Recently, New York City announced the results of their Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). This aptitude test is taken by eighth grade students and serves as the sole factor for admission to the most selective high schools in the city.
While black and Latino students make up 66% of all NYC students, they received only 10% of these coveted slots.
Hold that thought.
Meritocracy is defined as “a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.”
Are we to believe that any one group of thirteen-year-old children is that disproportionately less talented than another to justify such as discrepancy as described above?
The term meritocracy was originally coined in the 1958 satirical essay by the sociologist, Michael Young. You read that right, satire.
The essay was a dystopian tale set in 2033, where a historian now living in a so called meritocracy looked back in time to review how they got there
Young’s historian proved also to be a wise futurist, when he recognized the limits of meritocracy. His forecast included a future full of simplistic judgment, saying for example — “the eminent know that success is a just reward for their own capacity, their own efforts and in which the lower orders know that they have failed every chance they were given.”
He also envisioned a day where merit based systems would ironically lead to the hoarding of advantages amongst those who had worked their way to the top, writing that “nearly all parents are going to try to gain unfair advantages for their offspring.”
We conflate systems with ideals. It is the difference between “this is how things work” and ‘this is how things should work.” We no more live in a true meritocratic system than we live in a true democracy. As Young foretold, rules get re-written by those at the top who, perhaps naturally, wish to remain there.
It is the ideal of a meritocracy that we should constantly be striving to live by.
Ultimately this means ensuring that everyone plays by the same rules and where the playing field is created level for all.
But it must first start by being honest enough to admit when we’ve gained favor through other means AND recognizing when certain meritocratic practices (such as the test mentioned above) are not as much about merit as we would like to think they are.
Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.
This online platform takes you through the various factors the impact where we end up in life. It features compelling personal narratives, relevant social science, and documented mobility research and best practices- all written in a very accessible, quick hitting style.
See what Americans told us about what their American Dream is and what it takes to achieve it. This research done in conjunction with Public Agenda and was the foundation for all the work that followed. It was made possible by the generous support of the Tides Foundation and Wendy Williams.
Moving Up is an initiative of GALEWiLL and is based on the premise that if we want to engage people on the issues like poverty, inequality and opportunity, then we must find new ways to bring them into the conversation. By allowing someone to assess their own station in life, they gain a better understanding of the myriad of factors that impacts someone’s ability to move up or down in the world.
Research suggests that this type of priming and personal framing can lead to increased support for issues and their corresponding solutions.
All content is written by Bob McKinnon, author, educator and practitioner in the field of social change. Through his work as Founder of GALEWiLL, Bob has been fortunate to share the stories and advance the causes of everyday citizens and well known heroes who inspire us to make the world a better place. Bob is also the author of Actions Speak Loudest: Keeping Our Promise for A Better World, and has produced two documentary films on social issues. He is an instructor for the School of Visual Art’s Impact!: Design for Social Change program and an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the New School.
In the spirit of Moving Up, here is Bob’s alternative bio: “Bob McKinnon is the son of Daytona Roth, a former bartender who raised three children largely by herself in various row houses in Chelsea, Massachusetts and trailers in rural Pennsylvania. He is a proud former recipient of food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, Pell grants, student loans and numerous other government benefits. His educational and professional success would not be possible without the kindness and effort of countless teachers, mentors, social workers, non-profit professionals, friends, family and individuals – many of whom will never know their impact on his life.
Through this project, he hopes to pay tribute and thanks to all those who have helped him and others move up in life.
We would like to thank the Ford Foundation for their incredible faith, support and partnership in the development of Moving Up. Their initial counsel was instrumental in framing the project and the subsequent support in both expanding the platform and development of the calculator made both possible.
We are also excited to be launching Your American Dream Score in conjunction with WNET, America’s PBS flagship station, and its Chasing the Dream initiative.
Our hope is that people from different backgrounds, experiences and beliefs, will find their score and share it with others to start more constructive conversations about how we come to be where we are in life. We’re so excited that organizations like WNET, Ford Foundation and Facebook are providing the platform for those conversations to happen both online, in the community, and eventually in the classroom
Throughout the development of this project, we have benefited greatly from the guidance and wisdom of those listed below and others whose scholarship and commitment to helping others move up is unparalleled.
Isabel Sawhill and Richard Reeves, The Brookings Institution
Richard Kahlenberg, The Century Foundation
Irwin Redlener, Children’s Health Fund
Roy Wade, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Russel Krumrow, Convergence Center for Policy Resolution
Suzanne Mettler, Cornell University
Robert Frank, Cornell University
William Platt-Higgins, Facebook
Vicki Zubovic, KIPP
James Marks, Deborah Bae, Martha Davis, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Anne Adriance, The New School
Shai Davidai, The New School
Rachel-Rise Ruttan, Northwestern University
Kellie Specter, Geraldine Moriba PBS/WNET
Raj Chetty and Jordan Richmond, Stanford University
Paul Piff, University of California Irvine