In the epic movie "Titanic," amidst crashing smokestacks and a couple million gallons of fake seawater, we root for Jack, the scrappy orphan from steerage who won the love of Rose from first class. We are scandalized by Cal Hockley, the rich heir who vies for Rose’s affection. A privileged cad, we see him grab someone else’s child to get a place in a lifeboat – the antithesis of a gentleman – leaving Jack, Rose and hundreds of women and children to die.

I thought of Cal when I read about the FBI’s arrest of 33 wealthy parents who were part of a scheme to bribe their children’s way into top colleges. An alleged grifter named William Singer sold the parents a scheme that gave their middling-ability kids fraudulently high SAT scores and coaches’ recommendations to get into Yale, Stanford, USC and Georgetown.

Many of us have gone through our children’s college admissions process, fraught as it is with tension and absurdity. We have driven the miles, read the essays and lived with the nail-biting tensions of acceptance week. So no doubt our blood boiled when Singer said on a taped call, “What we do is help the wealthiest people get their kids into school…they want guarantees. They want this thing done. And they want in at certain schools. So I’ve done 761 ‘side doors.’”

Singer explained kids can get in the front door on merit, the back door when the parents give a football stadium or a science building, or “the side door” – cheating.

This is not a victimless crime. The coaches and test takers were corrupted by bribes. The universities were besmirched. The students who could have earned their way in were shoved aside like the folks on the Titanic. And the wrongfully accepted children are now victims as they learn their elite college admission is a fraud and they don’t deserve to be there – a humiliation they will live with the rest of their lives.

One way to view the actions of these parents is to see it as part of the continuum of the rich trying to preserve the exclusivity of elite educations. Elite colleges have been over-recruiting minorities and the less privileged to create social mobility for many years. Harvard’s current class is only 49 percent white; Yale recruits talented low-income applicants “without regard to ability to pay.” These schools have been the elevator to the top for a Barack Obama or a poor kid from Queens who five years later is working on Wall Street. We’re a better nation for that. We’re better nurturing the young and hungry Jacks to compete with the privileged Cals.

But when the admissions pool is broadened to include everyone, the wealthy parents of average students lose out. So these parents have tilted the field to their advantage with prep schools (featuring “recruitable” niche sports like squash, sailing or fencing), expensive SAT prep courses and paid college advisors. The Singer “side door” scheme is just today’s extreme way to get a “guaranteed” edge.

But more than the rich just trying to re-establish their sunny merry-go-round of exclusivity, the 33 parents are poster children for bad parenting.

For parents, there can be no greater pride than seeing their child try their hardest. There is even joy in seeing your child fail if they have given their all, as it sets the stage for them to try again. But it also hurts just as much to see offspring give halfway effort.

Contrast these 33 parents with those highly involved and determined parents who get their kids in the front door. In her book, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” Amy Chua describes her parenting style as a Chinese-American bent on her children achieving Ivy League admission: “no playdates, no school plays, no complaining about not being in the school play, no TV, an A-minus is not a good grade,” She demanded they study all weekend. She sat beside her daughter on a piano bench for three hours, through tears, until she played Mozart perfectly. But in this way her daughter learned to persevere until she succeeded. And her mother would then hug her fiercely and say “I knew you could do better.”

I’m glad Chua was not my mom, and between her and Felicity Huffman there is a lot of sensible middle ground. But all of us have had that moment of truth with a son or daughter when we have insisted, “try again, harder!” It is the way we teach our children to get up after failure, and be resilient. It’s one of the hardest things we do as parents.

Rather than helping their children do better, these parents bought success their children didn’t earn, and even worse, fabricated it. They bought their way into the front row with trickery, just like Cal grabbing a child to get a seat in the lifeboat. More feckless parenting is hard to find. So perhaps that is the moral of the story: better for our children to hold a second or third place medal earned with sweat and tears than a gold medal purchased but never earned. Better for your child to have an honest berth at a state school than a fake one at Stanford.

But if these kids' parents hadn’t been caught, you might say their fraudulent admissions surely would have “paid off.” Remember the final scene of Titanic: a 100-year-old Rose revealed what happened to Cal. He lost everything in 1929. Stripped of the wealth that allowed him to make his way, and helpless without it, and utterly unable to deal with adversity, he threw himself off a building.

John Tabor is a member of Seacoast Media Group’s editorial board and the company’s recently retired president and publisher.