An Educational Arms Race

More weapons needed to get a step up on college admission

By Victor Maciel
Published on LatinoLA: March 31, 2004

An Educational Arms Race

Political pundits call it ?Mutually Assured Destruction? or ?MAD? for short. Ironically, this apocalyptic take on game theory was supposed to describe how a nuclear war would never be initiated on purpose. The theory states that no sane government would trigger their nuclear weapons because doing so essentially guarantees their own destruction. The great nuclear arms race of the Cold War sprouted from such a standoff. In a situation in which political posturing is everything, the United States and its Soviet adversary competed ?tit-for-tat,? making sure that their nuclear arsenal was at least as good or better than its enemy. Having the edge in nuclear weaponry, either actual or perceived, was crucial political leverage in the quest for global domination.

I do not intend to portray myself as an expert on the Cold War or nuclear weaponry, as I am not an expert in either subject. When it comes to speaking about weapons of mass destruction, I know about as much as the Bush Administration, meaning I don?t know very much at all. Please forgive my ignorance.

In speaking of the nuclear arms race, I mean to draw a parallel to the current state of American higher education. More specifically, I am referring to the rabidly competitive nature of today?s college admission process.

The reason why I call it an ?arms race? is because students no longer compete with themselves to achieve the high standards needed to gain admission into the more ?prestigious? colleges and universities. Instead, students are looking for that extra edge that will separate them from the pack. Tragically, those who are trying to differentiate themselves from the pack are merely joining another large pool of students determined to achieve the same result.

Now, I am not completely against some good-natured competition. Competition brings the best out of some people. The problem I have with this whole scenario is that in this ?arms race,? students are equipping themselves with all of the extras a parent?s war-chest can afford. There are plenty of ?weapons? that students can purchase from educational contractors to gain an edge, either actual or perceived, over their rivals. One can retain private tutors, standardized test preparation courses, private schools, even personal college counselors that will map out your plan for applications, all for a fairly steep fee.

This is where the parallel comes full circle. Students whose financial means can support such an expensive campaign are not engaging in these activities because it improves them as an applicant, but rather because everyone else is doing it and one would be a fool to let someone else get the upper hand.

Unfortunately, I personally know this situation all too well. I hate to admit that I succumbed to these pressures when preparing to take the standardized test necessary for law school admission. In preparing for the test, I tried to take the economical approach by purchasing a few study guides for around fifty dollars. Immediately, I began to get nervous when I heard that my more affluent classmates were signing up for prep classes at the tune of around a thousand dollars per six-week session. How could I let someone else get the upper-hand when we might be competing for the same spots? Luckily, I have hustler?s spirit and some how came up with the money. So there I am, sitting in class with forty other students thinking that I was going to get that ?step-up? on the competition. My falsely inflated self-esteem went to hell when I saw a friend of mine at the library studying with his private tutor at the tune of almost two-hundred dollars per session.

The future does not look too bright for this topic, particularly for the majority of Latinos. A few Latino families with adequate resources can afford to play hard ball with every one else. For the rest of us, we are left scrambling, continually trying to bridge the ever growing disparity between the have and the have-nots.

With recent events in India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea, the talk of nuclear
de-proliferation has once again emerged in the global spotlight. Activists and politicians worldwide are trying to save the world from the cataclysmic effects of a nuclear showdown. Similarly, if we have any hope of rescuing the ?meritocracy? of American higher education, then we must also prohibit the further expansion of educational weaponry.

About Victor Maciel:
Victor Maciel has a B.A. in Political Science and Psychology. He has also worked as a college recruiter and admissions officer for one of the most selective private colleges in the United States.

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