Important news in from the New York Post: New York City parents—some of them, at least—are a little bit, well, let's just say they may lack a measure of that very important thing called perspective that's supposed to keep us all grounded. But not grounded, because that could really ruin a kid's chances at getting into Harvard. In a piece in today's paper, "Corrupt Tutors for Hire," by Doree Lewak, the truth comes out. Some parents are paying tutors not only to help but also to do their precious offspring's work for them! Clearly, this is against the rules. But it's happening anyway. Does it give a hard-working person any consolation that anyone doing "better" than you probably just cheated? No?
It's an age-old story, and one that plays handily for a tabloid like the Post (so, yes, take at least some of this story with a grain of salt). But it rings true, too: Wealthy parents used to getting what they want are possessed with the the burning desire that their children, the apples of their eyes, get into better colleges than they did, make more money, gain more status, do better than they did, and so on—not just so those children are happy, fulfilled beings, but also to prove something, be better than the Jones-Delacourts, who are sending their little Humperdink Bumbleyplot to the Wellesley-Proderbutt School of Fancy-Shmanciness even though he's not even born yet. It's never too early to get a late start in life! Parents need to feel important, too! And so, "Unscrupulous ‘homework helpers’ are getting paid big bucks to help kids cheat their way to the top of the ivory tower."
The tutors, at least the several interviewed for the piece, say that the business can be easier and bring in more cash than would legit tutoring. Post an ad on Craigslist and wait for someone to pay you, a 30-year-old man, $150 to ghostwrite an essay about a high school senior's real-life story for his college applications. (Spoiler: The kid got in to the school of his choice.)
“'A big segment of my clients are Ivy League-bound kids who are chess champions and want to go to Princeton and Harvard,' [tutor] Alan, an Ivy Leaguer who asked not to be identified by his real name," told Lewak. He takes in $100 to $600 a gig, and while he has a graduate degree in biology, makes more money doing what he does— having "abandoned years of traditional tutoring in favor of academic dishonesty and moral collusion because, simply, 'this is a lot more lucrative.'” And if he doesn't do it, someone else will.
Cheating has been around forever in various forms, but the anonymity afforded by the Internet makes it that much more efficient, and then there's that culture of parents besting other parents as exemplified by their children's success. Lewak writes, “'It’s something that’s clearly a problem in New York,' says Tim Urban, a 31-year-old Harvard grad and the co-founder of Launch Education Group, a premier NYC tutoring service." Take the example of another tutor, "Charles," who did every homework assignment, paper, and college essay for one Dalton student, the son of a college professor. Over six years he made $150,000 "and a down payment on his NYC apartment," but the kid flunked out of college after a year. The tutor was then brought back, to help the college student through his time at a second school.
“We have some mothers who feel like they’ve never wanted anything so bad in their life than getting their kid into Harvard. Usually the families who are very stressed out are in high-powered circles, and it’s bragging rights, too,” says Urban.
It starts to make home-schooling seem appealing, really. But is this really all so bad? Perhaps the question is not, as George W. Bush so eloquently put it some score and something years ago, "Is our children learning?" It's what, exactly, that learning is. Covering one's not-so-legit tracks, paying someone else to do your work for you, doing things in secret, relying on your parents or your money and connections to fix a problem for you, outsourcing ... sounds like the Future Business Leaders of America are in for a very busy future. Anyone who's not part of the club better get a tutor.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.