Think an ACT Score is the First Thing That Was Bought For These Kids?

Felicity Huffman and the other wealthy parents who now could face jail time for buying their kids into elite colleges may be wondering, among other things, who changed the rules.

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“I did it for my kids,” like its sibling “I did it for my family,” has long played in America as something akin to a get-out-of-jail-free card.

It says you’re guilty and so what. Rules are for people who aren’t doing it “for the kids.”

Soon after the college admissions scandal broke, ABC by coincidence premiered a new drama, The Enemy Within. The main character, high-ranking CIA official Erica Shepherd (Jennifer Carpenter), is serving life for giving a bad guy the identities of four undercover colleagues, all of whom were promptly murdered.

Why did Shepherd rat out those four people, knowing they would die? Because the bad guy Facetimed her, showed her that he had her daughter in his sights and said that if she didn’t cough up their names in five seconds, the daughter would die.

Erica doesn’t tell people why she did it, because she doesn’t want to dump ancillary guilt on her daughter. But we viewers know the truth, which enables The Enemy Within to frame Shepherd as a person who faced an unthinkable choice and made the call most people would make.

In the show’s America, she is despised as the lowest form of traitor. Viewers regard her in a more nuanced way, much closer to sympathy.

We all know what can happen if you accidentally get between a mother bear and her cubs — and we never blame the mother bear. She’s doing it for her kids.

Now it’s true no parent has committed or facilitated murder to get a kid into Yale. That we know of.

But the principle remains: You do whatever you can to help your kid. If you have money, that includes spending a bunch of it, and let’s take a wild guess that with the parents in the college admissions case, this isn’t the first time they’ve bought their kids a position at the front of the line. Money, privilege and power have very likely been buying those kids advantages — most of them legal and widely considered admirable — since the day they were born.

If they showed a slight interest in anything, or their parents wanted them to develop that interest, they quite likely got tools and tutoring. They likely had the option of prestigious private schools, which overwhelmingly cater to families of means. Children in wealthy families meet peers and elders in positions that open doors. If those children have problems, their parents often have access to those in a position to address them. When money is further accompanied by celebrity, that creates more shortcuts, particularly in an age of fame-driven social media.

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These are generalizations, obviously. Every son or daughter of a rich person doesn’t grow up to be elitist and entitled.

It’s still true that persons born into wealth and position start life on second or third base, where others work as hard or harder to get on base at all.

So when college time rolls around, the parents of the unprivileged are less likely to have the contacts and/or resources to provide their kids top-line opportunities.

They aren’t “legacies,” the surest shortcut to elite schools. They can’t put private counselors on $8,000-a-month retainers. A six- or seven-figure donation to a prestigious university isn’t in the average working-class budget.

That’s why this question seems so intriguing: Why would wealthy parents shell out for doctored tests and photoshopped application pictures when the deck is already so stacked with things they can do legally?

Possible answer, at the risk of sounding redundant: a parent who will “do anything for my kid.” A parent who may not totally buy sleazy broker Rick Singer’s assertion that “this is done all the time,” but who is willing to accept it as a rationalization because that parent understands what money and power can buy and thinks hey, this isn’t the worst thing I’ve seen.

A hundred questions are raised by the college admissions case. Here are two.

One, is there a much larger iceberg here, of which this tiny tip has caught our eye because famous actresses Huffman and Lori Loughlin are involved?

Two, how do the kids feel about it? Huffman says her daughter didn’t know her ACT test was fixed. If that’s true, she probably did need some help to get into a top college. But other kids had to know. Did it bother them? Did they get that it’s a joke, not a mantra, when USC students refer to their school as the University of Spoiled Children?

It would also be instructive to know whether the parents, including the ones like Huffman who have pled guilty with the mandatory mea culpas, regret what they did or just regret getting caught.

When it comes to your kids, you do whatever you can. These parents did it because they could.

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”

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