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Meritocracy v. Privilege-ocracy

by dcarr on January 13th, 2014

David J. Carr
January 2, 2014

Meritocracy v. Privilege-ocracy

Modern American democracy rests on the premise of merit. We tolerate a society of rich and poor because we believe, or wish to believe, that each deserves their lot–more or less. Eliminate this premise and chaos ensues, with everyone taking or stealing from whomever possesses something one wants or needs. Anarchy, revolution, disaster.
Does the premise remain valid? The rich understandably want their offspring to be successful. We may assume they normally provide better food, shelter, nurturing, and education than the poor provide to their young. Why not? What better use of money exists?
Yet the rich provide even more. They provide their superior DNA. Even though studies show that regression to the mean occurs, this only means that two very smart parents will produce a less smart, but still smart, offspring. Likewise, two stupid parents will produce a marginally smarter, but still stupid, offspring. Compounding the phenomenon, studies show people generally marry individuals with comparable intelligence. Thus, many of the factors of human nature promote stratification by “class” status. What aspect of this reflects merit?
Now comes the tipping point. In the U.S., society places enormous emphasis on our key national examinations, the PSAT, SAT, and ACT. A consensus exists that these tests can’t be “gamed” and that the scores reflect merit, intelligence, worthiness. Consequently, college admissions, scholarships, and even “spousal” eligibility, rest on these magic numbers. As someone who scored in the 99th percentile on both the math and verbal portions of the SAT, and received the coveted National Merit Finalist designation, I can personally attest to the magic of these numbers. Good thing, that as a 16 year old, I possessed no idea what scholarships and dreams hung within my reach upon successful completion of the exam, or I doubt I could have held the pencil in my hand. Of course I took it in the days before prep courses and study guides, which constitute an apparent sub-industry of education.
Enter the aforementioned rich. Yes, they send their little darlings to the expensive prep classes, and buy the pricey study guides. Even more, they hire private tutors and force the poor dears to take practice exam after practice exam. Forget the better food, better shelter, better opportunities, better enrichments, and better DNA; this means war, a war to control the best of the spoils of the next generation for their children.
Now comes the piece de resistance. In Long Island, New York, the last bastion of integrity suffered a sad but expected assault. A group of wealthy parents were caught sending in SAT savants to sit in for their children and take the test for them. Why leave anything to chance when so much rides on the outcome? Supposedly, said parents were criminally prosecuted; we may assume they received a wrist slap at most. We must ask how often this happens and goes undetected. We now see meritocracy potentially unraveling at its core.
How to save meritocracy? How do we prevent the revolution? For the sake of society as we know it, we must save rich parents from themselves. These tests, if they continue to be used at all, must be diminished in importance, and made absolutely impervious to cheating and other forms of gaming not available to the poor. Cheating must result in prison time for the wrongdoers and zero scores for the children. Failure to do so will lead to nothing less than the death of meritocracy and open the gates to revolution by those unfairly shut out.

Copyright 2014–David J. Carr

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