Shortly after President Reagan and his education czar William Bennet successfully defunded public higher education, the wealthy waged another war against the working-class college student. A 1998 study by Levine and Cureton stated that colleges were inflating students’ grades. This was spun into the propaganda that inflated As and Bs in public colleges lowered the values of As and Bs at Ivy League institutions.
My response to Levine’s “confusion” is that his study relied on self-reported data, and there is also the “Flynn effect,” which refers to the observed rise in IQ scores over time, resulting in norms obsolescence.
Regardless of Levine’s shaky research methods, public higher education implemented sadistic meritocracy measures to stop the non-rich (and non-white) from stealing opportunities from the upper-classes.
While there was some chatter regarding grade inflation at the Ivies the public schools is where the hammer really came down.
Prior to the Civil Rights Act in college, administrators were more likely to trust not only the judgment of their institution’s professors, but also its students. There were fewer benchmarks, exams occurred, but it was up to the professor on how he (rarely she) would cover the course material, and it was between the professor and student how to best work out personal issues as they arose. Attendance for the most part was only required if there was an exam. You were the adult. It was up to you to make the best choices for yourself.
This is markedly different from the current day, where even during COVID-19, professors demand adults turn on their cameras owing to some bizarre box-checking exercise
After the Civil Rights Act was passed, quality became a buzzword, a benchmark, and a concern.
As the 90s came to a close and the aughts drew near, the fear of grade inflation and classroom quality in public higher education meant getting creative in deflating student’s grades.
“As adjuncts who ran labs, we were supposed to aim for an average of 72%. There was a silent expectation that 40% of the students would get a “D” or an “F” in the lab. This way, colleges could deal with nasty grade inflation yet keep student evaluations for their tenured staff high, because the student would have gotten a B if not for that horrible incompetent adjunct who ran the lab.”— Former adjunct instructor at a SUNY university in the early aughts
Interesting how a system that had been working fine for over 100 years all of a sudden magically stopped working after the Civil Rights Act passed.
How does this keep happening!
Prior to the 1960s, even the SAT was even kind of a joke. If you needed a scholarship, you took it, but colleges in California and New York were free. It certainly wasn’t mandatory, and it didn’t even have a math portion. It got markedly harder and more likely to be required once the doors of entry to higher education were open to Black and Latino/x/a students.
“[P]ublic institutions have surpassed private colleges in their multicultural efforts. Despite the greater freedom of action and autonomy from public opinion of the private sector, public institutions are doing more about multiculturalism than their private counterparts, except in the areas of promoting new scholarship…”1992, Arthur Levine & Jeanette Cureton, “The Quiet Revolution,” The Harvard Graduate School of Education
In academia, “[not] promoting new scholarship” is a not so subtle dig at the “rigor” —a charge often thrown at ethnic studies.
The lie of meritocracy to cover up classism and racism is further proven by a study by Clifford Adelman, a senior research analyst with the U.S. Department of Education:
A 2002 report by the National Center for Education Statistics referenced by Alfie Kohn revealed that fully 33.5 percent of American undergraduates had a grade-point average of C or below from 1999-2000.
The comparison facts don’t say grade inflation, but they do whisper racism.
The marks of meritocracy scar you. The higher you go up the socio-economic ladder, the more open, closed society is about the tacit joke of merit.
“Only the poor have to abide by a rubric. The entire concept is just ludicrous.” —Rich person.
The unstated rule is meritocracy isn’t a thing. It is as false as counterfeit money, but rich people are free to spend it while George Floyd is throttled to death on the dirty payment. Over and over, the wealthy have shown their disdain for standards, quality, and benchmarks regarding themselves, their friends, and their children.
It only becomes an issue when they need to block you.
It is why the rich have no moral dilemma when paying their way into school, buying their friend’s child’s art or girl scout cookies, and publishing their spouse’s book. Meritocracy is how rapists like Donald Trump become president, pedophiles like Woody Allen become world-renown auteurs of film, and it is how Woodrow Wilson, one of the most racist presidents in the United States who screened “Birth of Nation” in the White House— manages to be the namesake of an organization that uplifts meritocracy. If you have the right aptitude, you can achieve anything! It is how the privileged continue to be amplified and lauded for ordinary talent despite extraordinary crimes.
Merit is the lie the wealthy and well-connected use to justify their racism, ableism, sexism, and classism. We need to lift the perfidious shroud of meritocracy. It is a mirage that leads people into an economic desert to die, but before they die, they wonder, “Maybe if I had taken one more class….”