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The Aunt Becky College admissions bribery scandal came to light two years ago. The documentary Operation Varsity Blues was released last month, and I don’t have the energy to watch it until my own academic semester is over, but I’m really looking forward to it.
I come from a family of public school teachers and have attended both public and private schools throughout my education. I also worked in a private school with very capable students, although to my knowledge none of the students or their parents bribed schools or paid people to take tests! But I’ve seen how stressful and toxic academic environments can become when not enabled. It is terrible for everyone: children should not be exposed to such stress about their future; Parents shouldn’t feel that they have to fight each other at every stage of their children’s lives. School faculty and staff should not be empowered to act as intermediaries between unreasonable parents and high stakes schools. and that’s natural, without even mentioning how problematic college admissions already are in this country and adding to the growing class gaps by restricting access, distorting expectations, and … oh, so many other reasons.
I sincerely hope you haven’t had to experience Cutthroat Academy for yourself, but reading about it can be pretty awesome. Dark science is as hot as a literary mood right now, but often that comes with an SFF benefit. These novels are set in the real world, which frankly makes them even more scary.
The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate
If you’ve wished the Dead Poets Society or Emperor of the Air weren’t just filled with whites, this book is for you. This book is narrated from the perspective of a black male teacher, Jerome, in one of these schools. He has spent his entire career fitting into the very white environment he is in. When his school wins a black student from downtown who asks him for mentoring and solidarity, Jerome is upset and tries to distance himself. It’s painful to read, but oddly enough, not surprising, and I think folks of color who have worked in a high-profile industry like prep schools, law, or finance may feel like they want to connect but don’t want to get excited about what is already a precarious position of power by reminding the people around you that you are not as white as them.
Julie Buxbaum joins the company
This is the #RippedFromTheHeadlines book in this pile, so it will definitely feel like it is on the right track with Operation Varsity Blues. I mean, how quickly did Lifetime make a movie about it? (Even faster than this book came about, so quickly.) This novel explores what it is like to be a child at the center of such a scandal who may not have known what their parents did to help you so successful in school. In some cases, we may have felt that the children knew their way around and had nothing to do with being in the schools they were in. But in other cases it might be worth considering that obsessive, motivated parents may not consider their actual children when trying to plan their future, and that’s not fair for a teen who thinks they’ve obeyed the rules and then have to pay for it.
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Taught by Anisha Lakhani
Some people really want to be teachers. They love working with teenagers, they love watching people learn when they learn something new, they love improving their teaching skills. However, what most teachers fail to sign up (aside from the unpaid work of nurses, babysitters, counselors, and the myriad of other things underfunded schools ask their educators to do) is getting into trouble asking you to be ethical Principles to weigh beliefs against your self-preservation – especially for such a low salary. But that is exactly what the teacher in this book is presented with when she learns that a lot of her students’ homework is not her job, but that of the tutors and essay writers they hire, and in a city and profession that is barely known about Make ends meet Meet, our protagonist is really drawn to all the money and benefits that come with taking on such a side business …
Brendan Kiely tradition
This dual perspective book gets to the heart of a student because she has to consider whether self-preservation and future opportunities are worth the moral and ethical costs of not standing up for and with classmates. The novel looks at the effects of strange private schools – there’s always a strange inside joke or something that looks bizarre if you weren’t there for it – and asks if “tradition” is really a fair excuse for anything.
Yoruba Girl Dancing by Simi Bedford
The culture shock is real in this novel about a Nigerian girl who becomes the only black girl at an English boarding school in the 1940s. Remi is thrust into the English preschool world at the age of 6, which … yikes. This is incredibly young. But her father dumps her there because he doesn’t want a girl, and Remi is forced to grow up among people who believe that if they touch her, their dark skin will rub them off, among many other racist beliefs. This takes place at a time when Nigeria was a British colony rather than an independent country. So there is even more tension and one more level where Remi is a second class citizen.
Laurinda / Lucy and Linh from Alice Pung
Like Yoruba Girl Dancing, this novel explores what it’s like to be a color student at a very white school – this time it’s a Vietnamese immigrant at an Australian prep school, Laurinda. Lucy got a scholarship to a very fancy school, but the longer she is there, the more strained her relationship with Linh, her friend from her life before Laurinda, becomes. Lucy is dying to fit into the elite of the elite, the girls nicknamed The Cabinet, who have more power over the school’s students and adults than Regina George. This book was first published in Australia and the American title is Lucy and Linh.
All of Emily Layden’s girls
Nine private school girls just try to live their lives while their administrators try to hide an ugly secret. It’s historical fiction (! 1990s!), But will likely feel way too timely once you find out what the not-so-secret scandal is. Instead of just talking about the one, this book also talks about the many ways being a girl is next to impossible because there are way too many binaries and expectations and you just can’t win.
From the shadows of Jason Wallace
This book really opened my eyes to African racial history that I had never heard of before. The novel is set in the recently (for the characters) British Rhodesia and is now independent Zimbabwe. He presents us with a number of school children who were born and raised in the same country but have wildly different racial experiences. White children born there are African citizens but have a very different social identity from black Africans, who are now regaining the freedoms, privileges and economic capital they lost under British imperialism. It probably won’t surprise anyone that the youth and aspiration combination isn’t a smooth one, but it’s really interesting to read through the eyes of a white UK college student asked to take sides despite having no beef with his black Classmates.
Operation Varsity Blues is now streamed on Netflix. I’ll hold this up until after the finale and just read a little, and I’ll also be scouring the depths of the internet for All I Wanna Do, Flirting, and other prep movies that I haven’t seen in years …