Letter to the editor: No shortcut to good education

In writing about the higher education admissions scandal, many commentators have said something like “This isn’t like giving money for a hospital wing to get your kid into Yale; these parents were having their kid’s SAT tests taken by others and having their faces photoshopped on to athlete’s bodies.” True, but isn’t the result of buying entry through donations and buying SAT scores the same? In either case, a mediocre student who has not earned a seat is given one and a worthy student is rejected. In both cases, the golden ticket — a ticket to privilege — goes to the unworthy.
Consider George W. Bush, whose prep school records were mediocre to the point where his Dean counseled him to apply to a “safety school” as well as Yale, a legacy school for the Bush family. According to the World Biography of U.S. Presidents, “His SAT scores were 566 for the verbal part and 640 for math. Those were far below the median scores for students admitted to his class at Yale: 668 verbal and 718 math.” Bush was accepted and graduated from Yale with average grades. Was this Ivy League credential and the social connections that came with it, in part, responsible for his climb to the White House. For example, George Bush met Dick Chaney, an even worse student, at Yale.
Does it matter? As President, Bush brought the U.S. to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. These wars have cost the U.S. over two trillion dollars and over resulted in over 400,000 military and civilian deaths. Perhaps this is the legacy of a legacy admission.
Donald Trump also had a checkered educational background, yet he attended an Ivy League school for the last two years of his college career. Despite his bragging about his brilliance — “I’m, like, a really smart person.” — he seems to have been an unremarkable student whose time was spent investing in real estate with the two million dollar loan his father gave him.
We don’t know whether his father donated to Wharton or what his grades and SAT scores were. We do know that his former lawyer testified that Trump “directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores.” We do know that “the headmaster of Trump’s alma mater, New York Military Academy, was instructed by his manager to secure Trump’s academic records so they could not be released, reportedly at the direction of ‘prominent, wealthy alumni of the school who were Mr. Trump’s friends’” I wonder what he’s hiding. We do know that the recent New Zealand shooter was inspired by Donald Trump’s white nationalist tendencies.
I grew up thinking of America as a country of ideals — a place where hard work would get you somewhere. Credentialing those who have not studied hard — who have taken a shortcut to success — is wrong. Informing and training the mind to think well is important. Well-educated leaders are in a position to make smarter decisions. Of course, school is not the only place to learn, but there is no shortcut to the hard work of learning.
Harry Yeo Chaucer
New Haven

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