Few things can more quickly remind you of the vast cultural divides — even between middle-class and upper-middle-class — than a juicy Ivy League admissions scandal. It’s the talk of the coastal parenting class, and it barely penetrates the conversation down here in Tennessee — except as a curiosity. “Aunt Becky did what?”
One of the benefits of growing up in the South and living for some time in places such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia is that you can see the often startlingly different ways similar socio-economic classes can approach parenting, depending on different regional and religious backgrounds. We just moved from a more-rural community in Tennessee to the best school district in the state, and even here outright obsession with getting into the top university is considered just a little strange. Yes, there’s a presumption your kid will go to college, but the University of Tennessee, Ole Miss, or Alabama are all just fine, thank you very much.
The overall attitude towards college goes something like this — have fun (but not too much fun), check the box, and get started on real life. That’s not to say that the southern parent is completely chill and well-adjusted compared to northern Tiger Moms and the family project to get into Harvard. Our vice is sports. And I don’t just mean elite-level sports. If you have a kid who wants to compete at virtually any decently competitive high-school level, then just say goodbye to your family’s social life. Get ready to jam family vacations into shrinking windows. And learn to love the “travel team.”
Yes, I know northern parents are on the sports treadmill also, but I’ve probably had ten travel-team conversations for every one discussion of academics. My son played basketball and football. My oldest daughter’s volleyball team twice made it to the Elite Eight in her division. If there’s going to be a bribery scandal involving southern doctors and lawyers’ kids, there’s more of a chance that it involves paying money to put them actually on the team, not to fake that they’re playing.
But there is a common cultural strain — whether you live in the North or South, on the coasts or in the Heartland, childhood for is just different than it used to be. It’s far more scheduled. It’s far more focused. While some kids are supplementing academics with tutoring, musical instruments, and activism. Some (like my son, at the height of his football career) were leaving for practice early in the morning and not finishing practice, conditioning, weightlifting and film sessions until late in the afternoon. Football was a job. Make no mistake, he loved that job, but it still consumed his life for the vast majority of the year.
So most of us here in SEC country feel pretty far removed from the admissions scandal. It’s like hearing about the quirks and foibles of a different culture in a different country. But if you tell us there’s an Alabama recruiting scandal — or that a local AAU coach is on the take — well then we’ll be energized. Because we all know that when it comes to parenting down here in flyover country, ball is life.