The Irascible ProfessorSM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"It is always the best policy to speak the truth, unless of course you are an exceptionally good liar."... ...Jerome K. Jerome

Commentaries of the Day - December 19, 2001: How to Write the "Perfect" College Admission Essay and Technology Implementation Committee: No, Thanks.  Guest Commentaries by Conrad Geller.

College applicants, have you ever asked yourself, late at night, say, or in the middle of a particularly nasty math test: Why do colleges ask for those college essays, anyway?  Admissions officers certainly couldn't be thirsting to know more about your summer in Uganda or the tragic death of your pet ferret (when you learned the True Meaning of Commitment).

What they say about it, either in the very friendly pamphlets or the even friendlier College Conferences, is, "We are looking for the human element in you, beyond grades and scores, signs that you are a sterling human being."

Yes, but what if, like most of us, you are a decidedly ordinary human being, even a little bit of a nerd, possibly even, if truth be told, a lout?  Then the college essay becomes a supreme challenge.  How can you, without absolutely lying, project a sincere, believable image of someone much better than the Real You?

Lucky for you, I have developed a set of key phrases that can be used strategically in setting up a false but attractive image that enhances the odds for acceptance in spite of everything, even if your grades look like abbreviated swear words and the SAT has humanely refused to send out your scores.

Of course all this material is copyrighted, but use them freely--that's part of the game, isn't it?

Explain, don't Apologize. This is what is called in politics "spin doctoring":

"I have always looked at school as an opportunity to be free and creative."

"My deep interest in Ugritic languages has made more trivial learning seem superfluous."

"The true purpose of school, I believe, is meaningful bonding with peers and authority figures.  In this area I have been notably successful."

Drop names. Names are news, as they say:

"How do you think Einstein would have done on an SAT?"

"I first leaned about Plunkett U from my hotheaded uncle, Vinnie 'the Gut' Banff, who has the garbage collection contract at the school . . ."

"The last time I wrote to Mother Theresa . . ."

Be sensitive. In this area it's best to scatter short phrases throughout. The following will work in almost any sentence:

"All mankind," "my grandmother used to say," "an awakening moment," "love of animals," "love of mankind," "love of grandmothers."

Fawn. The American Heritage Dictionary defines "to fawn" as "to exhibit affection, as in the manner of a dog wagging its tail and whining." Exactly:

"Plunkett U has been my lifelong dream"

". . . ideal mixture of caring and discipline, which I crave"
". . . my very blood runs Plunkett violet and purple . . ."

A liberal sprinkling of these phrases will guarantee admission to any institution of higher learning.  Paraphrase if you must, or if that is your usual custom.  But remember, as someone said, "Sincerity is your most important quality.  If you can fake that, you've got it made."

 ©2001 Conrad Geller
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It was tempting to volunteer for this one: The Technology Implementation Committee. Its purpose was to encourage teachers to increase the use of computers in their teaching, in all sorts of subjects, in all sorts of ways.  I had the surface qualifications, at least: an interest in pedagogy, some familiarity with the crotchetiness of computers, and goodness knows the time.

But I was unsure. Perhaps, lurching toward final obsolescence, I was just too old for this sort of thing. Perhaps, I thought, my destiny is to be only the deer tick, not the gadfly, to the Athenians.  Anyway, the prospect had a faintly ominous look to it, like mist from a distant swamp.

In the first place, the call to the committee mentioned the School District's commitment to the forming of an "educational community," the search for “academic excellence,” the goal of "lifetime learning."  It referred to "the latest proven advancement in the teaching/learning act."  Stuff like that is scary.

My deepest suspicion came from the word "latest."

I am, sadly, old enough to remember when the ball-point pen was first introduced into American education, I think around 1947. Surely it made a difference; my generation lived with blue fingers and papers ruined by blots. And I have seen the coming of the tape recorder, the videotape, the ditto machine, the photocopier, the blessed overhead projector. All of these have made teaching more efficient, maybe more enjoyable, even in some cases more possible. But they haven't changed the essential nature of what we do – telling, showing, demonstrating, urging, criticizing, challenging, testing, judging.

I expect that computers, too, will contribute their measure of convenience to our tasks. And then we'll continue on with what we have done so faithfully and so long.

So no, I won't join the Technology Implementation Committee just now.

 ©2001 Conrad Geller
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CONRAD GELLER (cgeller@post.harvard.edu) has been a teacher and writer for almost fifty years. He has taught in secondary schools and colleges in Massachusetts, New York, and London.  Mr. Geller is a graduate of Boston Latin School, Harvard College, and Massachusetts State College at Fitchburg.

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© 2001 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.