Hong Kong stands athwart an increasingly nasty regime

George F. Will

WASHINGTON — Nestled on the Front Range of the Rockies, the city of Crystal was a largely upper-middle class paradise, chock full of health-conscious and socially conscious — meaning, of course, impeccably progressive — Coloradans.

Then in slithered a serpent in the form of a proposal for a new school, to be called “Crystal Academy,” for “accelerated and exceptional learners.”

Suddenly it was paradise lost.

This “deliciously repulsive” story (one reviewer’s scrumptious description) with “Big Little Lies” overtones (the same reviewer) is told in Bruce Holsinger’s compulsively readable new novel “The Gifted School.”

It is perfect back-to-school reading, especially for parents of students in grades K-12.

And it is wonderfully timely, arriving in the aftermath of Operation Varsity Blues — who knew the FBI could be droll? — which was the investigation into a very up-to-date crime wave, the scandalous goings-on among some wealthy parents who were determined to leave no ethical norm unbroken in their conniving to get their children into elite colleges and universities.

In Holsinger’s book, school officials, speaking educationese, promise that as 100,000 children compete for 1,000 spots — the dreaded 1 percent rears its ugly head — there will be “a visionary, equitable, and inclusive admission process.”

Four mothers who have been friends forever, but might not be for long, begin becoming rivals in what they regard as a nearly zero-sum game, as they plot to game a process that looks alarmingly fair.

Their children are embarked on a forced march to demonstrate that they are “gifted,” a word “that slashed like a guillotine through other topics”:

“Advanced math, Chinese, martial arts, flute lessons with the principal player in the Colorado Symphony: by eighth grade Tessa had become a living, breathing benchmark, a proof of concept for the overinvested parenting they all practiced with varying degrees of obliviousness and guilt.”

This is what Holsinger calls “advantage hoarding” and the “delicate ecology of privilege.”

Everything is hypercompetitive, even among Crystal’s 11-year-olds, from History Day at school to the travel soccer teams, which involve “a lot of mileage, a lot of Panera” in an Audi Q7 with a “Feel the Bern” bumper sticker, with “all the Patagonia parents huddled by the pitch, cheering on their spawn in socially appropriate ways.”

When one father takes his toddlers to a playground and other parents ask about his children’s ages, he subtracts a few months to make them seem developmentally remarkable, for the pleasure of seeing “that flicker of worry in the parents’ eyes.”

And when rival children do not make the cut for the new school, schadenfreude drapes the Rockies like snowdrifts.

Because Crystal Academy is to be a magnet for students whose transcripts are clotted with AP (advanced placement) courses, it is definitionally elitist, and consequently an awkward fit for good (and affluent, and credentialed) progressives who are determined to lie and cheat in order to maximize the already considerable advantages of their family cultures.

Students’ submissions for a school’s science fair become the parents’ projects.

Soon, and inevitably, there is a movement against the new school:

“We are a group of concerned parents strongly opposed to the creation of the new public magnet school for allegedly gifted students. We believe that gifted education should be democratic, egalitarian, and nonexclusive.”

Holsinger’s “allegedly” is priceless in conjunction with the insistence on gifted education that eschews exclusivity and inequality.

It is not easy being an affluent progressive and a scourge of privilege.

The parents in Holsinger’s book insist that their corner-cutting, truth-shading, thumbs-on-the-scale maneuverings and brazen lies are, as people usually say, “all for the children.”

All, that is, except for the large dollop that is for the bragging rights of parents who have hitched their status anxieties to their children.

Now teaching English literature at the University of Virginia, Holsinger previously was at the University of Colorado, and he says Crystal is a “reimagined Boulder.”

He probably did not have to strain his imagination.

He told The Wall Street Journal that you take “over-parented kids, over-invested parents, a cutthroat [college] selection process, and the rest kind of writes itself.”

He has deftly written a satire that arrives when it is needed most — when it is difficult to distinguish from sociology.

As America becomes more cognitively stratified, with rewards increasingly flowing to the well-educated (or expensively credentialed, which is not the same thing), the recent college admission scandal has become, Holsinger says, “one of the great cultural parables of our time.”

It is a parable about, in another Holsinger phrase, “privilege-hoarding,” as American life uncomfortably imitates his art.

George F. Will’s email address is georgewill@washpost.com. © 2019 Washington Post Writers Group.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1


Recommended for you

(4) comments


This sounds like what is going on with the Democrats.


We have the power to design our society, or at least to think about how to design it. We can use that goal state, or process, as a measure of anything imaginable. Given that we can evaluate some criteria for inclusion in our utopia. Equality is lauded, but total equality is impossible. A meritocracy is motivational, but we don't want our motivation to be so harsh as to rely on extreme privation, rather it should be competition for luxuries, one of which is influence. But if the reward for success is the power to influence success, what you get quickly stops being a vertically mobile meritocracy, it becomes a static hierarchy excusing itself on the basis of a dynamic that no longer exists. But here's the little thing that somehow slipped in there. If your kids compete like dancers in "They Shoot Horses Don't They," they'll be harmed by it in subtle ways, they'll be like body builders on steroids, looking fit but at a cost. Vertical mobility will rear its ugly head again because your trained robots will be all prepped for a world that will change.


So what is it that you are trying to say?


Meritocracy is worth it, but has certain implications and tendencies. Even the most idealistic will do anything to get ahead. Once somebody wins it's not a meritocracy any more, it's just pretending to be. But fortunately nature will take care of that. Even when a meritocracy has stopped functioning as designed, change will occur because the winners will get hidebound and sloppy. And furthermore, that's ideally something to be avoided, but it's there as a backup.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.