Operation Varsity Blues, Snowplows, & My Failure as a Teacher


While the rest of America is obsessing over the college admission bribery scandal, I am too busy reminding my boys to clean up their mess, practice their piano, and close the cabinet they opened to care very much. As a former guidance department chair, my wife is a little obsessed with it, but it hasn’t slowed her down from packing their lunches, doing their laundry, and planning their playdates.

Are we doing too much? Perhaps, but we're not alone in doing it.

recent poll conducted by The New York Times and Morning Consult showed that if parents don't stop handling things for their children, the fall out is significant when they become adults. Children of these parents are often woefully unprepared not just for post secondary schooling but life as an adult.

Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously and monitoring your child’s every activity, is so commonplace that it has become more of a norm than an outlier. Taken to an extreme, these Hollywood parents have resorted to lying, cheating, and bribing their children’s way into college.

Code-named Operation Varsity Blues, the college entrance bribery sting operation has shocked the country as privilege and wealth were traded for access and opportunity at some of America’s most prestigious universities. Celebrities and millionaires buying their children’s way into college is certainly an extreme example but the underlying desire to help, assist, and shield children from risk, failure, or disappointment is as common as can be regardless of your social status. It even has a name. It's called Snow Plowing.

And in it’s less outrageous — and wholly legal — form, lawn-mowing and bulldozing (synonyms for snow plowing) has become more and more commonplace among not just the privileged elite, but for the everyday child.

After reading the article I sat and reflected on my own children and my parenting choices. Was I guilty of snowplowing? Yes. The sad part was, my snowplowing lifestyle was not just limited to my personal life, but extended into my professional life as well. As band director, did I ever:

  • Choose literature that shielding my students from risk or exposure? Yes.

  • Attend an event or contest that best suited my ensembles? Yes.

  • Feature an accomplished soloist over a novice in order to score higher? Yes.

  • Ask my music arranger to write to hide exposure to error? Yes.

  • Excessively remind my students to practice instead of having them fail? Yes.

  • Ever take a pollyanna approach to take a negative and make it more positive? Yes!

OMG! I’m not just a snowplow, I am a world class SNOWBLOWER!

I am sure at the time I was able to justify my choices. I am sure that they were rationalized with educational objectives and couched in student centered decision making. But, I am also relatively certain that there was some risk aversion going on as well. While stating that I was making my decisions for the good of my students, I am certain that there was an element of self-protection involved as well.

Being a music teacher involves risk. Unlike most other educators, our product/performance is on display for the world to see, hear and be judged (literally). Then our results are published for all to cheer and jeer. 

Knowing this, can you blame me for snowplowing? Can you see a little of it in yourself? I suspect so.

Darwinian thinking states that the strongest will survive. And that placing oneself in unnecessary peril is not an act of strength and bravery but one of cowardice and stupidity. We do what we must to avoid risk and exposure to pain. We seek to find more joy and hide from most anguish. In short, we do what is necessary to not just survive, but thrive as a person and a professional.

Is it right? I don’t know. If I were to return to the classroom would I continue to be something of a snowplow? I suspect so.

As a parent and a professional, I am trying to do what is best, and protect those in my charge. I mean no harm and do it from a place of love. Have I crossed the proverbial line into a place where I should be wearing snow pants? Perhaps, but it's hard to know since I don’t know where that line is. Can you show it to me? I lose sight of it from time to time.

All I know is, look out Ivy League, because here come the Lang boys! 

Now, anybody got 100K I can borrow?

Have a great week.

p.s. In all candor, when I was stuck in the Denver Airport for 44 hours last week due to the Polar Vortex Bomb, my mother checked in on me every four hours and even offered to buy my hotel room. So yeah, I come by my snowplowing naturally.

p.p.s. If you ordered a copy of Sound Leadership, please be patient. I ran out of stock TWICE! Your books will be there shortly.

p.s.s. I am playing around with the look and feel of the newsletter. Give me some feedback.