Nov 10, 2014

Michael Young on the meritocracy myth

Here's a quote from a Guardian opinion written by Michael Young, author of 1958's The Rise of Meritocracy. His dystopia is strangely akin to the current startup culture, no? And if education and credentials are the mark of a "meritorious" individual, then why wouldn't people pay exorbitant tuition rates if they can afford it? And as for the people left behind, well, they weren't meritorious enough.

Following his logic, there's also a behavioral psychology-based explanation for the continued skyrocketing of college tuition rates. If brand-name education is the mark of a meritorious individual, people will pay anything they can afford to obtain it. There was a recent post in JHUSnaps, a Facebook group that posts snapchats from the JHU community, mocking Towson students for being dumb. A JHU student took a harsh stand in the comments, saying something like, "Not everyone can afford to go to Johns Hopkins. Just because someone doesn't go to Hopkins doesn't mean they're dumb." When she was attacked by parents and students alike with claims of Hopkins' great financial aid packages and high socioeconomic diversity, the commenter responded, "56% of Hopkins students receive no financial aid. I'm going to stick with my original statement."

On with the Michael Young quote:
     It is good sense to appoint individual people to jobs on their merit. It is the opposite when those who are judged to have merit of a particular kind harden into a new social class without room in it for others.
     Ability of a conventional kind, which used to be distributed between the classes more or less at random, has become much more highly concentrated by the engine of education.
     A social revolution has been accomplished by harnessing schools and universities to the task of sieving people according to education’s narrow band of values.
     With an amazing battery of certificates and degrees at its disposal, education has put its seal of approval on a minority, and its seal of disapproval on the many who fail to shine from the time they are relegated to the bottom streams at the age of seven or before.
     The new class has the means at hand, and largely under its control, by which it reproduces itself.
     The more controversial prediction and the warning followed from the historical analysis. I expected that the poor and the disadvantaged would be done down, and in fact they have been. If branded at school they are more vulnerable for later unemployment.
     They can easily become demoralised by being looked down on so woundingly by people who have done well for themselves. It is hard indeed in a society that makes so much of merit to be judged as having none. No underclass has ever been left as morally naked as that.
Michael Young, author of The Rise of Meritocracy, 1958.