Happy Bottom Quarter Boys
This story is the result of what I hope The Pundificator will increasingly become.
Interaction with readers is wonderful because, as my political writing mentor, Andy Glass, a 60-year veteran who has forgotten more about the field than I will ever know, has always advised, “don’t worry about the numbers; you don’t need to make money; you are not a newspaper; you are a club.”
The comment, from Dulany Howland, a school and college mate, went like this: “Haven, if you want to know why Fred admitted you (the same reason he admitted me), read Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. There’s a two-page reference to his Admissions Philosophy!”
My reply – “Thank you Dulany, I will look for it” — sounded at best anodyne and at worst dismissive. It was none of those things.
Yesterday, I ventured to the library of a downtown club in Washington, found the book in the computer; sought guidance as to its whereabouts; located it on a high shelf; fetched a rolling step ladder; climbed it (to the dismay of onlookers); retrieved the book; took iPhone pictures; and put everything back in its proper place, including the rolling ladder.
By the way, if you are curious about the best room in any club, it is often the library.
At the end of this story are pictures of the three pages I found. I had forgotten “happy bottom quarter boys,” but I did once know about the idea.
In an after-dinner group session before the one-on-one interviews the next day (see We Still Don’t Want You), Fred Glimp talked about Harvard and asked those assembled, “which of you would be happy bottom quarter boys?”
Apparently, many St. Paul’s to Harvard applicants were already confirmed opportunists, and hands shot up, not the least of them mine. Given my enthusiasm for admission, I was at least waving if not raising both hands.
The “hard to get” thing has never been a strength.
Description is much to be favored in stories so I should tell you that the dining room in question bares a strong resemblance to Hogwarts. Hogwarts at the top; St. Paul’s below.
Even then, Harvard boasted that it could fill its class with (a) only those who ranked number 1 in their high school class or (b) only those who had twin 800s (perfect scores) on the SATs. Each standard would yield a separate class that could be admitted each year, and each would fill every available slot.
Fred Glimp’s concern was for those who had never been anything other than the best and their reaction to discovering that others were better or, worse, that at least three quarters of the others were better.
He needed some number of people with sufficient resilience to happily inhabit the bottom quartile lest the college psychiatric service be overwhelmed.
Today we think of college admissions as a problem of allocating scarce resources to which there is but one perfect answer. As long as my kid gets in the system is fine or, for those given to advocacy on behalf of others, as long as enough of my favored cohort of “others” is sufficiently represented, the system is fine.
If either goal is missed, unhappiness ensues. Unresolvable unhappiness. And, of course, since there are more “my kids” and “my favored cohorts” than admission slots unresolvable unhappiness always ensues.
If the college admissions officers are no longer allowed to be concerned about “happy bottom quarter boys,” will parents or the boys (and now girls) be smart enough to ask the question themselves? Or to give it an honest answer?