On Friday I received a thoughtful e-mail from Jon Reider shortly after the publication of my post about media coverage of college admissions. Jon is a regular reader of the blog and correspondent as well as someone whose opinion I value, and I asked him if he would consider adapting his e-mail as a guest post. Here it is:
I have mused a lot over the years about the best way to speak to the media. (I do get called from time to time, so my ego is OK.) The best reporters like Eric Hoover and Janet Lorin can often quote at more length, perhaps because their space constraints are less severe than the daily press. I too have winced at seeing a half hour chat turn into a half-sentence bite. I sometimes try to say something like, "This is the key point." But that wouldn't always work, and I doubt reporters want to be instructed in their trade, any more than you and I do. So, yes, we have to live with it and hope that the important stuff gets through, as it does in the second half of the article.
We can remember the adage that "Dog bites man" is not news, but the reverse is. Occasionally, reporters call trolling for a story: what is new this year? What trends are you seeing? That sort of thing. They are looking for the "Man bites dog" story. The problem, as we know, is that the daily grind of advising, editing, writing, waiting, and then either celebrating or consoling is much the same year after year. The real news is slow and cumulative: more early applications, more test optional schools, more demonstrated interest schools, more selectivity. Fine for Jim Fallows and the Atlantic Monthly, or Andrew Delbanco writing a book, but not of much value for a daily newspaper.
What amuses me is the phenomenon itself, that Ms. Kaminer's hyper-sophisticated editors consider this front-page Sunday stuff (below the fold, to be sure). The early emphasis on the ridiculous excesses plays into that, of course, just as the tale of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen made good fodder for Ronald Reagan way back when. The extremes drive the noise machine. One of these days, I hope to address the broader question of why elite college admissions has become a fetishized commodity (in Marx's sense), which is presumed to have magical value, akin to a Mercedes or Rolex. In addition to spawning all the parasitic industries like test prep, organized community service ventures, independent counselors, and maybe even our own livelihoods, it has infiltrated late bourgeois culture with an array of popular books, movies, TV shows, in addition to the regular coverage in the Times, WSJ, and elsewhere. College admissions has become a "myth" in the anthropological sense of a motivating and framing narrative through which a culture makes sense of itself. How and why this has happened is worth exploring.
Director of College Counseling
San Francisco University High School
I am thankful to Jon for his willingness to contribute, and as we approach a much-needed Thanksgiving break, I am thankful to all of you who read the blog and share your thoughts. It is good to know that there are many colleagues who share core values about college counseling and admissions.