“College Admissions and Snowplows”


I begin my thoughts on education by reflecting on the recent scandal in the United States around college admissions. Fifty people have been indicted on charges that they falsified school records, invented sports teams, provided substitutes for tests, asked for extra time to complete the tests, and bribed college officials. And these fifty people are parents! They were trying to get their children accepted into colleges with the prestige they believed their children deserved, despite the fact that their children were not qualified for admission.

What motivates parents to go to such extreme behavior around their children?  I had heard of the term “helicopter parents” for some time, about parents who constantly hovered around their children. But now I heard the term “snowplow parents” which applies in this situation. A “helicopter parent” might need to talk to their college student every day. But a “snowplow parent” has a different job. That parent is determined to remove any and all obstacles in the way of their child’s forward progress. This is called helping.

Sad to say, this “helpful” behavior actually handicaps their children. Most of us realize that it is in overcoming obstacles that we grow. There is a real satisfaction in achieving our own goals without the interference of “well meaning” parents. A child’s wonky science project pleases her much more than the carefully finished one of a fellow student’s whose parent stepped in to finish it. The one knows she can accomplish something. The other doubts her own abilities and believes she will always need to be rescued.

Unless the snowplow parents hoped to pay for their children’s essays, pay for substitutes for their exams, and feed answers to them through earpieces in class discussions, their children were bound to fail their classes. Sadder still, their children would feel like failures when all they needed was to be celebrated for the people they actually were, not the lofty projections of their parents.

23 thoughts on ““College Admissions and Snowplows”

  1. haven’t heard about snowplough parenting but we have versions of it here, naturally. Someone called me a concierge parent recently – I was still giving my daughter a lift after taking her car in fro a service – she’s 25 and works full time… It’s completely fair though I don’t see it sopping any time soon…


    1. I can’t imagine getting grief about helping an adult child with a lift. I watch my daughter’s dogs when she travels for work. Making life easier is a far cry from preventing any distress for our offspring.(as if we could anyway.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We have something very similar here, that allows idiots to go to the best schools, and pass exams when they don’t have the talent for them. It’s called ‘The Class System’, and has provided most of our political leaders, sadly.
    Best wishes, Pete.


  3. Interestingly enough, at my high school there were paid slots reserved. Those were for children who did poorly on their primary school exams but their parents could purchase them another slot. We always knew who they were and they were never placed in the “bright classes”. As far as I know, no one ever bullied them though. They usually did poorly compared to everyone else, but I think most of them graduated. I always wondered how they felt knowing we got in for free and their parents had to pay their way in. Maybe some didn’t care.

    Never heard of anything like that at the college level though.


        1. That’s true. They probably didn’t. I suspect some moved overseas. Usually when Jamaican children underperform or act out, sending them overseas is the next course of option.


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