Par­ents didn’t pass morals test

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY LEONARD PITTS JR.

If you think you’re an­gry now, wait till you read the court doc­u­ments.

Not that the sum­maries of a col­lege cheat­ing scan­dal so mas­sive it briefly bumped Don­ald Trump from the “Break­ing News” chy­rons were not enough to make a nun cuss. In­deed, the story of­fered a per­fect storm of out­rage: the wealthy, well-known and well­con­nected gam­ing the sys­tem, ly­ing, fix­ing tests and pay­ing bribes to get their kids into pres­ti­gious col­leges. It didn’t hurt that two of those ar­rested were fa­mous ac­tors.

But there is some­thing about the tawdry de­tails found in the af­fi­davit by FBI agent Laura Smith that is truly in­fu­ri­at­ing. In its 204 pages, you get Wil­liam “Rick” Singer, the scam’s mas­ter­mind, coach­ing his clients on lies they can tell to get a dif­fer­ent ACT or SAT test site or some ac­com­mo­da­tion the test­ing ser­vices re­serve for kids with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties. You get him sooth­ing par­ents whose kids have en­tered school as pur­ported ath­letic stand­outs and now worry that those kids will be asked to ac­tu­ally do some­thing ath­letic. You get him schem­ing with par­ents who want their kids to think they did well on tests, when ac­tu­ally, one of Singer’s con­fed­er­ates se­cretly sub­sti­tuted his cor­rect an­swers for their wrong ones.

And you get at­tor­ney Gor­don Ca­plan, as cap­tured on an FBI wire­tap, fret­ting about what might hap­pen if his daugh­ter gets caught. “To be hon­est,” he says, “I’m not wor­ried about the moral is­sue here.” Ahem.

I am an alum­nus of the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, one of the schools – Har­vard, Yale and Ge­orge­town are among the oth­ers – Singer helped peo­ple like Ca­plan cheat their chil­dren into. Me, I got in be­cause my mom and my coun­selor, Mr. Isaacs, moved Heaven, Earth and all the precincts in be­tween to get my ap­pli­ca­tion ap­proved and my tu­ition paid.

So for­give me if I am un­able to dis­miss “the moral is­sue here” as air­ily as Ca­plan does. For­give me if I find these peo­ple and their scheme dis­gust­ing. But there is an ob­ject les­son here be­yond dis­gust.

We live in a na­tion where equal­ity is the of­fi­cial creed, but hardly the lived re­al­ity. To the con­trary, peo­ple are jailed here be­cause they can­not af­ford jus­tice, ig­no­rant here be­cause they can­not af­ford learn­ing, hun­gry here be­cause they can­not af­ford food, dead here be­cause they can­not af­ford health.

And the worst thing is, we ac­cept that as some­how pre­or­dained, be­yond our ca­pac­ity to fix. Mean­time, Forbes re­ported last year that the av­er­age CEO pulls down a salary 361 times more than his work­ers. In the 1950s, he earned “only” about 20 times more. How well do you live on your salary? How well could you live on your salary, times 20?

Yet when work­ing-class peo­ple de­mand a wage large enough to sim­ply sus­tain them­selves – $15 an hour – it’s re­garded as a rad­i­cal idea and an ex­is­ten­tial threat. As per­haps it must be in a na­tion where poverty is struc­tural, where the routes up and out are in­creas­ingly con­stricted and work­ers are kept dis­tracted from their own plight by fights over race, religion and sex­u­al­ity.

So this should be a wake-up call. While poor peo­ple fight in­ternecine wars, while they choose be­tween lights and food, while their ser­vices are cut and their in­dus­tries dis­ap­pear, rich peo­ple – some, at least – are writ­ing large checks to lie their chil­dren into col­lege. Every ad­van­tage in the world, and they take more.

If that’s not a moral is­sue we all should worry about, I don’t know what is.

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