of a high school senior could ever hope to muster.

Monday, April 08, 2019

The April Fools' Day edition of the ICBW podcast is now available to foolish listeners everywhere! In part 1, we discuss the recent academic admissions fraud scandal; part 2 covers Jussie Smollett, the Mueller report, and the logistics of terrorism; and part 3 revisits LTEC's current romantic obsession, Elizabeth Holmes.  Listeners are as always invited to participate belatedly in our April Fools' festivities by leaving their comments, foolish or otherwise, below.