John Edwards has a rather odd editorial in USA Today.
In America, the kind of family you come from should never determine your destiny.
I agree in principle but find it divorced from reality. Unless the state confiscates all the babies and has them reared in communes, a policy which I oppose, I don’t see how to bring this to fruition. If your parents are highly educated, interested in the world around them, make a good living, and associate with similar people, you’re going to have a markedly different childhood than someone growing up in an environment absent those things. Even aside from class and economic issues, children that grow up with two loving parents are going to have a different set of experiences that those in an abusive home or one with estranged parents.
My parents worked in mills and did not have much money. But because of their hard work and good public schools, I was able to become the first person in my family to go to college. I’ve lived a life I never dreamed that I’d have.
All children in America should have the same opportunities Ã¢€” wherever they come from or whatever their backgrounds. As Americans, we have a responsibility to break down all of the barriers that stand in the way of that ideal.
So, what public policy change should we enact to make the incidence of hard working parents and good public schools more likely?
One of those barriers is some colleges’ practice of rewarding applicants because their parents went there. These “legacy” preferences don’t reward kids based on what they’ve accomplished. They don’t encourage diversity in the classroom or address discrimination the way affirmative action does. Legacy preferences reward students who already had the most advantages to begin with.
I agree that legacy preferences have no place in public universities. But it’s unclear why they constitute a more substantial barrier to mill workers’ kids than affirmative action programs, just given the numbers involved.
Ending legacy preferences would do virtually nothing to increase the likelihood that more John Edwardses will emerge. How many bright kids with poor parents are denied admission to public universities because some rich kid took their place? The number would have to be quite small. But how many kids with high IQs are hindered by coming from broken homes, parents that don’t encourage success, or other inhospitable environments? And how many of them are trapped in lousy public schools? I grant that there’s not a lot that the federal government can do about those things but, then, the admissions practices of schools are rather unrelated to the presidency, either.