Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Meritocracy round 2

Continuing on from Round 1 in chapter 3 the author continues to examine how Britain moved from the social order of the late 1950's to the (fictional) present 2030.  He left off on how socialism's advances where resisted in most quarters due to the nature of the British notion that not everyone is equal.  This initial step allowed testing to seperate the bright from the dull, and the brilliant from the bright.  The evolution was important, but it was lacking in full efficacy.  There was still the opportunity cost of staying in school vs going into industry to begin earning a living.  Some people made that choice and the chances where they where likely to be bright people from humble beginnings, leaving to support a family or other outside interests.  To capture the value of these intelligent people, the early supporters of the meritocracy started to implement a form of stipend for the students.  It was payed directly to the children (not their parents) as a means of keeping them in school rather than moving to industry.  The author sees this as a natural extension of the "scholarships" that Universities paid people attending.  He gets into a strange aside about reverse egalitarianism about how some children of semi-wealthy parents didn't attend University because they weren't eligible for scholarships, and would have to pay the full fair.  I feel it's a stretch in logic, and ignores the fundamental difference of using those scholarships for paying the tuition but whatever.  That they would pay students seems baffling, but I think the author found it to be a cart and horse kind of thing in that if the students are leaving you are not getting the benefit of those educated minds, more over he covers the student stipend before the pay increases and prestige of teachers.  In a knowledge society, it seems that it would go without saying that the teachers would have to be better respected and payed to draw them from other competitive fields.

The author apparently thought keeping children in school was more important than having something good for them to do while they where their (hence my horse and cart reference), but never the less we carry on.  In the fictional near future from the book's authorship (1970's) government comes to realize that it isn't getting increasing returns from piling money into specialized schools when the students that could attend, or should attend where not well prepared for those higher educations.  This realization of wasted opportunity was important in driving additional funding into all steps of the primary education from 3 onward.  The government also recognized the irony of the fact they where spending  as much as 3x's as much on "bad" students rather than using those resources honing the willing and capable students.  Segregating intelligent from the less so helped to ensure that the resources could be doled out more effectively, and didn't leave teachers to wrangle the truly disruptive elements of the classroom.

The next section requires a huge cultural subnote as the words are about to get confusing.  In Britain "Public schools" are actually private institutions, and "State schools" are actually what Americans would consider public.  Keep that in mind as you read, but also that increased pay for teachers, and stipends for children all where transpiring in parallel to this.  While socialist where making their play for universal education the middle class (and several high earning socialist) responded by sending their kids to Public Schools even though it was financially burdensome.  The thinking was selfish, but a product of the parental urge of wanting only the best for one's children.  As the socialist moved to try to close this escape loop, they found they lacked the political capital forbid parents from spending money on their own children and instead moved to prevent generational abuse, and raised capital levies.  Capital levies prevented the creation of new fortunes, and generational abuse was when a Grandparent would finance a grandchild's education rather than pay that money to death taxes.  These to moves put the squeeze on Public schools, and gave the government more money to distribute to the State schools.  Another factor that started to bring the Public schools to heel with regards to honoring merit was the relative declining quality of their attendies.  By honoring legacy instead of strictly choosing the most capable, they found the quality of their students dropped at the same time their teachers where being lured away to the now (comparably) better paying State Schools.  The declining prestige was enough for the most pragmatic schools to adopt the meritocracy rather than face extinction, and in doing so keep some measure of their prestige.  The double punch of money and prestige was enough to get the majority of the other Public schools to phase out legacy consideration all together.  The severing of the loyalty of kinship was further driven home by the extensive participation in school and clubs (as well as the school stipend).  Parents lost some of their ability to effectively influence their children, and they where mercenary in pursuing their own best interests.

On testing.  What a waste it would have been to create a avenue to reward the most promising students, and set aside spaces in the best institutions if there where no way to identify those deserving few?  This required advancements in the fields of intelligence testing over the simple testing started in WWII with such great effect.  The progress on these fronts was slowed by socialist agendas, and thorny metaphysical questions (equal in god's eyes, but not Psychologists).  In trying to understand our intelligence we set out to replicate it (which is a hugely interesting forward looking thought on Artificial Intelligence) and by 1989 in the book had created computers against which we could baseline intelligence against.  The research identified that intelligence was affected by your physical social environment so offering therapy became a standard perk for workers, as they might be more valuable if they could get over whatever hangups they had.  The nature of a single test at 13 determining your fate for life was wasteful, so adult education centers that allowed for re-testing where a beacon of hope for the late bloomers (portal fans try not to chuckle in this section when they start talking about continual testing of adults).  The retesting is a main point of contention for the populist movement, it shows that intelligence is in a state of flux.  Because retesting was a method of upward mobility closing the adult education center (covered much later in the book) may have been the tipping point for the (fictional) current upheaval, where the leaders of the movement are the bright, but not brilliant that hoped for a better life with retesting.

Continue to Part 3 >>>


  1. I think that I'm going to have to go back and read part 1 before I can understand part 2...

  2. Interesting. If I'm reading this right, they were worried about spending more money on the kids that were disruptive and less willing to learn vs the ones actually willing. So they implemented testing to segregate by intelligence. Then is intelligence being correlated with willingness? Because I don't know if the two are mutually exclusive. There are many students who are, well, dumb, but are always eager to learn, and many smarter kids who are bored by school and have no desire to participate, even if it means being disruptive and failing.

    1. Interesting thought. I think that willingness and capacity generally correlate, but your point is a good one. I'm not sure that there was as much glorifying of stupidity when the book was written, but it does cast a sad shadow on or current youth, and their fixation on not being perceived as too smart.