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robertogreco : nathanrobinson   1

Admit Everybody | Current Affairs
"There are two conclusions here, one of which I agree with and one of which I find objectionable. The conclusion I agree with is that the SAT may be the “least bad” of three options for competitive admissions, when compared with using grades or Mushy Holistic Factors, and that therefore eliminating the SAT alone won’t in and of itself produce greater equality and could backfire. (I even have a certain soft spot for the SAT because it enabled me, a person who didn’t know any of the weird upper-class “holistic” signals that impress colleges, to go to a good college.) But the conclusion I disagree with is that this somehow makes a “progressive case for the SAT,” or that we should “defend the SAT.” This is the same logic that causes people like Nicholas Kristof to argue that because sweatshops are supposedly better than farm labor, there is a progressive case for sweatshops and we should defend them. This is one of the differences between liberalism and leftism: liberalism argues for the least bad of several bad options, while leftism insists on having a better set of options.

It’s the talk about “powerful ways” to “distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack” that troubles me. My concern is about what happens to the rest of the pack! As my acquaintance Patrick Conner put it, the difference between meritocracy and socialism is “I don’t want everyone to have a fair shot at the 15% of non-shitty lives, I want everyone to have a decent life.” Instead of arguing for the least-unfair version of the brutally competitive war of all-against-all that is the contemporary college admissions system, the progressive case should be that we ought to have an actual fair admissions system.

In other words: just admit everybody. The whole “competitive” nature of undergraduate admissions is absurd to begin with, and the very fact that students are sorted according to “merit” is socially corrosive. Let’s face it: college isn’t like brain surgery or social work. People’s lives aren’t in your hands. Instead of finding the “top ten best people” we should be selecting “anyone who has proved they are capable of doing the expected work.” Competitive admissions are as irrational as grading curves. With a grading curve, only X percent of the class will get As on their papers, even if every single person in the class wrote an excellent paper, which forces you to start making silly and arbitrary distinctions in a contrived effort to pit the students against each other. The better way to grade is by developing a standard independently and giving students a qualification if they meet the standard. Here’s the admissions parallel: everyone who shows themselves capable of doing the work required of a Harvard undergrad is marked “qualified” for Harvard and allowed to apply. There are a limited number of places, of course, but those places will be filled by selecting a random group of students from among all of those marked “qualified.” You might still get a very low percentage of applicants admitted because space is limited, but it won’t be because those applicants have been deemed worthier, it will be because the lottery happened to favor them.

My vision of universities is as a place where anybody can come and learn, so long as they can do the work. Now, you could argue that at elite schools, the work is so hard that only a few people would be qualified to do it. That’s false, though. I have been a TF at Harvard, so I am acquainted with the level of rigor in the undergraduate curriculum, and it’s obvious that vastly more students than the 4.8% they actually admit are capable of passing the courses. In fact, possibly the majority of the applicants could do fine. We know that college admissions are a crapshoot. But let’s just make them an actual crapshoot, so that nobody would be deluded into thinking that merit was involved, beyond the merit of basic literacy and numeracy.

We might have a different system at the graduate level, where higher levels of specialized skill are required. But I think the same principle should be followed: set a clear standard for the minimum a student needs to be able to do. Make that standard public, so that everybody knows that if they can do X they will have the same shot at being admitted to a program as anybody else. Then choose at random from among those who have met the basic standard.

Alright, so you can probably come up with half a dozen criticisms of this system, the way you can criticize the idea of a randomly-selected congress or a jury trial. Colleges will raise the “basic standard” to unrealistic levels and thus recreate a highly-competitive admissions system, and Harvard will start pretending that you need to be able to do calculus in order to muddle your way to a Bachelor of Arts there. (You don’t.) As long as you still have underlying social and economic inequalities, you can’t actually have an equal system, because everything will reflect those inequalities until we get rid of them. Rich parents will always find ways to make sure their children get more than other children. This is part of Freddie’s point, and he is right: instead of fixing the admissions system you have to fix the economic system, because you can’t isolate the one from the other. It’s an important point, but it doesn’t amount to a defense of the “meritocracy” illusion or the concept of “distinguishing from the rest of the pack.” And the left’s education experts should be devising practical alternatives to meritocracy rather than slightly-less-awful versions of it.

We should always be clear on what the goal is: a world in which we don’t all have to fight each other all the time, where we can work together in solidarity rather than having to wage war against our friends for the privilege of having a good job. There is no reason why everyone shouldn’t have equal access to the highest-quality education, and in a properly organized society it would be perfectly simple to provide it. We don’t need “best” and “worst” universities, ranked from top to bottom, we just need “universities,” places where people go to explore human knowledge and acquire the skills that enable them to do things that need doing. Progressive education means an end to the illusion of meritocratic competition, an end to the SAT, and the realization of a vision of equal education for all."
sat  standardizedtesting  testing  nathanrobinson  2018  freddiedeboer  bias  elitism  inequality  meritocracy  liberalism  leftism  progressive  patrickconner  socialism  competition  selectivity  colleges  universities  highered  highereducation  admissions  education  ranking  society  merit  fairness  egalitarianism 
april 2018 by robertogreco

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