The ultra-rich bribing their kids’ way into elite colleges has dominated the headlines for weeks now, as have follow-on stories about the perfectly legal ways the wealthy use their influence to get slots at the top schools.
Why do we care? We care because our society is built on the rule that people must earn the benefits they receive. This is a country born on an ideal that monarchies and other birth-hierarchies should be torn down and that each person should earn their benefits. Wealth and social classes are not supposed to dictate success in life. Rich kids should not have an advantage over others.
That’s why this scandal has received so much attention – aided by the salacious celebrity connection. But the media isn’t looking at the whole picture. If we are going to constitute true fairness and opportunity, we have to take the idea of giving every child a fair start from the beginning of life, when it really matters.
The controversy over unfair college admissions is a years-too-late and downstream debate in a country where 41% of kids live in or near poverty. That massive inequality is a significant factor in the college attainment rate being less than a third of our population. The reality is that rich kids stay rich and poor kids stay poor.
Anthony Jack, author and assistant professor at Harvard University made the critical observation that, “[college admissions bribery] is a continuation of things that wealthy things have been doing for their children since they were born… This is opportunity hoarding 101. These are wealthy individuals trying to amass every resource and opportunity at the expense of other people… These are the parents that pay a thousand dollars an hour for the SAT, or get people to write their children’s essays… This isn’t something that started in a student’s eleventh or twelfth grade year.”
“This is opportunity hoarding 101.”
To change that, we have to start at the very beginning – with the conditions in which people are born. We can create a more level playing field by changing the way we plan families. Fair Start family planning means delaying parenthood, working with others, and investing more resources in each child. When parents wait and have smaller families, they are more likely to break the cycle of poverty. It positions their kids for greater early learning, emotional development and academic achievement. Smaller families make also these investments sustainable for communities, and attainable for families.
Our centers of power are morally obligated to ensure a fair start for all kids. Guaranteed Minimum Income tied to family planning is one way to achieve it. We have also asked Senator Elizabeth Warren to tie her universal child care plan to family planning.
Before Fair Start family planning we did not have a clear way to fix the problem of massively unfair starts in life because we could not control for the conditions in which children were born or protect human rights. But with Fair Start, parents who need resources, and are willing to wait and plan, have an overriding moral entitlement to the resources they need from the greatest concentrations of power. And because giving kids a fair start in life – or the creation of what John Rawls called free and equal people – is the beginning of democracy, it has to be our primary – our priority – policy objective.
What can you do to challenge the status quo?
- Tweet @SenWarren asking her to tie her universal child care proposal to #fairstart family planning.
- Ask Washington D.C. @MayorBowser to consider Guaranteed Minimum Income tied to family planning to reduce inequality in the district.
- Tweet these influential journalists and ask them to cover the need for Fair Start family planning reform.
- Engage a person you know is especially wealthy and giving their kids an unfair start in life – unearned benefits and privileges – asking that they justify their actions. Report back your story so we can publicize it.