Richard W. Schaut: The most precious gift: honesty |

Richard W. Schaut: The most precious gift: honesty

In the wake of the recent college admission bribery scandals, I must share my experience and some advice. I taught AP English and literature for 25 years.

It was a pleasure and an honor to be able to help so many amazing students and their wonderful parents honestly achieve their college access goals. However, more often than I like to remember, I was pressured to change grades, grading policies, or lower standards to appease parents with influence.

I was able to resist this pressure only as long as I had the support of the district board of trustees. There was not only pressure on me or other teachers, attempts to game the system took several paths.

Most parents try to be fair and do what is best for their children. Nevertheless, sometimes parents’ love for their child blinds them from the harm they are doing when manipulating the system to give their child unfair advantages. They take opportunities away from more deserving children, and they teach their own children that bullying, knowing the “right” people, and dishonesty pay off. Sometimes this parental manipulation is conscious and cynical, but more often it is inadvertent and forgivable, but still wrong.

They take opportunities away from more deserving children, and they teach their own children that bullying, knowing the “right” people, and dishonesty pay off.

Over the last 25 years, college application became more competitive and the financial commitments more difficult to meet. Because of the additional pressure and anxiety, a few parents became unethical in their desire to give their child a hand up. In my experience, unfortunate parent interventions included: plagiarism, legal threats, applying pressure to change grades through administrators or school board members, or pulling strings to give scholarships to children with connections to board members, service clubs, or community members with financial or political influence.

These parents who pull strings — or the people with influence who intervene unfairly — may not even know or believe they are doing anything improper or unethical, just helping their child or doing a favor for a friend.

Even though I believe that most of the people involved with schools are honest, loving and fair, my advice for everyone concerned is to be vigilant and foster transparency, honesty, humility, compassion and integrity — from grades and awards to scholarships and valedictorian selections.

Our students need to know that they can put their faith and trust in all of us. This may be the most precious gift we can give to them before sending them off to college.

Richard W. Schaut lives in Grass Valley.

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