Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Life Imitating 1950s Satire

by Unknown

From Insider Higher Ed, news that Educational Testing Services, the folks who bring you the SAT and GRE, is developing a standardized assessment of non-cognitive strengths, including "knowledge and creativity, communication skills, team work, resilience, planning and organization, and ethics and integrity."

As if the proliferation of test preparation services, i.e., buy-a-score operations, isn't enough to guarantee middle class advantage in the ostensibly meritocratic college admissions game.

I'm reminded of one of Michael Young's critiques of the meritocracy in his brilliant 1950s satire that gave us the term,* namely that elites control the definition of merit and can manipulate it to guarantee success for their offspring. Jerome Karabel's "The Chosen" amply documents how admissions offices at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale changed their admissions criteria -- and added intangibles such as "character" and "athleticism" -- in a conscious and intentional effort to minimize the number of Jews whilst claiming to offer equal opportunity. (Well, to men.)

*Whenever I assign Young's "The Rise of the Meritocracy" to undergraduates, a distressing proportion of them don't clue into the fact that it's a satire. One would think that the end of Young's "history," which features a bloody social revolution that overthrows the meritocracy and kills the book's narrator, would give it away. Or, failing that, the blurb on the back cover.

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The National Review couldn't tell that it was satire, either:

"I + E = M. The formula tells us that intelligence plus effort equals merit, and, early in the twenty-first century, it is the guiding principle of British society. Or at least that was the conceit of Michael Young back in the 1950s, when he was writing this utopian (or is it dystopian? Young himself seems unsure) fantasy about a future world in which people are systematically sorted into the jobs best suited for them, and IQ tests are the principal sorting mechanism.[emphasis mine, and I want the blockquote command back for comments]"

I dunno. Last time I read a story in which the world was destroyed, I was sure.
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