News of last week’s college admission scandal is something we’ve all been following, no doubt. Having lunch with a group of our seniors the other day, I asked the questions I always like to ask those who are about to commence with their lives after Wildwood School, including, “What would you be sad to see had changed if you came back to Wildwood in five or ten years?”
This particular group repeated a common refrain, noting that it would be a huge disappointment to them if they returned to find a school that was less progressively structured than the one in which they’ve been learning. One noted that she can imagine the pressures that we, as a school, face in a world that includes the angst of the current college process, yet she charged Jenn Spellman, our director of upper school, and me to hold fast and stay true. Their message was clear: stay focused on using research and best practice to inform both pedagogy and culture.
As has so often been the case over the course of my 12 years at Wildwood, I was heartened to see so very clearly that they get it. They understand that, for too many students in too many schools, the work of upper school often feels like it’s only about applying to college. For these Wildwood students and the majority of their peers, they recognize that their education is theirs, and they want it to be useful, challenging, and authentic.
Knowing their parents, I know the same to be true a generation up. Their parents want their children to be happy and successful, yet understand that, at base, what William Deresiewicz wrote in his book Excellent Sheep is true: “There is by now a robust literature on the nature of happiness, and it converges on a pair of observations. Beyond a moderate level of material comfort, happiness consists of two things: feeling connected to others and engaging in meaningful work.”
One of the stellar organizations with which we’ve partnered over the years, Challenge Success at Stanford University, published this essay in response to last week’s college admissions scandal, which laid bare the sad desperation of parents who lost sight of who their children are and who their children could be, with all of their strengths and foibles. From the essay:
This admissions scandal is sad not just because it represents a violation of trust, but because it lays bare how harmful our assumptions about higher education are. Many in our society sincerely believe that the difference between admission to an elite college and rejection from the same is the difference between success and happiness, on the one hand, and poverty, misery, and failure on the other. That’s simply untrue.
The extreme actions of a misguided few also highlighted for me the absence of trust on the part of some parents—trust in their children and trust in the college process. One of the positive outcomes that I sincerely hope will come out of this scandal, which I sense is far from over, is that it will cause parents—those I know and those I don’t—to step back and trust the people they love so deeply and have endeavored to raise so well. Trust that, armed with the love and support and education they’ve received, they will find their way to the right college, the right friends, the right partners, the right work, the right life. The life that is theirs.
I also hope that parents, and our students, will eventually be able to trust again in the college process. As I’ve done in my past 26 years working at schools, I expect to watch seniors this year celebrate and comfort one another as they learn that they have or haven’t gained entry to their dream school. As in years past, I will continue to trust that whether students land at the place that felt like a “must” for them or not, they will matriculate to the place that is right for them.
I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Trust me.
~ Landis Green
Head of School