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ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT: No one can out-row the river

Capitalism, the way we currently practice it, is one major contributing factor to the tuition scandal and a slew of related social ills.

“The tuition scandal bothers me,” I complained to my sons. “I’m helping teach a Cape Fear River Rowing Club Learn to Row Class in April,” I added with frustration. “Should we demand young recruits and parents sign waivers agreeing not to send selfies to Duke or Harvard?”

“It’s about capitalism,” my one son said. “Our system is rigged for the rich. Capitalism’s killing us,” he concluded.

“Capitalism raises all boats,” my other son said with a shrug.

They’re both right. Capitalism is still cool, but anyone who believes the FBI probe shows NCAA athletes should be paid or bashes those rich immoral liberal Hollywood elites hasn’t been following the money. There’s a long history of people owning the capital, on the one hand saying, “We’re all in the same boat.” On the other hand, they’re rigging the boat so they don’t have to pull their weight, and their kids never have to row a stroke. They also haven’t been paying attention to 40-plus years of post-Reagan capitalism in America, accelerating gaps between rich and poor, astronomical health care and tuition costs, and ridiculous opportunity and wage gaps between high-school and college graduates.

Are these problems part of the hog waste of capitalism?

Of course!

Capitalism, the way we currently practice it, is one major contributing factor to the tuition scandal and a slew of related social ills. Professors in elite college classrooms may teach capitalism is an “economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production.” On Wall Street, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Main Street, USA capitalism is both a form of government and religion. It fails as both. Yet, complaining about capitalism in America is like the fish in the Cape Fear complaining about the murky water.

Adapt to the hog waste or die.

I’m more upset about how people that don’t pull their own weight pretend to row to gain admission to “elite” universities. Rowers started out as galley slaves. Conditions haven’t gotten much better over the centuries. Sure, graceful rowing eights stare at us from offices across the country, daring us to strive for “teamwork” or “harmony.”  Rowing is on those motivational posters because, after thousands of dark morning miles with teammates you might not like, sliding on seats in a shell slightly wider than your hips, the river might gift your crew a few blissful strokes of harmony, balance and flow. But when Irish 2016 Olympic Silver Medalists, the O’Donovan brothers, were asked to the describe the nuances and grace of their race plan, they answered eloquently, “Pull like dogs.”

Nailed it. Galley slaves with a sense of humor (and a boatload of brightly colored medals).
Meritocracy is a myth in most of real life, including college admissions. It nudges closer to reality on the water. Your bone-spurs daddy can buy you a seat in Penn’s Wharton school, but he’s not saving your soft butt in a seat race against those sinewy strong lifeguards from the Jersey Shore. Boat-speed is earned; you simply cannot bribe a boat to be fast.

Part of the solution to this scandal may be on the water. Anyone that fraudulently claims to be a skilled rower to gain admission to college should have to row for a year—and so should their parents. They’d get a chance to learn how one stroke doesn’t win a race, one powerful rower doesn’t make a boat fast, and no one ever out-rows the river. They might learn humility. By the end of a year, as glorified galley slaves, my guess is the privileged parents would have developed gratitude and their kids would be majoring in social justice. The kids might get close to pulling their own weight or at least complete their own homework.

The privileged parents could also donate to Philadelphia City Rowing, Row New York, Three Rivers Community Rowing, or a growing list of nonprofits that provide academic mentoring and rowing coaching to youth in marginalized communities. As our region grows, and perhaps our Cape Fear River Rowing Club with it, we might be on that list.

Until then, join us on the water for one of 2019’s Learn-to-Row sessions, and learn to “pull like dogs,” with balance and flow. And no selfies to Duke or Harvard.

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