Dear Joseph,
My daughter is in the 8th grade and applying to high schools. She is on the wild side and the sort of kid who is very, I suppose overly, influenced by her environment. There is one school which I think could have a very positive influence on her, but based on her current grades she won't get in. I have the connections that could get her in. But I'm conflicted. The school is very selective, which means that if my daughter gets in, some other kid probably won't. Is it wrong to use pull to get my daughter admitted?

Dear Conflicted,
Several years ago, a friend of mine confronted a case similar to yours. His son applied to a school, and the principal, a dear friend, told him that he didn't think the boy--whose problems were similar to those of your daughter--was an appropriate candidate for the school. Nevertheless, because of their longstanding friendship, the principal agreed to admit the boy. Within the year, his bad grades and involvement with drugs forced the parents to withdraw him.

Seeing how badly things had turned out, I asked the father if he regretted having intervened to get his son admitted. He told me that he had no regrets: "If I hadn't gotten him in, and he had gone to another school, it's very likely he would also have done badly and ended up on drugs. And then, I would have tortured myself thinking, 'Oh, if I'd only gotten him into that other school, then everything would have worked out.'"

As parents, I believe that you have the obligation to find the school that will best meet your daughter's needs. Having said that, you also must make sure that that is the criterion you are using, that you want her in this school because it will best address her needs, and not because you want to see her attending a prestigious school.

If this school is right for her, then do what you can to get her admitted, within the bounds of the law (e.g., don't try to bribe anyone, though admittedly some wealthy parents find a legal way to do so by making it known that they are thinking of making a large contribution to the school).

If you don't use your connections in this case on your daughter's behalf, are you going to be comfortable one, five, or 10 years from now, telling her that you could have gotten her into this school, only you chose not to do so?

I recognize that the position I am advocating is morally problematic, and in a perfect world the use of personal influence would be wrong. But as my friend J.J. Goldberg, editor of the weekly newspaper The Forward, said when I discussed with him the dilemma raised in your letter, "It's like the issue of nuclear disarmament. Why would one nation ever be so foolish as to be the first to disarm without guarantees that other nations were doing so as well?" In other words, if you refuse to use connections for your child in a world where other parents are using connections for their children, you are doing your child a disservice, just as a nation's leader does a disservice to his people's security by disarming at a time when other nations are not doing so.

Parents, in short, have special responsibilities to, and for, their children. If this school can help shape your daughter in a manner that will greatly enrich the rest of her life, I would suggest that you do what you can to get her in.

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