Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Meritocracy

The Rise of the Meritocracy is a sociological satire written in post WWII England it pokes holes in the notion that IQ+Effort=Merit and was supposed to be a general take down of the notion that aptitude could be tested for.  This work forms the basis of the following Article on Measurement Myths from the New Inquiry.  I would really encourage you to read the article it is one of the best reasoned examinations of the current drill, kill, test regime we have adopted in the US in the wake of the well intentioned No Child Left Behind act signed into law by our good friend and former President Dubya Bush.

I'll try to summarize some of the main take aways from the article, but the article is quite long and it's case built well; I fear thumbnail sketches don't really do justice to the original content.  The first criticism of the current power structure is it fundamentally overlooks the cumulative bonuses of already being elite, the children of the elite are no more meritous than those of those currently on the bottom of the power structure.  They are however afforded more stable home lives that give them the opportunities to excel, but more over they have hands guiding them to success with positive reinforcement and active support.  This makes the children of the less powerful effectively running a race against teams rather than other individuals.  Without this support network (and the cumulative bonuses associated with it) the elites children would likely perform similarly to other unsupported children.

There is also a myopia in the elite class that fails to recognize these cumulative benefits that causes them to perceive that they have earned the benefits they currently receive, and assume that if others applied themselves the benefits would be available to them as well.  By discounting the value of the assistance they have revived and the cumulative advantages afforded them the elite effectively feel justified in not advancing or assisting the disenfranchised and retreat to intellectual enclaves that assure them they are correct in their assumptions (Ayn Rand's Fountainhead is mentioned as an example and to satirize their position of authority).  My personl feeling is that examples of this abound, but the general fall of charity and near complete dissolution of service organizations is truly indicative of this myopia and a danger of the entitlement mindset.

Another and more troubling outgrowth of the test for merit is the testing inherently undervalues that which it doesn't measure.  How do you test for artistic intelligence, or the ability to render the profound into prose?  There are few tests to measure creativity (an inherently unstructured way of thinking) and the focus on testing, and the passing along the standard knowledge is a destructive force on free thinking and ultimately dangerous.  I'll leave you with my favorite line from the last paragraph of that article.

More and better testing, regardless of how it is conducted, won’t make for better people, despite what educational reformers seem to believe, because tests always impose reductive goals that invalidate some ineffable amount of real aptitude among those tested.

For a completely different take on education here's the New Turks Discussion on Education in Finland.  This is the world I want my son to have access to, learn and pursue what you want.

8 comments:

  1. Interesting video!

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  2. yeah, fair chance :)

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  3. great choice for M... there are a lot of people that believe in this...

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  4. I wish we could emulate Finland's education system revamp here in America :\

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  5. Interesting theory, sounds familiar to something we studied in Grade 12.

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  6. i went to a ballet academy that didn't do competitions like the other schools; they focused more on how fun movement can be, on dancing for the joy of it. they still turned out some beautiful dancers :)

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  7. I want to rise my kids in Finland now. For a young nation, America is sure set in it's ways :[

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