Helicopter parents, start your engines.
They’re revising the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) again, and you know what that means. More weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. More complaints about the unfairness of life and of American society. More free-floating status anxiety projected onto adolescent children already uneasy about leaving the parental nest. Or eager to escape it.
Observing the hullabaloo, it’s tempting to wonder if Americans haven’t turned into a nation of crybabies. The New York Times, which covers the politics of college admissions the way Ring Magazine covers welterweight title bouts, published a classic whine by a Maine English professor.
“Our children,” she lamented, “precious, brilliant, frustrating, confused souls that they are, are more than a set of scores.”
They’re certainly that. Intellectually brilliant, however, most are not. Nor are most of you reading this column, and certainly not the fellow writing it. Using words like “brilliant” when what we mean is “unique” or “beloved” is part of the problem. Regardless of how carefully the College Board revises the exam, only one percent can be squeezed into the 99th percentile.
Hence the intense feelings of fear and unworthiness described by professor Jennifer Finney Boylan, who characterizes her own experience of taking the SAT as “a mind-numbing, stress-inducing ritual of torture.” She even complains that it’s, like, totally unfair to expect American adolescents to be wide-awake and functional at 8:30 a.m. Boo hoo hoo.
As a girl, Boylan had set her heart upon Wesleyan College. “No single exam, given on a single day,” she complains, “should determine anyone’s fate.” God forbid she should have to attend, say, the University of Connecticut, or some less prestigious public university. God forbid she should join the Army.
Originally conceived in the 1920s as a means of identifying academically talented individuals whose abilities might otherwise be overlooked, the SAT has done a reasonably good job of doing so over the years.