Politics & Policy

College Confidential

Rethinking "shocking and unjustifiable"

As anyone even vaguely acquainted with me knows, I don’t suffer officious types gladly. Not the administrators at my 16-year-old daughter Maia’s old private school, which we quit last year after they wouldn’t let her graduate at the end of 11th grade, and not readers who think they know her better than I do.

A couple of days ago, the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed by me about Maia’s rejection-letter dejection before she was accepted at UC San Diego as a Russian/Soviet Studies major. This inspired one Times reader to e-mail that, as the father of a high-school senior also enduring the college-application process, he could identify with my piece.

But, he added, “regardless of whether you had her consent (which as a minor she cannot give without your consent–which would be conflicted), your disclosure of your daughter’s personal information was a shocking and unjustifiable invasion of her privacy. I hope it was worth it for you.”

Well, you know, anything for those opinion-writing rates, which send me into giddy we’re-in-the-money excitement whenever I actually get a check.

I replied that it must be hard, as the parent of a teenager, to shock so easily. Because I think I stopped being shocked the day the orchestra teacher said they couldn’t play the Israeli national anthem unless they also played the Palestinian national anthem. Or maybe when the English teacher told Maia she was racist for not supporting affirmative action for women. Or when the social-studies teacher brought in tapes of Oprah to teach kids about real life.

All the above happened in 7th through 9th grade. Last year, 10th grade, I was a bit taken aback to read an entry on Maia’s blog titled “Please Be Clean If You Have Sex,” about a P.E. final involving a field trip to a bowling alley in a “sordid van” that smelled of…well, as Maia related:

When I saw the boy throw the sex device on the floor, I was overcome with nausea…and began to pray for control. I realized that in life, any place you sit could have been used for anything other than sitting. Anyone too conscious of this, such as a germophobe (what I’m turning into) has a hard life in this world.

By that time, though, I was basically unshockable, as the beginning of 10th grade had already brought the infamous Troll Dolls episode. This was a new teacher (called Troll Dolls because of his extensive troll-doll collection), a man in his 50s who got in trouble with the school because of his inappropriate behavior towards Maia–whisking her into a private online chatroom when she was trying to talk with other teens, calling her at home in hysterics, obsessively reading her blog.

In an attempt at revenge, he set up a series of fake blogs, supposedly by Maia (whose online name then was Cecile), about how her mother is a drug addict who hangs out with pornographers. One was signed, “I’m an evil little bitch, aren’t I?”

Before gathering up his troll dolls and leaving for good, this teacher rallied all Maia’s friends against her by staging a sort of Dead Poet’s Society psychodrama, with him as the persecuted star, his last week on the job.

So, no, I don’t think Maia’s too young and sheltered to handle college instead of 12th grade next year. As I said in the Times piece, when it comes to high school, my basic philosophy is “enough already.”

Nor do I hold anything against the school for any of the above incidents. They handled most things reasonably well, some teachers there were quite good, and look, when it comes down to it, school’s school–a seething microcosm of petty gripes, odd ducks, and difficult situations. Better to learn how to deal with all that early. Also, I’ve never respected the current child-rearing trend of protecting adolescents as if they were still babies.

So I had no intention of keeping back Maia, who on her own initiative has been taking after-school community-college classes since 9th grade. Because of that, she’s up to Russian IV now, and by the end of 10th had 215 credits (you only need 230 to graduate).

The school’s head, though, Mr. S., kept insisting he knew best. He argued that Maia needed another year to raise her grades by taking more AP classes. Now, unlike me at that age, she is always deferential and soft-spoken with adults, but she also has a peculiar ability to politely drive them up the wall. One technique is responding to annoying questions with endless deadpan questions of her own.

For instance, one afternoon during our battle with the school about graduating early, Mr. S put his foot up on the bench where Maia was sitting reading some Russian novel and announced, “So, here’s a hypothetical: Who do you think has a better chance getting into Harvard–someone with a 3.4 GPA or a 4.0 GPA?”

“That depends, Mr. S.,” said Maia, whose GPA then was around 3.4. “What if the person with the 3.4 GPA has a lot of extracurricular activities and the person with the 4.0 doesn’t?”

“Let’s say they both have a lot of extracurricular activities.”

“But what if the person with the 3.4 GPA wants to major in Russian and schools don’t get many applicants wanting to major in that?”

“Maia, just answer the question! Who has a better chance?”

“But there’s too many variables, and why would a person with a 3.4 GPA apply to Harvard in the first place?”

She told me later, “Just because he used to be a lawyer he wanted me to be an expert witness or something, and I don’t see why I should unless he paid me.” She was a little unclear on that concept, obviously, but in any case the exasperated Mr. S eventually gave up. And Maia switched to our big urban neighborhood public school for her 11th grade senior year, where she’s been much happier.

For the record, of course I had Maia’s consent to write about her grades and test scores in the Times, so no privacy was invaded. I don’t agree that she’s not capable of giving it; but then, I also think she’s quite capable of beginning college next year instead of 12th grade. I’m aware many people find that rather shocking, but we’ve never cared much about that in our house.

But after Maia sent me a link to a lengthy discussion of my piece on the frighteningly addictive College Confidential, I discovered that many parents disapproved of far more than her graduating early. Some thought she was uppity for expecting to get into any UC except maybe Riverside or Merced–although, as one of the reasonable commenters noted, since Maia was indeed accepted to UC San Diego her hopes couldn’t have been that unrealistic. Others accused me of being naive, or “gaming” the system–presumably by raising a daughter who unfairly impressed admissions officers with all those after-school college Russian classes. And one wondered what can you expect anyway from a mom who writes for NRO, which everyone knows is located near Dante’s sixth circle of hell.

We got some nice e-mails from Times readers too, though. A lawyer with three sons who went to Loyola, the best Catholic boys’ school in L.A., wrote that one (who had far more impressive test scores and grades than Maia) was rejected from the Ivy Leagues he applied to but accepted at UC San Diego, where he’s doing well and on the rugby team.

He added: “A diploma from one of the top UC schools (Berkeley, Davis, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Irvine) means something because there is little ‘hand holding’ done at those schools; they are very competitive and you earn every grade you get. This is contrasted with many of the elite Ivy League schools, where the hardest part is getting in.”

I also like that UC San Diego, unlike many colleges that now tend to a 60/40 female/male student body, is closer to 50/50 male/female, has three ROTC programs, and (probably not coincidentally) isn’t so pervasively lefty. So I think Maia, who intends to join College Republicans as soon as she arrives, will find it a good fit.

Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.

Catherine SeippCatherine Seipp had been a frequent contributor to National Review Online prior to her death in 2007.


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