Sunday, April 13, 2008

Making the Grade

When I applied to college I purposely avoided Ivy League schools.

It wasn't because I didn't think I could get. After all, I had a nice GPA, was a National Merit Finalist and played a varsity sport at a high level. Add in my blackness and I probably could have finagled admission to one of the Ivys, if not to Harvard or Yale.

But, when I thought about four years of being around a bunch of arrogant, intelligent and rich white kids, well let's just say that wasn't my cup of tea. I decided that an HBCU was more my style, and when my parents encouraged me to fill out applications to Ivy League schools, I hid the documents and lied about the deadlines.

However, my feelings about Ivy League schools are not shared by most high school students today. This article in the NY Times outlines the lengths that at least one student took to get into Yale, and insinuates that admissions fraud is a much larger problem then schools are willing to admit.

What really stood out to me from the article is the information that there are black markets where you can actually purchase fake transcripts. That's amazing to me.

I mean, when I was in high school there were rumors that people were able to obtain advance copies of the ACT, and in college, there was an underground market for professors old tests. But, nobody had forgeries of officials documents. If they did, then cats wouldn't have had to purchase bootleg cap and gowns to pretend like they were graduating from college when their parents showed up. They would have just taken those fake transcripts and gotten the real thing.

There have been rumblings that cheating has become an epidemic in the scholatistic arena. When I was in school students just used minature cheat sheets, or suretipously hidden textbooks to get an edge, but these days young people have gone digital and are smuggling much more detailed information into class. I've been trying to determine if this is a sign that the morality of students has declined or just that their expertise has increased?

It's an age old question really; are people today less moral than people of the past?

On it's face, it seems like an easy victory for our ancestors. For most people, society appears to sinking further into the morass of rampant violence, crass sexuality and ubiquitious dishonesty. Random school shootings and corporate shenanigans enhance most people's feelings of unease at the way our world seems to be losing it's moral compass. That's why so many people cling to stringent religious dogma and condemn any deviation from those rules.

And, while I often find myself lamenting the behavior of "these dumbass kids," I cannot honestly look at life in the past as being so great. I don't know if it's my black skin or stubborness, but it seems to me that folks have always been ornery and dishonest, it's just that we shine the spotlight on their missteps much more frequently today.

How could I examine the hypocrisy and brutality that permeated every aspect of slavery and segregation and not find people in the past lacking? How could I look at the debauchery that has dominated every generation of "civilized" life and not wonder it things today are much better? In times past, rape, pedophilia and human sacrifice were accepted aspects of society, and just 50 years ago a black man's life was forfeit if he sassed a white person.

It seems to me that human beings have always been strivers who were willing to kneecap any individual or group of people who stood in their way. We as humans have always been able to rationalize bending or ignoring any rules as long as that accomplishes our goal. How else do we explain Manifest Destiny, the 3/5ths compromise or the planned assasination of Patrice Lumumba? How do we explain the war in Iraq?

The shock that greets every new atrocity or slip-up in morality today is a sign that we as a species are very good at ignoring those parts of the past that do not mesh with our desire to be nostalgic. We constantly piss and moan about the "good ol' days," but avoid a a real examination of those days of yore that would expose them for what they were.

No different from today.


Lolo said...

Honestly, the only thing that I wish for from the "good old days" is a sense of modesty or shame, in the old fashioned reading of those words.

However, I view the current permutation of tabloid sensationalism as just being another version of Bread and Ciruses to sell product and placate the masses so it too will pass. Hopefully.

If I have to put up with the fact that there are celebrities who serve as excellent examples of what my children may NOT choose as life paths, while we are also living in the midst of a moment where a man who is competing to be the leader of my country can actually speak hard truths to me and my fellow citzens ~ then I'll take it. It's far from perfect but it is still far from what I was born into.

It still makes my head spin a bit to tell my children that it took an Act of Congress to ensure that "No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, standard, practise, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color."

It boggles them almost as much as the fact that I had to get up off my bottom in order to change the channel on our Black and White!!! Television.

As a world, I don't even dare to hope that we're anywhere near to even dreaming of what might be possible as a species but I do know that we are closer than we ever have been. I don't know that I dare to hope for better yet but I do know that I'm grateful that there are things that are no longer acceptable, at all.

I guess I do hope for better, for the best but am prepared for the worst. Sorry to be so rambly and garbled but it's been a looong day of voter canvassing and being on my very best behaviour while dealing with the occasional, willfully closedhearted and minded excuses for people.

However, I think the high point of my day was the couple in their 80s who excitedly pointed at my Obama button and said "We're voting for HIM!!!"

Big Man said...


You are always insightful. I appreciate you checking what I have to say so regularly.

And, I have always, ALWAYS been surprised that more people aren't outraged that Congress had to pass a special bill in 1964 to give minorities the same rights that most white folks took for granted.

It's just astounding.

And I really wish I could canvas for Obama, I really do. I may be lazy, but I want to help the brother out. This is the first time I've even been bothered by my jobs ban on political work.

WNG said...

Don't worry, Big Man, I've got your back on the Obama canvassing. I'm only an hour away from NC so I'll be there a lot in the next few weeks.
As to your post - I have to agree with you in that we have always had problems and that certain aspects of our society have gotten better. I do think though, that we place too much emphasis on result (diploma)and not enough on process (learning). That was the reason that I too stayed away from Ivy League schools although in my case it was in favor of a small arts college in the Jesuit tradition.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

good for you, i mean, i feel ya, we Morehose grads call Harvard the Morehouse of the North anyway

Truthiz said...

I see you've done it again Big Man_

Well said!

Your post is, as they say, "dead on!"

Gye Greene said...

Great blog! (I've only read two entries so far; found it thru a comment that WNG left at where she mentions SoN and your blog as her two faves.)

I've taught college students in both the U.S. (Seattle) and Australia (Brisbane). My assessment is that now, more than ever, college is not for intellectual exploration or learning stuff (well, for a few kids it still is...). Instead, it's just the certification for getting an office job somewhere.

So: students choose a Least-Painful Major, take the courses they have to, and get the magic B.A. and get out of there. Since most of the courses won't directly apply to what they're doing in their office jobs, it's just an ends to a means, rather than the process.

At least, that's my [hurried] take. :)


Big Man said...


We always welcome new visitors at this blog, and WNG has been great about singing our praises. I don't know why she likes what I write so much, but I really appreciate it.

That said, my college experience was a lot like you described. I picked a major I thought would get me a job, and picked my classes based on their start times and the likelihood of me getting an A. Now, any time I talk to kids I tell them to determine their passion first and then pick a major. I even tell them to take at least a year of college to figure out what classes they really like. I wish I'd had the same advice.

Gye Greene said...

Thanks for the welcome! :)

Yeah, it's hard to choose a major when you don't have much life experience. I think it was Thomas Dewey (famous education researcher) that thought that people should be required to take some time off between H.S. and college, intern in a few places to figure out the sorts of things they like -- and **then** go get training.

Too many doctors who make it all the way through to their Residency, only to realize that modern medicine (in the world of HMOs) isn't their thing...

For example. :)


Raving Black Lunatic