Recently, the news has been flooded with talk of advancements in genetic engineering, college admissions scandals, and the challenges of social and economic stratification. Though it seems impossible, I believe we’re soon going to be in a place where we have to find a way to balance and deal with all of these topics simultaneously. As those of higher socioeconomic classes have been paying for their children’s admission to private institutions, why not pay to engineer the perfect child, who can excel on their own? For Andover, genetic engineering could create admissions scandals and spell destruction for the efforts put into ensuring the diversity of the social and economic classes of the student body; for society at large, it could mean permanent social stagnation and subjugation for those in the working class.
In 2018, the world of genetic engineering was turned on its head. According to MIT Technology Review, Chinese scientist Xinzhu Wei reengineered the genetic make-up of a pair of twin babies to make them resistant to the HIV virus. Although his actions were unapproved and untested, it was nonetheless a groundbreaking and life-changing procedure. As of now, the long term effects of this procedure remain unknown, and a complete understanding of the CCR5 gene he cut out has not been obtained. Further testing, now that the twins are one year old, shows that the deletion of this gene created a chain reaction which, in effect, increased their IQ, memory capacity, and speed of recovery after a stroke.
With the development of CRISPR and other methods of genetic engineering, the future of designer babies is near. The ability to increase a human’s IQ and skill level could have major impacts on the demographics of private institutions such as Andover. Considering that admission decisions are made using test scores, grades, and resumes, though there is always an attempt to look at people more holistically, those genetically fitter will have the advantage. An increase in IQ will make tests like the infamous SAT an easier task to both study for and ace. Additionally, classes for the genetically modified could be a breeze, or, alternatively, the difficulty of classes could increase accordingly to meet their level of academic need, leaving those with an undoctored IQ behind. Supplementally, resume building will be easy for those with an enhanced set of skills. In this future, the needs of the naturally conceived will be harder to meet due to society’s inane desire to nurture the gifted. Spending time advancing the most capable, well-rounded students is a practice seen at almost every school in the nation. Throughout time, the most competitive and progressive careers will become more and more populated by the genetically fit, leaving the naturally conceived with more basic, lowe jobs. Though this separation is an issue we already face, it is attributed to differences in upbringing and education, not genetic makeup; the future of genetically fit humans only exacerbates the problem society is already struggling to combat. Blocking access to these better career paths makes it only more difficult to ascend in social class. Society’s elite will consist strictly of those with a genetically altered, superior genome.
The price tag that comes with designer babies creates a greater divide between social classes, making elite programs even more accessible for the privileged. Though Andover is a very diverse community, it is also an immensely privileged community. However, as the population becomes more selectively designed, access to privileged communities like Andover will become more restricted to those who can afford to genetically be the ‘best’. Admissions scandals, as we see them today, are already centered around having the financial means to get into an institution of choice. Paying to improve the genetic makeup of a child is equivalent to paying to better their opportunities. Without the means to afford to genetically engineer a child’s level of IQ, fitness, or talent within the arts, lower-class children are immediately pushed a step back from their competitors, when it comes to excelling at anything. Considering the ability to create a perfect child exists, how will the rest of us be able to compete?
If admission to Andover becomes suddenly more obtainable for the genetically engineered, and less for others, how could Andover balance its desires to both stay an intentionally diverse community and one of the top schools in the nation? The benefits of Andover’s diverse community are endless. The ability to learn from the cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs of people from different places is a blessing that most don’t receive. In the future, if Andover does manage to find a way to balance this diversity between the privileged, genetically fit, and those that come from a more challenged background, could they exist in harmony together as equals? Would there be a clear divide, or would students embrace these differences and learn from each others’ wildly different upbringing and genetic makeup?
Furthermore, as we get closer to becoming a genetically designed society, being aware of privilege and access to success starting from the most basic component of human development is important to the integrity and development of private institutions. I appreciate all I am exposed to at Andover and I can only hope the future of Andover’s student body has access to the same diversity and perspectives as I.