The Old Boy Net

Rumpole of the BaileyAh, networking, also known to devotees of the old BBC TV series, Rumpole of the Bailey, as The Old Boy Net.  I could go on for hours about this.  I think it riles me so much because it strikes at a fundamental difference between how I think the world should work and how it actually works.

I think people should be rewarded in their endeavors because they work hard, are talented, make the best use of the tools God has given them, or are simply virtuous people who should be rewarded for their nobility of spirit and good judgement.

Note that I haven’t specified that people should be rewarded in their endeavors because they are Christians.  I certainly think it makes it more likely, but I don’t think we’re guaranteed success in exchange for accepting God’s gift of salvation and putting our trust in Him.  Being a Christian doesn’t automatically make you a good businessman, an industrious worker, or an orderly thinker.  It certainly doesn’t make you rich, claims of certain Word-Faith evangelists notwithstanding.  I could also go on for hours on this topic, but that’s another story for another day.

All too frequently, instead of being rewarded for what they do or how they live, people are rewarded for who they know…for how well they can pull social strings to convince people with power to give them what they want.  I suppose you could call this micropolitics.   People get job offers from relatives or friends of friends, artists and writers are promoted or ignored based on their personal contacts with publicists and editors, local governments are swayed when a wealthy patron lines this or that decision-maker’s pockets.

Since in most modern human societies, money and power are inextricably linked, we see this sort of networking bonus demonstrated most vividly in the business world, but it often overflows into other areas.  Example: college scholarships.

Two nights ago, I sat in a school auditorium for nearly three hours watching bright young people parade across the stage to receive a variety of scholarships.  What struck me was how disproportionate the awards were.  The smallest awards, simple certificates, were given for outstanding school performance.  Almost everybody received one, but they were totally symbolic.  They had no value whatsoever toward meeting the cost of higher education for these promising students.

The next awards, a pittance of 100-250 dollars, was awarded for community service activities.  This was mostly symbolic, because the average college textbook costs about 100 dollars.  These students had already done something tangible to benefit their community, and they received the equivalent of a tip for their selflessness and hard work.

Next were academic awards for exceptional performance, between $1000-$2000.  Better, but nowhere near the cost of even one semester of college.  Students went through a long, competitive process for these awards, and those who succeeded were typically rewarded multiple times.  There was a revolving door effect as the same handful of students, ten or so, went forward again and again to claim their awards.  Many students had performed at an outstanding level and had worked extremely hard to compete for these scholarships, but very few of them were rewarded for their efforts.  Those who were rewarded received a token amount, significant only in combination with many other awards.

Next were half- to full-ride academic scholarships, worth in excess of $50,000, presented to only four or five students.  These were genuine scholarships, but presented only to the very elite minds, and only in scientfic or engineering disciplines.  These same students had also collected their share of the $1000-level awards.  There were two military scholarships, full-ride, one ROTC, one Academy, and these were the largest awards of all, equivalent to over $100,000.  These students were also part of the revolving-door elite.   All very deserving, but a tiny minority.

Finally, we had the athletic scholarships.  All half- to full-ride, presented, in the case of football players, only to those athletes the coaches had chosen to promote as prospects, with the exception of my son, who, while a good player, received his scholarship because his brother had established a good reputation at his college and alerted the coaches there that his younger brother was available.  Without that connection, my son likely would not have received a scholarship, as his playing time this season, his senior year, was severely reduced in favor of other players considered to be “genuine” prospects.

So what does this all mean?  I have no idea.  My son was simultaneously a victim and a beneficiary of the Old Boy Net.  Like most of the other athletes, he was an indifferent student, except in a couple of areas where he had genuine interest.  Kids who worked five times as hard as he did got next to nothing.  A lot of bright young people were sent the unspoken message that hard work only matters if you’re already part of the elite, and society truly values only what generates money for colleges and businesses.  Never, ever, expect more than a handshake and pat on the back for helping your fellow man rather than focusing on your own advancement.

This is the way the world works, and this is what we’re teaching our children, whether we mean to or not.


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