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Reverse Elitism

Harvard should deny admission to private-school students

By Nathaniel S. Rakich, None

Make no mistake; refusing a Harvard education to private-school students is a radical idea. Still, Harvard should ponder such a drastic measure, not as an affront to private schools but as a promotion of public education.

While such a move certainly would be a cataclysmic break with Harvard’s past, it would also do a great deal of good. Public schooling needs a pick-me-up, and Harvard is uniquely primed to administer it. Many high-school students (and parents) dream of a Harvard education, and quite a few try to get a leg up by attending an elite private high school. If, however, they knew that a public-school education would offer a better opportunity, they would be likelier to remain engaged in the state system. A simple word from Harvard and similar institutions could enact such a reversal of fortunes.

This, in turn, would make a world of difference for public schools. Students would be more engaged in their academics, and their purposefulness would be contagious. The most ambitious Harvard hopefuls, newly returned to their public schools, would revitalize extracurriculars with their passion and talent. Quality teachers, as well, might be likelier to seek a job at a public school, where they are sorely needed. Most importantly, it would force parents, especially influential or wealthy parents, to have more of a stake in public education.

With a talented and wealthy crop of students leaving the public school system every year for greener pastures, it’s become far too easy to simply label that system “broken” and follow suit. Renewed community-wide participation in state education would be accompanied by a sense of urgency to fix that system’s myriad problems. Of course there is a place in the world for private schools; it’s simply important, in the name of equal opportunity, to ensure that the discrepancy between them and their public counterparts should never grow too wide.

Don’t worry, O reader; it’s nothing personal. Although there’s a decent chance that you attended a private school, there’s also a decent chance that you’re a pretty smart cookie. As many of your classmates have proven, it’s very likely that you could have made it to these hallowed halls with only a public-school education. The point of this measure wouldn’t be to close any doors, but rather to throw them open—because it would leave both ex-private-schoolers and heretofore marginalized public-schoolers on the same level playing field.

Obviously, Harvard should not implement this policy suddenly. Instead, the admissions office should announce now that it will stop considering private-school students five or six years from today. This will allow students who are currently enrolled in private school to get their shot while still pushing wannabe members of the Class of 2017 toward public institutions.

Doubtlessly, a moratorium on private-school students would have a huge domino effect (property values, angry donors) that we can’t yet fully grasp. There are many reasons why Harvard most likely won’t heed my advice (and, probably, shouldn’t).

In the end, yes, it is a radical idea. But, given the problematic state of American public education, we may need some crazy, radical thinking. I doubt that this notion has ever even crossed the mind of Harvard’s admissions office—and that is equally problematic. The point is that everyone—especially a powerhouse like Harvard—should be thinking outside the box about how he, she, or it can turn this problem on its head. This editorial doesn’t need to convince you that we should take this radical measure—only that even “ridiculous” ideas deserve a closer look.

Nathaniel S. Rakich ’10, a Crimson editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Cabot House. He encourages you to comp The Crimson editorial board and prove him wrong.

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