Sunday, October 24, 2010

Let the Indoctrination Begin

The woman-child, being this year a high school senior, is in the throes of college applications.

Back in the antewebian day when I was similarly throed, the process was limited to grades and SAT scores, which pretty much defined one's academic aspirations. Grades and scores were proxies to gain admission into colleges whose brand names were proxies in turn for entry into the world after industrialized education. My record strongly suggested I restrain my ambitions to those schools whose academic standards were friendly to those who could reliably fog a mirror.

Which makes a great deal of sense, when you think about it. The whole process, end-to-end, contained selection criteria chosen to yield a likelihood of success. Yes, legacy and money made their inevitable appearances. But put them off to the side: there were perfectly good reasons why Yale would have been exercising an instant of sanity by binning my application, should I have been so insane as to send one their direction in the first place.

My daughter, firmly ensconced in the upper 5% of her class, is not similarly constrained. And the application process seems also to have lost its moorings.

Besides the old standbys, grades and scores, there is now a small flotilla of essay questions with which to do battle:

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to address this challenge. Include whether you turned to anyone in facing the challenge, the role the person played, and what you learned about yourself.
Gosh. I am the child of two not same sex parents who have failed to not be amicably and persistently married. I have tried to get cancer, but it seems not to be contagious. Is it too late to get a heroin addiction?
Describe your experiences facing or witnessing discrimination. Tell us how you responded and what you learned from these experiences and how they have prepared you to contribute to the OSU community.
I'm short. Being a girl, I throw like a girl. I face discrimination every day because the basketball team refuses to embrace diversity, which doesn't make me feel good about myself.

Surely, OSU will not engage in tallist-throwist normative thinking when picking their starting center. I'm ready to contribute.
“Iconoclasts” is a Sundance Channel show that explores the intersection where two great talents meet. Each episode pairs two creative visionaries who discuss their lives, influences, and art. Examples: Quentin Tarantino and Fiona Apple; Madeleine Albright and Ashley Judd. The producer of the show has asked you to suggest a new pair. What two well-known, living individuals would you like to see paired in discussion? Why? What insights might emerge from their discussion?
Having labored through an episode, I learned the dictionary needs amending: apparently iconoclast is the word that means "someone who works in the entertainment industry, although it often isn't clear why". And that one of the acts that the Geneva convention must surely include as torture is sitting through one of these preening mutually congratulating tongue baths.

If the past is any guide, any two names I cough up need only satisfy the notoriety requirement. I'll go with the Pillsbury Dough Boy and Dennis the Menace. A producer that will green light Madeleine Albright and Ashley Judd will green light anything.
Food plays an important role in all of our lives. Food can reflect our values, beliefs, culture or ethnicity. Please provide an example of how food reflects one of these aspects in your life and explain why.
My family is half-British, which means we don't have an ethnicity; just ask the census bureau. As for values, beliefs and culture, they are apparently neatly tied up in negligent preparation and slapdash presentation. I am grateful for anything my dad cooks that isn't an immediate threat to my health.

Which is why, to avoid starvation -- that lesser well known role that food plays in our lives -- we have pizza delivered.

A lot.

Even though we aren't Italian, and, from what I have heard, it isn't, either.

Could be an American thing, although apparently that isn't an ethnicity. Can I get half-credit anyway?

Tell us about something that you have done on your own in the last two years that makes you feel good about yourself.
I am very uncomfortable with the harsh individualism implicit in this question. We are products of our community; therefore, we owe everything to our community. Life being what it is, I may not always feel good about myself. But, thanks to you and these questions, I will make any sacrifice, suffer any indignity, just so I never face the existential hell of working in college admissions.

The questions are real; the answers are just dad trying to help his little girl work her way through the perplexing folkways of academia.

Perhaps this is one time in her life when my daughter should look elsewhere for guidance.


Blogger Barry Meislin said...

Isn't "Alaskan" an ethnicity?

October 25, 2010 2:33 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Skipper, this is one area where your help wouldn't be productive.

Your most important contribution now is to let your daughter see you have confidence in her ability to figure things out for herself.

You've done your job and I'd guess done it well, it's time to let go. She'll be fine even though it may look touch and go for a few years.

PS: It's still about grades and scores and letters of recommendation. The silly questions process is just make work for admissions people.

October 25, 2010 6:01 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

"For my iconoclasts programme, I would select Orrin Judd and Lou Gots, two of my dad's imaginary enemies. I would ask them to discuss Darwin and baseball caps ..."

October 25, 2010 7:06 AM  
Blogger Gaw said...

Just so you know, getting pizza delivered is now typical of British ethnicity (in the unlikely event that such a condition is recognised).

I still have anxiety dreams about my final year exams. Your daughter is experiencing one aspect of youth I don't miss at all.

October 25, 2010 9:17 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

LOL - well done.

Good luck to your daughter applying in the midst of the "higher education bubble" (according to Instapundit).

October 25, 2010 11:15 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Two great talents? I want to hear Jerry Springer and Brett Favre.

I suggest, seriously, that she put N/A under several of those questions.

For what it's worth, I think the college application and acceptance system is seriously screwed up. Those questions express some of it, but there are other problems as well.

And it isn't recent. When my daughter was looking 25 years ago, one of her top two choices was Northwestern. Northwestern had 9,000 applications for 1,800 openings that year.

My daughter was a National Merit Scholar, valedictorian (if you eliminated the home ec majors who had GPAs of 4.8 on a scale of 4.0), and did not get so much as letter back from Northwestern.

Somehow I doubt that there were 7,201 other National Merit Scholar/valedictorians applying that year ahead of her.

October 25, 2010 11:34 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


I think the essay questions are a consequence of limits on affirmative action.


Thread winner.


If my experience is any guide, getting a decade older is not going to make a dent on those exam anxiety dreams.


How about Tiger Woods and Brett Favre?

Maybe this admissions thing is, in part, an accident of timing. Perhaps in the last 25 years colleges are competing harder for women.

My daughter just missed by a whisker being a Nat'l Merit Scholar, and she is getting come hither letters from every prestigious university in the country. Since I told her I wasn't going any further than one airline flight to kill spiders, that put the Ivies out of reach. Thank goodness.

I think there is something of a higher-ed bubble, but it depends on the major.

I doubt any degree in hard engineering is ever going out of fashion.

My daughter is aiming at pharmacy, which looks like being a good return on investment.

October 25, 2010 7:44 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, I don't think it has pharmacy, but let me put in a plug for Cal Tech.

A friend of mine was the alumni association president, and the girl:boy ratio there is 1:2. The school considers that if it cannot get close to 1:1, it will not be able to recruit top boys, either, and will go extinct.


They are looking for more than a few good girls.

October 26, 2010 11:31 AM  
Blogger David said...

Actually, Lou hasn't commented in a couple of months. I'm worried about him.

October 27, 2010 7:23 AM  
Blogger erp said...

I'm worried about Lou too David. I sent him an email, but it went unanswered.

Anyway I don't think it would be much of debate between Lou and Orrin what with Lou alternately speaking Latin and German and Orrin's unseemly repetition of the latest leftwing cant, the audience would soon lose interest.

October 27, 2010 8:00 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

As it happens, she did a great job with the feel-good-about-yourself question.

Despite being terrified of needles, she decided to donate during a blood drive at school.

None of her friends were there, TOSWIPIAW was at work, and I was on a trip.

She went through with it.

Given the depth of her fear, that was both true courage and a bona fide act of altruism.

October 27, 2010 9:22 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to address this challenge. Include whether you turned to anyone in facing the challenge, the role the person played, and what you learned about yourself.

"My most significant challenge was overcoming your annual rejection of my applications for admission on the sexist/racist/homophobic grounds that my marks were too low. To face this challenge, I turned to my dad and secured his pledge (in writing--you have to watch dad carefully) to bequeath half his estate to your endowment fund. From this I learned that, although I had long seen myself as a progressive liberal, I was subconsciously actually a libertarian."

Seriously, this is funny-scary. Son number one has always wanted to be a cop. He graduated with high marks from the police course and picked up a lot of good experience along the way (i.e. army reserve, triathlon champ, security work, etc.) Although hardly unbiased, I thought he was a model candidate in terms of his integrity, people skills and desire to help others. He applied for a series of positions on several forces and was put through a mind-bogglingly complex series of interviews by human resource types. Although he did well initially, he repeatedly ran into trouble with the "psychological" tests, which seemed to consist of a lot of questions like your daughter is addressing, and he became increasingly down and confused about it. He was never formally rejected, just passed over and invited to try again the following year. Confident he was neither a crook nor a psychopath, I encouraged him to try to find out why he was having trouble so he could address it, but despite lots of contacts in the forces (who were rooting for him and even standing as references), and despite requests to discuss it with the human resource types, no one could or would tell him why. It was like he was in therapy with a shrink who believed the key to successful treatment was never telling the patient what was wrong with him.

It all ended well and he is now with our provincial police, but what kids have to go through to get a job or college acceptance these days would chill Kafka.

October 28, 2010 6:35 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


I am nothing more than a glorified heavy equipment operator.

Part of my interview process at FedEx included discerning valid from invalid syllogisms.

No one knew then, or knows now, whether a high score is a good thing, or bad.

October 30, 2010 9:50 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Skipper, I have to confess I would die a fulfilled man if I knew my good friend from Alaska got the job that let him live out his dreams because he blew the quesion on what recursive systems are. :-)

November 01, 2010 10:41 AM  

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