BATH — The recent college admissions scandal – during which parents willingly involved their children in criminal acts – has revealed not just a corrupt educational system, but also a corrupt democratic process.

Some 243 years ago, our forefathers brought forth a new nation committed to the radical ideal that each of us has dignity and worth. Unfortunately, our forefathers never realized that one day their radical ideal would reach billions of people, so it didn’t occur to them that their schools – devoted to teaching literacy – needed to become living examples of democratic principles.

The school literacy focus continued to the end of World War II, when Congress granted returning GIs free college tuition. Many soldiers leaped at this opportunity to change their lives.

Since schools had no basic philosophy, the demand for the best college placement possible overwhelmed the curriculum, with the entire educational process becoming very competitive.

How a student fares in this competition is decided by academic achievement, with test scores and grades serving as an easy measurement. But we have remained blind to how this educational system has undermined our democratic ideal – that every individual has dignity and worth.

The long struggle to achieve this ideal moved our schools from basically respecting who individual students are to overvaluing what students can do. And what they can academically do depends on privilege. Study after study reveals these measurements are strongly influenced by family wealth, including where you live and the people you associate with.


In 1944, the richiest 1 percent owned 11.3 percent of America’s wealth, with the bottom 90 percent owning 67.5 percent. By 2016, however, the share of wealth held by the top 1 percent had risen to 39 percent, while the share held by the bottom 90 percent had fallen to 23 percent. At the same time, the bottom 50 percent owned less than 2 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Thus aided by our present educational system, this upward movement of wealth at the expense of average- and lower-income Americans indicates our democracy is being invaded by a powerful new plutocracy.

Harvard takes just 5 percent of its applicants. Yet it accepts 42 percent of applicants whose parents have donated to the university. This helps explain why the 50 who were arrested in the scandal were willing to pay a reported $25 million to help their children achieve admission to the elite colleges. These privileged Americans face stiff competition. And note that they – and many others – play by plutocracy’s rules, not by democracy’s.

Cheating and bullying are practices that persist in our educational system, despite our best efforts to eradicate them. So it should not be surprising to see them become an integral part of our culture, and central in the scandal.

How long can we and our democracy tolerate an educational system that is part of this emerging plutocracy? This system does not serve our children. Their numbers for depression, anxiety and suicide are rising. Nearly 15 percent of teachers either move or leave the profession every year. No one has been happy with it and 70 years of reform have not changed this system’s performance

And better systems definitely exist. For example, a study of children ages 5 to 10 shows home-schooled children earning standardized-test scores up to 4.5 grades ahead of children in traditional schools. Consider: They benefit by living in America and not being in this system.

We should build our schools first and foremost on our radical ideal that each individual has dignity and worth – like grading students on their effort and attitude to achieve their individual dignity and worth, plus how well they help their peers. This would involve character growth, overseen by the teachers and assisted by the students.

This work would return schools to students and teachers and would begin to involve parents. College placement would continue to be important, but second to the inspiration of self-discovery and the bonds it develops.

Once we cast aside this restrictive and corrupt educational system, we will discover the huge pool of untapped potential in American youth, as well as in our teachers and parents.

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