Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The merit of the meritocracy

So what makes the college admissions scandal so infuriating? It's the realization that, in the end, our best and brightest aren't. Even wobbly Jonah Goldberg sees it:
It’s also a searing indictment of the value of an elite college education in the first place. None of these parents seemed remotely concerned about whether their kids could hack it once they got into their dream schools — and rightly so.
It's an open secret -- once you are in an elite college, you get to stay and you get to graduate. You don't have to worry about academic standards, particularly. Harvey Mansfield, a venerable professor at Harvard, notes that the average grade there is an A. And he has a system for dealing with grade inflation:
Mansfield described how, in recent years, he himself has taken to giving students two grades: one that shows up on their transcript and one he believes they actually deserve.

“I didn’t want my students to be punished by being the only ones to suffer for getting an accurate grade,” he said, adding that administrators must take the lead in curbing the trend.
That's an admission of defeat. It also should cast doubt on the value of the credential that Harvard provides. But it doesn't. It should be difficult to earn an A in a college course; in my personal experience and the experience of those near to me, it is. But members of my family don't attend Harvard. Perhaps we're better off because of it.


Unknown said...

The upper levels of govt, even DOJ, are all from the elite schools. Considering the way are govt is run, you should know that the elites are nothing near it.

Unknown said...

I think the white house press corps is all elites too.

John said...

Over the past four or five decades the education system as changed along with the society. To use a "chicken and egg" analogy the question is which came first? My experience is all education, from grade school through the universities, have moved to abandon or dilute given performance standards and the expectations they imply. It is the same mindset that demands participation trophies. We don't want anyone to feel bad, even if they are not performing.

Universities, elite or otherwise, are more interested in maintaining their status and endowments than they are in enlightening or training young minds to think and excel. I think this becomes abundantly clear when you realize AOC has a degree in economics from BC.

Mr. D said...

It is the same mindset that demands participation trophies. We don't want anyone to feel bad, even if they are not performing.

100% spot on, John. The issue, as always, is that some participation trophies have more value than others.

Bike Bubba said...

Interesting problem; a college degree became required in the 1960s and 1970s when the use of IQ tests was banned in hiring, and then professors decided during the Vietnam War to start grading on a curve so they didn't have to send C/D students into the jungles. Then employers started catching on to the scam, and hence admission to an elite college became necessary because nobody trusted degrees from garden variety colleges.

And it's terribly interesting that at the same time academic standards were diluted, the pressure for accreditation became intense. Dozens of agencies swearing on a stack of Bibles that everything was fine when everybody knew the opposite was true.

It's a far cry from the old days when a man might be admitted to Harvard at age 14 when he demonstrated his knowledge of Tully to a professor, and who would then graduate when he demonstrated that he'd added Greek and Hebrew to the mix--and if he didn't, it didn't kill his career. There were definitely weaknesses with the old system, but maybe we could yet learn something.

R.A. Crankbait said...

I work in the insurance industry; the business is almost entirely driven now by actuaries who, in addition to a college degree in a math-related field, must also complete arduous professional study and pass a series of post-grad tests to be recognized. Although the joke goes that if you ask an actuary what 2+2 equals, he will respond, "What do you want it to equal?", actuarial science is a (very) hard science, and the standards are global. Wishing won't make something so, and if you screw up in understanding or applying your numbers it can cost your company millions of dollars. While actuaries form a kind of ruling class in this field, there are no "legacy" actuaries - at least not any that people will put in a position of authority. They are not the best conversationalists, but it is rather comforting to know that the effects of politics and doctrine are greatly mitigated in this environment.

This is not the case in law or liberal arts, I fear - and that's why so many cheats and slackers are drawn to confectionery degrees and drift to politics where you can claim to know something without actually having to prove it. Hot air balloons are majestic, but ultimately collapse when they run out of gas. Outside of politics and academia, the liberal arts degrees don't guarantee success; you still need to be effective in the business you are in, or you don't get asked to keep doing it. It's also nice to have the background to appreciate Kipling, even if few others understand you.

R.A. Crankbait said...

And by Kipling, of course, I mean "The Gods of the Copybook Headings":

The Gods of the Copybook Headings
AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshiped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Mr. D said...

Thanks, Crankbait. Same as it ever was.