AP NEWS

Meet Joy — college admissions scandal affects real people

March 31, 2019

Meet one of the people who failed to achieve a dream at the University of Southern California — because someone with wealth and influence, and no discernible motivation or talent — had her people out stealing dreams.

Last year, I taught at a low-income, high-risk high school in Odessa. Students who thrive on provocative assignments and critical thought were not nurtured. Still, I had students who enjoyed reading demanding texts and wrestling with intractable ethical dilemmas. We read Thoreau, Later, I asked, “Is it better to follow trends set by the majority or to learn how to reason for one’s self?”

One student, whom I will call Joy, loved the epiphany she experienced while writing her answer: She realized that while students were constantly practicing a kind of mundane, pro forma disobedience, almost none of them stopped and thought about whether obedience or disobedience was ethical.

For Joy, this was a breakthrough. She told me she had never really been asked to think deeply about why people act the way they do or choose what they do; she told me that this assignment made her consider critically assumptions she had held casually, thoughtlessly, for years.

Joy’s intellectual landscape changed. The change was not — could not have been — limited to our subject (English). Rather, she was becoming the kind of person who loved ideas not as a means to some other end but as an end in themselves. She began to ask the kinds of questions no one has easy answers for: Why haven’t majorities throughout history felt the moral imperative to end heinous practices, like slavery, or religious bigotry, or extermination of those who are different?

Joy is a gifted creative writer and filmmaker. Now, her new ways of thinking critically, of reasoning across disciplines, inform poetry and films in which, as her insight grows, one can see the birth of the kind of artist and thinker whose questions will make us better as a culture for having to answer them.

Joy’s dream was to study film and creative writing at USC. This is an astonishing goal for a lower-income student who comes from the kind of region, the kind of school that considers the ultimate pedagogical outcome to be earning an associate degree at a community college. But I have told Joy, many times, that hers is the kind of dream that ought to come true in this country.

Joy’s grades place her at the top of her class. With no help from the school, Joy got ACT scores that, combined with scintillating recommendations and an exciting portfolio, made her an ideal applicant for USC.

But it turns out that Joy’s place was being held for another student, a young woman who did not need to bother with tests or essays or ethics, who had only to pose caparisoned as a rower to achieve her dream of … well, not really studying or thinking. She’d have to talk to the dean or someone about that, because her YouTube show about being a YouTube star might take her out of school for weeks at a time. School didn’t matter much, in fact. But parties and games might be fun.

That we live in a culture in which Olivia Jade, daughter of actress Lori Loughlin, triumphs over the Joys of the world really should bother us. Olivia Jade has nothing but contempt for those who stop and think. Has no time for ethical dilemmas or complex critical thought. Has no clue who Thoreau was (or what he would say about entitlement in our culture). She’s been far too busy wasting an opportunity her “people” stole from Joy.

David Newman is an English instructor at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi.