Saturday, September 14, 2019

Diversity Is Killing Meritocracy

If you have nothing better to do this weekend, you should go out and take up arms against meritocracy. Some very serious thinkers have leading the march. And you must follow their lead.

In principle, the term meritocracy means that we judge people on their merits, not on their pedigree, their ethnicity or their influence. The principle was enshrined in China during the Song dynasty, over a millennium ago. It was made manifest by allowing all children to take an examination that would grant or deny them entry into the civil service. Even today, in Asian countries, being a member of the civil service confers high status and privilege.

According to a Yale law professor, one Daniel Markovits, America’s current meritocracy is not really meritocratic. Why is that so? Well, it’s so because the outcomes of the tests that grant entry to America’s most prestigious academic institutions and therefore the upper echelons of America’s burgeoning oligarchy do not fulfill proper diversity criteria.

He argues that the fairness of a test is to be judged primarily by the outcomes. If the outcomes do not fulfill the wishes of a Daniel Markovits, they are ipso facto unfair, and thus, not meritocratic.

David Brooks, who is living proof that the American academic system is capable of turning mediocrities into intellectual celebrities, opined that the meritocratic bias was producing a “savage exclusion” that is tearing the social fabric apart.

Aside from the fact that Brooks is incapable of coining a cogent figure of speech, one might argue that the current mania over diversity has undermined the meritocratic basis of college admissions and even job opportunity. If we apply different standards to different people, depending on their group identity, we do not have a meritocracy. Anything but. We have a system that involves reverse privilege.

Markovits explains his idea in Time Magazine:

The idea that equality of opportunity can launder unequal outcomes is a fantasy; and meritocracy is more nearly a stain than a detergent. Real progress requires confronting meritocratic inequality head-on.

God save us from the stain of merit and achievement.

As I said, Markovits takes offense at the outcomes of admissions tests. In his Time piece he fails to mention that his solution involves giving more power to lawyers. After all, he is a law professor and why would he not be touting his profession, that is, selling himself and people like him.

According to the fiction that animates Markovits the rich are providing material and intellectual advantages to their children, thus, unleveling the playing field. The rich offer their children more tutoring, more supervision, more intelligent conversation… which makes them ever so much smarter than poor children brought up in the projects. He has the statistics to prove it.

Which tells us to distrust statistics. In New York City, where an examination system grants entrance into the best high schools, we find that the ethnic make up of Stuyvesant High School is around 70% Asian and 20% white. As it happens, the Asian students who excel at this school and in STEM majors in American universities do not come from wealthy families. They more often come from poor families. Yet they come from families that value education above all else and that do everything in their power to ensure that their children excel. Other poor families, less resourceful and self-reliant, less concerned about educational excellence, not to much.

So, on the most basic point of his argument, Markovits has ignored the evidence in favor of yet another harangue against white privilege. As for his own privilege, he is tenured at Yale, having received all imaginable privileges. How guilty does he really feel?

As though that were not bad enough, and for all of his advanced learning, he seems to be saying that wealthy parents, parents who worked to succeed in the world, are doing something wrong if they provide advantages to their children. Doubtless he would retort that he wants all children to have the same advantages, but, unless all children have the same parents, a manifestly idiotic notion, some children will have better, more engaged parents. Some will have lesser parents. 

To say that parents who provide well for their children are engaged in a criminal conspiracy against minority and poor children is stupid beyond imagination. Whatever does he think drives people to excel at work if not the chance to provide a better upbringing for their children. Are we now going to criminalize success-- because some children fail? Are we going to depress and demoralize more successful people because it will make less successful people feel less like failures. That is the path to cultural ruin.

To be clearer than is perhaps necessary, I quote Jennifer Schuessler’s summary from The New York Times:

But the real problem, Mr. Markovits argues, is that elites have set their children up to out-achieve everyone else, then justify their rewards as stemming solely from “merit.”

Does this also mean that these parents who have excelled in their professional lives are also rigging the system, lacking in merit, worthless overachievers whose lives lack proletarian vitality? 

Of course, it’s not just the elites. And besides, what does Markovits have to say about other countries, like China, and even like France, where every child is allowed a chance to excel by taking the same test. A little cross cultural analysis would have ruined the narrative.

If our goal is to make up for parental inadequacy, then we should look to New York’s Success Academies, where they take children from disadvantaged backgrounds and teach them the right way to excel. Apparently, it has worked very effectively. For that reason the teachers’ unions and Democratic politicians want to shut them down.

But, the goal is not to help more children to excel. The point is to produce diverse outcomes. And if you do not want to incite more underprivileged children to work harder to excel, then the only way you can achieve your mindless fantasy is by dumbing down the children at the top. That means, depriving them of the best opportunities at school in order to give opportunities to those who cannot compete at the highest level.

Didn’t we recently report that Stanford University, in order to accommodate the undergraduates who were incapable of majoring in physics, has instituted a new course in social justice physics, where the subject is being dumbed down to the point where the only true consideration is the race or ethnicity of Einstein or Bohr? And how much of the intellectual degradation of Humanities and Social Science courses is due to the fact that if courses had been taught the way they used to be taught then the students with the best SAT scores would be at the top while the students chosen for diversity would be at the bottom of the class. We cannot have that. Better to dumb down the courses and the student mind.

Importantly, when students with significantly lower SAT scores are admitted in the name of diversity, students with significantly higher scores are bumped down to lesser schools. Diversity quotas used to discriminate against Jews. Now they discriminate against Asians. Today, Harvard University is being sued over the matter.

For his part Markovits is fomenting a cult to equality, a pipe dream and an illusion, at best. He is defending diversity quotas and affirmative action programs, even though they harm minority students-- as Shelby Steele has long argued-- and dumb down the curriculum.

But in a more equal world, where the elite was less elite, it would matter less where people went to college, and applicants would pursue different schools for different reasons. Universities, freed from the meritocratic inequality that now ensnares them, could pursue whatever values they held dear, crafting admissions standards that favored community service, or academic scholarship, or hard-work, or a thousand other virtues. The elite would become less exclusive, but much more free.

The world he dreams of does not exist and cannot exist. Markovits is whistling past the graveyard of our civilization.

In the midst of the din about meritocracy we find a wonderful essay by George Packer in The Atlantic. Packer is father to two children and lives in New York City. Thus, he is at some pains to guide us through the problems he and his wife fact in dealing with the New York public school system.

I invite you to read Packer’s long, detailed and excellent account of his experience. I will merely focus, for this post, on his account of what happened when schools decided that diversity was all that mattered, even when it cost children their education. It’s all about putting identity politics in charge of the classroom.

Call it the Obama administration legacy, as Packer correctly does. At times the bureaucracy dictated it. At times idealistic teachers and academic administrators imposed it:

Around 2014, a new mood germinated in America—at first in a few places, among limited numbers of people, but growing with amazing rapidity and force, as new things tend to do today. It rose up toward the end of the Obama years, in part out of disillusionment with the early promise of his presidency—out of expectations raised and frustrated, especially among people under 30, which is how most revolutionary surges begin. 

At the heart of the new progressivism was indignation, sometimes rage, about ongoing injustice against groups of Americans who had always been relegated to the outskirts of power and dignity. 

But progressive politics meant thinking in groups. When our son was in third or fourth grade, students began to form groups that met to discuss issues based on identity—race, sexuality, disability. I understood the solidarity that could come from these meetings, but I also worried that they might entrench differences that the school, by its very nature, did so much to reduce. Other, less diverse schools in New York, including elite private ones, had taken to dividing their students by race into consciousness-raising “affinity groups.” I knew several mixed-race families that transferred their kids out of one such school because they were put off by the relentless focus on race. Our son and his friends, whose classroom study included slavery and civil rights, hardly ever discussed the subject of race with one another. The school already lived what it taught.

Packer makes an astute point. The mania about identity politics arose from the idealists’ disappointment with the Obama presidency. Many people thought that Obama would save the nation and the world. The bought the gospel of hope, only to discover that they had been set up for disappointment. Rather than blame themselves for being dupes they blamed white privilege.

Identity politicians inveigh against authority, while imposing their own authority, to the general detriment of students. Packer continues:

In politics, identity is an appeal to authority—the moral authority of the oppressed: I am what I am, which explains my view and makes it the truth. The politics of identity starts out with the universal principles of equality, dignity, and freedom, but in practice it becomes an end in itself—often a dead end, a trap from which there’s no easy escape and maybe no desire for escape. Instead of equality, it sets up a new hierarchy that inverts the old, discredited one—a new moral caste system that ranks people by the oppression of their group identity. It makes race, which is a dubious and sinister social construct, an essence that defines individuals regardless of agency or circumstance—as when Representative Ayanna Pressley said, “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice; we don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.”

At times the new progressivism, for all its up-to-the-minuteness, carries a whiff of the 17th century, with heresy hunts and denunciations of sin and displays of self-mortification. The atmosphere of mental constriction in progressive milieus, the self-censorship and fear of public shaming, the intolerance of dissent—these are qualities of an illiberal politics.

Of course, he is entirely correct. The new identity politics derives from long discredited practices or witch hunts and inquisitions, but they also resemble socialist brainwashing and thought reform:

Adults who draft young children into their cause might think they’re empowering them and shaping them into virtuous people (a friend calls the Instagram photos parents post of their woke kids “selflessies”). In reality the adults are making themselves feel more righteous, indulging another form of narcissistic pride, expiating their guilt, and shifting the load of their own anxious battles onto children who can’t carry the burden, because they lack the intellectual apparatus and political power. Our goal shouldn’t be to tell children what to think. The point is to teach them how to think so they can grow up to find their own answers.

And of course, identity politics teaches children to hate America. While we are up in arms about Chinese reeducation camps, we are doing their obverse in America. The Chinese camps involve promoting assimilation and patriotism. Ours promote factionalism and anti-Americanism:

By age 10 he had studied the civilizations of ancient China, Africa, the early Dutch in New Amsterdam, and the Mayans. He learned about the genocide of Native Americans and slavery. But he was never taught about the founding of the republic. He didn’t learn that conflicting values and practical compromises are the lifeblood of self-government. He was given no context for the meaning of freedom of expression, no knowledge of the democratic ideas that Trump was trashing or of the instruments with which citizens could hold those in power accountable. Our son knew about the worst betrayals of democracy, including the one darkening his childhood, but he wasn’t taught the principles that had been betrayed.

In Packer’s words:

It called for the creation of a new diversity bureaucracy, and its relentless jargon squashed my hope that the authors knew how to achieve an excellent education for all. Instead of teaching civics that faced the complex truths of American democracy, “the curriculum will highlight the vast historical contributions of non-white groups & seek to dispel the many non-truths/lies related to American & World History.”

And, of course, it’s about rejecting meritocracy and fair competition in favor of diversity:

The Department of Education didn’t seem to be thinking about meritocracy at all. Its entire focus was on achieving diversity, and on rooting out the racism that stood in the way of that.


whitney said...

David Brooks is worried about Savage exclusion because it hurts diversity?

He should enjoy this then. It's both Savage and diverse

trigger warning said...

Re: meritocracy

I avoid commercial air travel like the proverbial plague. Aside from the theft and bullying by TSA drones, here are the official employment requirements for an airport officer (via the TSA website)...

* US citizen 18 years old and up
* HS diploma or "equivalent" experience
* drug screen
* background check
* passage of an online multiple-choice test to assess English proficiency and x-ray "interpretation" (training available online)
* color vision test (> 95% of population normal color vision)
* "structured" interview
* medical assessment vision, hearing, and joint mobility

In other words, citizenship, rudimentary textual English proficency, vision and hearing within normal range, training on the idiot-proofed controls and displays of airport x-ray machines, and the ability to bend over gets you a job as a front line officer in the "War on Terror".

Meritocracy??? :-D

Thank you, George W Bush, for this ridiculous army of mouth-breathing unionized future Federal retirees with generous paid vacations (i.e., Democrats). I'll take my luggage, bottled water, and unfondled-by-strangers junk elsewhere, thank you.

Sam L. said...

David Brooks is someone I have learned to avoid.
Markovits throws shade on himself and Yale's law school. TIME is a magazine I avoid.
The ATLANTIC, too. It lost me a few years ago.

As I see it, the progressives (the word always reminds me of cancer) are deliberately working to dumb-down education for the masses, but not for THEIR children.

David Foster said...

Important to note that *credentials* and *merit* are not the same things. Sometimes a credential reflects actual skill and accomplishment, sometimes it does not.

An Airline Transport Pilot certificate from the FAA actually means something; a university degree may or may not mean much, depending on the university and the course of study.

A lot of harm has been done to our society by excessive reverence for certain credentials. In her book about her experiences at the Federal Reserve ("Fed Up"), Danielle DiMartino Booth observed that the culture of the agency had little respect for people with practical experience in the financial markets, as opposed to people with PhDs in economics.

Sam L. said...

Socialists poison everything they touch.

n.n said...

Diversity.... color (i.e. low information attributes) judgments are toxic to individual dignity and forcing misalignment.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Diversity makes no sense as a standard for anything. A standard based on how many different types of people you have? There are billions, based on an endless number of criteria.

The best example of this mess is delegates to the United Nations. Their standard is based on the participating nation states — one per. They cannot agree on anything, nor get anything done.

Diversity has nothing to do with character, nor culture. Individual character drives choices. Choices are driven by values. Values are defined by culture. Culture drives accepted norms. These elements define the human person. Diversity does not account for any of these critical factors.

Diversity is a collectivist idea that is hostile to the individual.

Most people who believe in the primacy of diversity don’t believe in standards at all. Therefore, calls for diversity “criteria” are meritless and should be ignored.

Anonymous said...

Was going to look up article till I saw "not taught about the democratic ideals that Trump was trashing." WTH? Did he mention them, specifically, or was it just the usual name-calling symptom of TDS? 'Cos even though it was a couple of months ago, if he just accused, someone should have asked him "like what?"

Was thinking that had to be too good to be true anyway. The Atlantic is known for their leftist bashing. Oh, well. Guess I won't find out about NYC shools. (Of rourse, they've changed all that by now anyway. Didn't they just get rid of all the charter schools for being "racist"?)