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The risks of advocacy...

SevenDadSevenDad Posts: 2,489Registered User Senior Member
edited November 2012 in Prep School Parents
As we head into the new school year, I am struck by the fact that some of the students/parents with whom I corresponded with about St. Andrew's this past admissions cycle will actually become matriculated members of the SAS family soon. And, of course, I'm hoping that they'll love it as much as we have so far.

But I'm also aware of the very real possibility that they may not.

And so I've been thinking about the reliability of any school advocate here on the forum, myself included. Why do prospects believe them (us)? Isn't every advocate of any specific school biased by definition?

Also, sparked by a recent caution about a particular school mentioned in a "Chance Me" thread (as much as I don't buy the "Chances" phenomenon, I do scan the threads to see what schools are being considered), I wonder how much stake any prospect should put in the testimony/endorsement of a single student/parent/family. Should a candidate "ding" a school because of one bad story (whether public or via PM) they read on a mostly anonymous internet forum?

I guess I'm nervous that my advocacy of a specific school could end up having a backlash (on the school and whatever credibility I have as an advocate) if the new students/families don't have a similarly great experience.

I don't have any answers at this point...just questions. Would appreciate input from other parents.
Post edited by SevenDad on
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Replies to: The risks of advocacy...

  • Charger78Charger78 Posts: 394Registered User Member
    I have two words for you, 7Dad: due diligence.

    That's why I check out this site and read so many of these posters much more than is time rational and healthy. This is a big deal for our son (as he's now quickly realizing), our family and our finances. ChoatieMom, I believe it was, closely summarized what I feel very acutely: the tough call on the return in value when the cash outlay can greatly unsettle your future family situation (because you are not "uber wealthy") and you don't know what you are missing by forgoing some cheaper alternative closer to home. There are no crystal balls and it all has to be an educated hunch; so, I really hope to look back on this time and say I'm darn glad we did it.

    But due diligence in these circumstances, to me, would never mean relying on one source (or advocate) of information. Instead, I am trying to obtain a preponderance of evidence for a "good fit" from as many different angles and sources as possible.

    That said, a wise reader should understand the "bias" of the advocates here, and by bringing this specific discussion up on the Parents Thread, I think you have helped promote the general wisdom, 7D. Readers should pay attention to the range of opinions presented by advocates and be skeptical when that seems right. In one case, I greatly appreciated the private communication with a parent whose advocacy grew substantially mixed after a traumatic experience. The learning to be had here on CC is unavailable elsewhere, isn't it, especially because of how "open" to different voices it is.

    Just be "diligent" in how you process it all. This doubly applies, I think, to those (young) teenagers who read here and are often still behind the curve in learning the skeptical approach. Yet I'm impressed, too, by the maturation that can be seen in their postings as they continue to learn from the site.
  • ChoatieMomChoatieMom Posts: 1,321Registered User Senior Member
    I would hope that readers understand the nature of internet boards and that each person is posting opinion based on their own experience--and that’s all it is. There’s an implicit “Buyer Beware: Your Mileage May Vary” with every comment. No one should make any final decisions based on any story or opinion posted here. Collectively, our shared stories and opinions should simply encourage others to dig deeper and determine for themselves what holds true or what matters to them. We are all biased, but that should go without saying.

    What I find more concerning than whether or not some student or family will be disappointed with their experience based on anyone’s advocacy of a particular school is whether or not they will be disappointed based on what is left off this board. There are plenty of champions here, but we seem to tread lightly on topics that might shed a more realistic light on what it means to board in a highly challenging environment. No one wants to say anything that could reflect badly on their child, their child’s school, or boarding in general. We’re much more likely to say YMMV when posting anything that could be taken more negatively than positively. Readers have to dig far and deep into the archives to come up with anything more negative than that BS “might not be for everyone”. So, I think readers should be warned of the general Pollyanna effect of this board and keep that in mind when using this tool to help them on their journey.

    (Ha, Charger78! I was composing as you were posting.)
  • taben1112taben1112 Posts: 534Registered User Member
    ChoatieMom wrote: "I would hope that readers understand the nature of internet boards and that each person is posting opinion based on their own experience--and that’s all it is..."

    I fully agree. One student or parent's experience can and should not be relied upon too heavinly.

    Heck, in middle school/junior high we had one child who THRIVED at a school and loved it. Our other child had a terrible experience at that same school! I could easily give two very different reviews for that one school. Imagine the opinions given for a myriad of parents from a single school!

    Adults especially should understand that folks are posting what they are viewing through their own lenses...not a universal one.
    T
  • mountainhikermountainhiker Posts: 801Registered User Member
    Heck, in middle school/junior high we had one child who THRIVED at a school and loved it. Our other child had a terrible experience at that same school!

    This is so true, taben1112! With two kids only 18 mo. apart in age, with similar abilities, I early-on fell into the trap of "if it works for Child 1, it will also work for Child 2." Wrong! An elementary teacher that was fantastic for one child was a total disaster for the other. Yes, she was a great teacher - but the personality match was not there.

    And that's why the mantra of "fit, fit, fit" is chanted so often on this board. Every child, every family, has different needs. Our son was accepted at four really great schools that all fit him well: Ridley College, Loomis Chaffee, Deerfield Academy and The Thacher School. He chose Thacher, and we think it was absolutely the right choice for him. Another family might have made a different choice, and that most likely would have been the absolutely best choice for that family.

    As Charger78 said,
    There are no crystal balls and it all has to be an educated hunch; so, I really hope to look back on this time and say I'm darn glad we did it.

    As we send our two children in two different directions next week (DD to Interlochen, DS to Thacher), I echo his sentiments!
  • GMTplus7GMTplus7 Posts: 5,123Registered User Senior Member
    Back when S was applying to BS, we would visit CC for advice. I was struck at the time by how, at age 13, he accepted all the posted comments as fact rather than opinion. He was even discouraged by some "authoritative" joke posts (by students from his now arch-rival school) deriding his school as a "safety" school.

    It does worry me that the young readers don't have the experience to critically weigh what they read on this board. Look at how many who post on the Chance Me board that come away with the sense that they will definitely be admitted by ACRONYM school
  • opsops Posts: 810Registered User Member
    Being a strong advocate for three schools in particular I have become somewhat reserved at times because the experience is not the same for all students and I get a little backlash. On the home front I have been writing letters and getting more involved than I imagined. I hope and pray those outcomes are positive or it may will be an in your face rebuke, time will tell. I also feel I could just as easily said "told you so" to those just plain stuck on the you know what acronym. None of this easy, especially when explaining why the first year they may not get in and the next they do with the whole building a class concept. I come from a highly competitive area where the star football, hockey and lacrosse players coupled with excellent grades are a dime a dozen.

    So 7D, I understand your nervousness and reluctance but do carry on. I don't expect everyone to listen to my 2 cents worth and yes, I really do hope things work out for the few I did promote.
  • MDMomofTwoMDMomofTwo Posts: 200Registered User Junior Member
    @SevenDad I would hope that people would understand that the opinion you present is based on your and your child's experience and reflects your natural bias. If people make their school choice based on your post and advice alone then they would be exhibiting very poor judgement indeed.
    Internet forum comments must be balanced by parental and student due dilligence and personal preference. If the school choice is ultimately a poor one, the fault does not lie with posters such as yourselves who have made successful choices for their children. The fault, if there even is one, is on the parent/student themselves. And there may not even be a "fault"
    Life is not perfect, nor fair, sometimes things just don't work out! :0)
  • seekersseekers Posts: 36Registered User Junior Member
    On the general question raised about the risks of advocacy, I agree with the points above: due diligence, caveat emptor, ymmv, fit-fit-fit.

    What I'd like to add to this thread is my profound gratitude for those who bother to advocate.

    It's perfect that you brought this up, 7d, and that Ops posted here too. Your evident passion for SAS (and specifically about what sets it apart and makes it special) resonated with me, so it made the short list of schools to visit. At the time we were looking at a long list of acronym schools, and a couple of local fall-back options. I can honestly say we would not have gone to visit if you hadn't taken the risk of sharing your genuine zeal for the school. But what happened from there was all about finding the best fit for our kid. That's where your responsibility ended. It just so happens that we share similar values, and we absolutely loved St Andrew's (though it's clearly not for everyone; no school is!).

    So, I'd like to encourage others who are passionate about their schools to feel free to offer specific, meaningful, detailed insights into what they love about them. [I'll also ask the whole community to honor and value your service as a central and vital role, rather than accuse you of "boosterism."] And should your comments resonate with a prospective student/parent, and they PM you… Just give the most honest and detailed responses you can. You bear no responsibility for assessing the fit between that school and their child. But know that you can make a real difference. I don't know if ours is a rare case, but I can point to the specific thread & posters who pointed us in the direction of our school of best fit… and we remain profoundly grateful!
  • SevenDadSevenDad Posts: 2,489Registered User Senior Member
    @seekers: Our family definitely owes a lot to ops and also Winterset and ThacherParent for opening our eyes to the schools each advocates for (though Winterset has gone dormant as of late). SAS, SPS, and Thacher weren't really on our radar AT ALL when we were starting out.
  • PeriwinklePeriwinkle Posts: 2,594Registered User Senior Member
    I agree with the points made above. I've also experienced the backlash of recommending schools to families whose children were not accepted. At this point, I'll recommend my children's schools, but I also stress the importance of fit, online and "on the home front".
  • ExieMITAlumExieMITAlum Posts: 2,367. Senior Member
    I've also experienced the backlash of recommending schools to families whose children were not accepted.

    Gosh. With most schools rejecting 80-90% of the applicants in the pool (due to space, not qualifications), I wonder if those parents had realistic expectation. I wonder if those parents think advocating is the same as having influence on the decision?
  • PeriwinklePeriwinkle Posts: 2,594Registered User Senior Member
    Exie, I think the concept of "building a class" is very difficult to understand when one encounters it for the first time. I think at first parents tend to overestimate the importance of SSAT scores or grades. They're important, but they aren't the only factor. If a school has an SSAT score of X%, that doesn't mean the school turned down everyone who scored below X%, and accepted anyone who scored X% and higher. The school needs athletic kids, musical kids, students from different parts of the country (etc.)

    I think parents often overestimate the chances of a smart, nice kid. It's a shock. It's also a good preparation for the college search process.

    In my opinion, a school would have to accept somewhere around 60% for a student to be almost certain of admission. Most of the schools discussed on this forum accept fewer than 60% of students. (And I haven't even touched FA.)
  • SevenDadSevenDad Posts: 2,489Registered User Senior Member
    "I think parents often overestimate the chances of a smart, nice kid."

    +1 on this sentiment.
  • GMTplus7GMTplus7 Posts: 5,123Registered User Senior Member
    There's already a common abbrev: BWRK = Bright Well-Rounded Kid
  • SitekeySitekey Posts: 11Registered User New Member
    First, let me say first that I have been a faithful follower of CC since our family started investigating different boarding schools 1 1/2 years ago, and now that we are an ‘official’ boarding school family, we have decided to join CC. I have always appreciated and welcomed the insight from the frequent posters that comes, no doubt, from spending countless hours on CC and investigating various schools whether you have a child attending or not.

    The original poster’s question about advocacy made me think about how we disseminated CC information and viewed its posters. While we sifted through much pertinent information, not once did we ever consider posters advice or opinions the final word as we made our decisions for our son. I hope to become a advocate for my son’s school. We think it is a great school and a good fit for him but not for everybody. We spent a lot of time researching and traveling back and forth to ensure that we were making the right decision based on the needs of our son. But it was our decision, and we definitely took advantage of some of the excellent recommendations on CC. Again, CC advice and thoughts were disseminated and investigated before it became usable for us.

    While well-meaning, I think that sometimes the advocate posters are sometimes a bit too opinionated about potential BS family situations simply based on tidbits and snippets of information with absolutely no clue what else lies between those lines or what’s in the family background. I have read responses that are condescending, and I have read frequent posters admonish families because their reasoning for wanting BS didn’t quite stack up to the general consensus of why boarding school. I have read advocates argue with children(!) who may be pompous but require direction. I could go on with other examples but I think the point is made.

    Let me say that I think many of the frequent poster advocates do a wonderful job and provide an incredible, unpaid service out of their dedication to the boarding school way of life. There is nothing wrong with strong advocacy but not at the expense of offering sometimes unsolicited advice that comes off as pretentious based on basic information in a written line or two as parents seek schools and advice for their child. You are sought out not only because of your ‘expertise’ but also because the valuable information that is provided saves a lot of time and provides a path to follow. I speak from experience. But I think a line is crossed when you seek to tell families how they should conduct their affairs no matter how well-meaning. It’s a very fine line.

    People like me scoured CC looking for pertinent information that assisted in my research. We join CC because we want to be part of the community and lend an advocate voice for our schools. But readers who seek out advice want to be respected and for you to know that while you might not agree with decisions about choices, finances, schools, etc., they are still the parents and the biggest advocates.

    Again, thank you for all the wonderful work you do.
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