College Admissions Scandals, the New Aristocracy, and the Grading and Ranking of Children

Three reads to go with the college admissions scandal:

One of the hazards of life in the 9.9 percent is that our necks get stuck in the upward position. We gaze upon the 0.1 percent with a mixture of awe, envy, and eagerness to obey. As a consequence, we are missing the other big story of our time. We have left the 90 percent in the dust-and we’ve been quietly tossing down roadblocks behind us to make sure that they never catch up.

The meritocratic class has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people’s children.

Source: The Birth of the New American Aristocracy – The Atlantic

These kids and their parents display a range of beliefs about race. “Racism is not a problem,” one girl tells Hagerman, adding that it “was a problem when all those slaves were around and that, like, bus thing and the water fountain.” Meanwhile, the girl’s mother nods along. Other parents in the book have educated themselves better, but often, intentionally or unintentionally, still end up giving their kids advantages that, in the abstract, they claim to oppose. (White Kids is not, as Hagerman writes at one point, “a particularly hopeful book.”)

I recently spoke to Hagerman, and that second group kept coming up in our conversation—how, despite their intentions, progressive-minded white families can perpetuate racial inequality. She also discussed ways they can avoid doing so.

Source: How to Teach White Kids About Race – The Atlantic

Harvard is but one of many US universities whose admissions policies ensure that the entering class is comprised of the ruling class.

What they are defending is a system in which wealth is passed off as merit, in which credentials are not earned but bought. Aptitude is a quality measured by how much money you can spend on its continual reassessment.

Students whose parents pay tens of thousands for SAT tutors to help their child take the test over and over compete against students who struggle to pay the fee to take the test once. Students who spend afternoons on “enrichment” activities compete against students working service jobs to pay bills – jobs which don’t “count” in the admissions process. Students who shell out for exotic volunteer trips abroad compete with students of what C Z Nnaemeka termed “the un-exotic underclass” – the poor who have “the misfortune of being insufficiently interesting”, the poor who make up most of the US today.

For upper class parents, the college admissions process has become a test of loyalty: What will you spend, what values will you compromise, for your child to be accepted? For lower class parents, admissions is a test failed at birth: An absence of wealth guised as a deficiency of merit. In the middle are the students, stranded players in a rigged game.

It does not have to be this way. Imagine a college application system in which applicants could only take standardized tests once. Imagine a system in which young people working jobs to support their families were valued as much as those who travel and “volunteer” on their parents’ dime. Imagine a system in which we valued what a person did with what he had, instead of mistaking a lack of resources for a lack of ability.

Imagine a system in which a child’s future did not rest on his parents’ past.

A higher education system that once promoted social mobility now serves to solidify class barriers. Desperate parents compromise their principles in order to spare their children rejection. But it is the system itself that must be rejected. True merit cannot be bought – and admission should not be either.

A false meritocracy breeds mediocrity.

Education is a luxury the minimum wage worker cannot afford. This message is passed on to their children.

Source: The View From Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America

The grading and ranking of children perverts everything.

the last time marriage partners sorted themselves by educational status as much as they do now was in the 1920s.

Source: The Birth of the New American Aristocracy – The Atlantic

“That as long as we construct learning as a competition where we measure and rank individuals against one another, individuals with more power and money will find a way to game that system so they win. #MeritocracyEqualsAristocracy”

“As long as schools are grading and ranking children, they are shaming them.”

Letter to My Representatives on the Tax Bill, Education, and Disability

The GOP tax bill shifts wealth upward, removes the educational tools that make it possible to change class status, and harms disabled people.

This bill is a class-based war on graduate students. Instead of being taxed on the $15k they make, grad students would be taxed on that 15k plus their tuition waivers, which can run to 30k, 100k, and beyond. This tax wouldn’t raise much revenue; students would drop out to avoid a bill on imaginary money, a bill they cannot possibly afford. Forcing people out of graduate school seems to be the true intent. We need folks in school, not excluded due to lack of wealth and privilege. We need the full diversity of Americans studying deeply in their chosen fields.

This plan further punishes students by eliminating student loan interest deductions, forcing students who don’t graduate to repay Pell Grants, and forcing schools to raise tuition. According to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, the cost of education would go up by $71 billion over 10 years.

Antipathy toward higher ed is a GOP touchstone. Who but the already wealthy and affluent can afford to chase their dreams and study deeply under the policies the GOP advocates?

Students are not alone in having targets on their backs. Continuing the trend set by the attacks on the ACA, Medicaid, and the ADA, disabled people are also targeted. The tax credit that helps companies with ADA compliance will meet the cutting axe. So too the adoption tax credit and the orphan drug tax credit. Spending through the tax code is not the best way to care for the folks who rely on these credits, but the GOP has demonstrated, through its repeated assaults on the ACA and Medicaid, that it does not care to help them in any form.

Education, accessibility, and healthcare are near and dear to our family. This bill limits the horizons, possibilities, and lifespans of my children. Passing this bill—without hearings and amidst the constant distractions of a racist, undisciplined demagogue—would be deeply wrong. Vote against it.

Props to these pieces, from which I learned and lifted.

My previous letters on the tax bill and the ADA.