Years before he became an unabashed cheerleader for the burgeoning KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) empire, Jay Mathews was once a high school senior applying to college.
He landed during his first year at Occidental College, a Los Angeles college that later became known as the way station for a certain 44th President. Like Obama, Mathews transferred to an Ivy League institution-Obama to Columbia, Mathews to Harvard-and, like Obama, Mathews’ children eventually attended Sidwell Friends.
While at his second college, Mathews discovered a passion for journalism that has served him admirably, as a staff reporter for The Washington Post, author of a respectable biography of Jaime Escalante and creator of the Top 100 High Schools in the country.
In Harvard Schmarvard, Mathews offers us his take on the college admissions game. As readers of this blog know, I am working my way through a number of these books, and have found that they roughly divide into two major camps: those that purport to provide secrets for how to gain admission to elite colleges and universities, and those that emphasize students finding the right match for themselves.
Ironically, like the yin and yang symbols, both types of books give some space and rhetorical attention to the other aspect. Loren Pope’s book about colleges that changes lives basically conveys the message that you can have your meaningful experience and not sacrifice an Ivy quality education, while Bill Paul’s Getting In has some brief language about finding a school that is a solid fit for the student.
In Harvard Schmarvard, Mathews tries to have it both ways, but ultimately ends up writing more about the elite side of things while claiming to focus more on the match.