Kilroy Was Here
February 07, 2003
What does it say about America when our our children sue for grades? What does it gain for a student to become so concerned with honors and accolades that he does not pursue education for its own sake?
Perhaps, Mr. Delekta and his parents should learn from Robert Samuelson. In his article in 1999's Newsweek, Samuelson reports of a study by Dale and Krueger on the impact of an Ivy League education on a person's earning power:
Dale and Krueger examined the 1976 freshmen of 34 colleges. They ranged from Yale, Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore (highest in SAT scores) to Penn State and Denison University (lowest in scores). The SAT gap between top and bottom was about 200 points. Dale and Krueger knew which colleges had accepted and rejected these students as well as their future earnings. By 1995, male graduates with full-time jobs earned an average of $89,026; women earned $76,859.
Dale and Krueger then compared graduates who had been accepted and rejected by the same (or similar) colleges. The theory was that admissions officers were ranking personal qualities, from maturity to ambition. Students who fared similarly would possess similar strengths; then, Dale and Krueger compared the earnings of these students -- regardless of where they went. There was no difference. Suppose that Princeton and Podunk accept you and me; but you go to Princeton and I go to Podunk. On average, we will still make the same. (The result held for blacks and whites, further weakening the case for race-based admission preferences. The only exception was poorer students, regardless of race; they gained slightly from an elite school.)
So it is that the successes accorded to a person in life originate from within, from their own ambition and discipline and maturity, and not from the near meaningless accolades accorded to them from without.
Or as Mr. Samuelson puts it:
The explanation is probably simple. At most colleges, students can get a good education if they try. "An able student who attends a lower tier school can find able students to study with," write Dale and Krueger. Similarly, even elite schools have dimwits and deadbeats. Once you're in the job market, where you went to college may matter for a few years, early in your career. Companies don't know much about young employment candidates. A shiny credential (an Ivy League degree) may impress. But after that, what people can or can't do counts for more. Skills grow. Reputations emerge. Companies prefer the competent from Podunk to the incompetent from Princeton.
In 75 years, will Brian Delekta lay on his death bed and bemoan his fate that he did not make valedictorian at 18? Or will other regrets and successes, the loss of love, the love of children, the fellowship of friends, be foremost on his mind?
By suing over something that is as ultimately unimportant as a grade in a work-study program, even if it means that you don't get to make the big speech at graduation, is abandoning the chance to learn something that may have a stronger impact on the quality of a young man's life than some arbitrary title or an Ivy League degree. Again, Mr. Samuelson says it best:
How to motivate students to do their best? How to make high schools demanding while still engaging? How to transmit important values (discipline, resourcefulness, responsibility) to teenagers, caught in life's most muddled moment? These are hard questions for parents and society as a whole. If the answers were self-evident, we'd have already seized them. But going to college -- even Harvard -- is no shortcut.
And if Ivy League educations are not shortcuts to success, then neither are lawsuits.
If only his parents would let him learn that lesson.
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