Meritocracy is Tyrannical

During the first three and a half pages of Lani Guiniers book she describes an advanced placement physics classroom.  Guninier uses this setting to show how a student’s family background can affect their abilities to keep on par with other students in a world that depends so much on how well they score on the SATs.  The reason for Guniniers book title The Tyranny of the Meritocracy is to describe in a quick phrase that the education system is defiled in the thought that every student is equal in the college application process based on just high school merit.

The truth is that students are accepted to universities based on two large factors, highschool grades and standardized testing scores like the SATs. Then there is the lesser third factor that colleges take into account is extracurriculars and background history.  The issue with this is that when a student has a family with lower income they have less opportunities to excel in the standardized tests.  There are multiple options for a student with disposable income to gain an advantage when studying for the SATs.  Examples of these advantages could be the many preparation classes, practice tests,and private tutors.  All of these SAT preparation options are quite expensive which makes them unavailable to a large group of people.  There is the third factor that could help fix the shift in balance that the SAT creates. That fix would be when colleges take into account the background history and struggles that each student would have had to go through to score however they did on the standardized tests and in school.  

The Tyranny of the Meritocracy was one of the more interesting reading I think we have had so far during this course because it described all of the challenges and differences that we had to go through to get where we are today in college.  


What other negatives or positives are there to the standardized testing system?

How would you have dealt with the situation if you were the policeman’s son/daughter?

12 thoughts on “Meritocracy is Tyrannical”

  1. Hi Linus, I really think you put a lot of interesting points into your blog. I also agree that “The Tyranny of the Meritocracy “was one of our most interesting reading so far because it showed us how important it is to study in high school and try to get into a good college, but it’s a good thing that the colleges that are choosing the students are not only looking at the SAT scores. They are also interested in extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and how they can help the community. If they like what they see on paper they also call you in for an interview. That is how they make their final decision. So if someone get’s a perfect score like the orange-haired boy from the reading, he can be happy about his accomplishment but it doesn’t necessarily mean he is absolutely getting into the college he desires. Instead sometimes someone like the the policeman’s son getting a low score on the SAT and having every other criteria might have a better chance to get in. The colleges know that everyone can’t afford SAT prep classes that is why they put other things into consideration.

  2. Hello Linus.l think standardized testing system is a double-edged sword. From the article”The Tyranny of Meritocracy”, wrote by Lani Guinier, she worried about the testocracy in America nowadays.Those who with high intelligence or from wealth families have more accesses to get higher education, and those processes are more easier than people from normal, or low-income families. Even many famous universities are focusing on students with high SAT scores in giving addmissions,and these universities also want to show how great scores their students made.

    After reading the article,l couldn’t help thinking that testocracy is the system which l’ve been through since kindergarten, and it’s the way we entered Queens College. Your asked good questions about testocracy because all or most of us in our writing class are under such system,despite it has many negatives, like to those who couldn’t even afford tuitions. Although the opinion of Guinier is good, it takes long time to realize;at least not for now. We can’t just simply say it’s good or bad but also think what’s best to ourselves,and future.

  3. I am completely against standardized testing, Guniniers The Tyranny of the Meritocracy reminded me how students are only taken in count for college admissions by a merit that most of the time is not deserved. It’s an occurrence in which a single test taker’s performance may vary significantly on a short period of time. For example, a candidate with no practice on such exams may do poorly initially, yet improve after repeated exposure to the types of questions asked, whether or not they truly are a good fit for the program or not. What I mean by this is that the merit of passing a SAT test to go to college often can be influenced by factors outside the student achievement in education.

  4. Really nice blog Linus! I agree with everything you said. A description that caught my eye was when you said “The reason for Guniniers book title The Tyranny of the Meritocracy is to describe in a quick phrase that the education system is defiled in the thought that every student is equal in the college application process based on just high school merit.” That is true because there is a new mindset that if you get a perfect score on the SAT then you are a bright student with a guaranteed bright future. Sure its awesome for the student to get a perfect score, but there is more to look for in the student. Including the type of person he or she is, what the person does in their free time, their character, and in what ways do they contribute to the the community? It is essential to go beyond research about a student rather than just paying attention to standardized tests scores. I agree with another thing you said which is the prep for SATs. Some students can not afford to take the expensive prep courses, while others can. These are some unfair points in standardized testing.

  5. Great job on your blog Linus! I completely agree with what you said. The application process for applying to college is not a fair playing field. Kids whose parents can afford to send them to SAT prep immediately have an advantage over everyone else, because they can be taught how to take the test. Those who cannot afford to pay for SAT prep just have to stick it out or attempt to study on their own. If they do bad on the test, even if they have great grades, they are seen as unintelligent while those who did well on the test tend to brag about it to all who will listen. It is cruel. Not to mention that some school don’t have many extracurricular activities, so if a student does not like or connect with any of the options, they do not have that added perk on their college application, which seems more like a resume to me. People’s grades on standardized tests closely correlate with their financial situations, of course there are exceptions, but they are not common. Colleges should take into account the person’s home life, finances, their born circumstances, and unique/special abilities, not just their test performances’.

  6. Hey Linus, thanks for your blog. You summed up very nicely what Lani Guinea brought to light in regards to the issues of standardized testing and placement.
    One of your suggestions to help fix this issue was that colleges do a background check of applicants and do an evaluation of the student if he or she comes from a household that doesn’t bring in a large income.
    Although I agree that such an idea is one that can help colleges decide which students to accept without judging them based on their standardized testing scores, I do think that carrying out such a course of action is highly impractical.
    For colleges to research each and every applicant, find out about his or her annual household income or other related home issues, and them to ultimately research the applicants own capabilities anf potential is not an easy task and one that calls for a ton of time and manpower. Colleges simply do not have the resources to investigate so thoroughly all of their applicants.
    It may sound a somewhat callous and harsh, but the most economical way for colleges to rank and place their applicants is by reading off what the papers tell them, namely to read off standardized test scores and other extracurricular activities that the student was involved in.
    I’m not saying that this is the best method by which colleges should accept students, there must be better ways, I just don’t know how practical it is to research students applying to college in order to bypass their overlook possible financial problems.

  7. Standardization defines nearly every aspect of the world of education as of right now, with students being ranked and defined as numbers on a sheet of paper. These scores have given reason for students to become obsessed with practicing testing methods and become meticulous in their ways to enter the best possible university. I felt that the introductory story about the students in the AP physics class was very true, because I have seen it myself. In 11th grade I doubled up on AP classes, taking both AP physics and chemistry which were the most rigorous courses the school could offer. From day one we were put on a frantic crash course for an infamous three hour test that would determine our academic fate in may. This was also the year which I wanted to give up on school and began to experience extreme anxiety in class and while studying. The students in the class were all top tier in my school, and I certainly didn’t fit in. I hated everything, especially the mentality of these students. They would sit around and discuss how they took 5 AP courses or how they crammed for three months to take the SAT, getting angry at themselves when they scored a 2000 and not a 2100. I wanted to jump out of a window every time I heard someone say ” I’m doing this because it looks good for college. ” These people were obsessed with numbers on a page and everyone who wasn’t felt inferior. Standardization is the foundation of advanced placement courses, and every test score we received was compared against the national average. Although AP chemistry is still the best class I have ever taken to this day, I’ll never forget how much I hated this religious devotion to test scores and nothing more. Despite this experience, I still really do think that the SAT and other tests are our only decent method of measuring capacity and capability in the world of education. Yes, you need to study on how to take the test, but you need to study for every other test you take. It shows how much work a student has put into preparing for the test so it is pretty assumed that more hours spent studying yields a higher test score, as it is with every other test I have taken. The SAT falls short in measuring the true capacity of students though because it is wrong to evaluate years of education based on a 5 hour test. Students can’t endure a 5 hour test, I certainly couldn’t. Despite this nature of the test, it will continue to be a somewhat decent and trusted method of determining college worthiness as it has for years now until a much better system is implemented.

  8. Nice job summarizing the main points of the reading. I also agree that extracurricular activities and volunteer work also play a major role in college admission. Although standardized testing is a major component of college admission, it is absolutely difficult for it to be everyone’s strength. These tests are based on skills and thought process rather than pure book intelligence. Just as everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, colleges understand. That’s why they also look at what you do outside of school for example sports or volunteer work, and then they make their decision. The more you do, the more you’ll stand out.

  9. Hey Linus! I couldn’t agree more with you. It’s incredible that extracurricular activities and volunteer work plays such a minor role in the admission process. A student is supposed to have the perfect grades by default, then they are selected based on their SAT scores. Beyond the sat, if the grades are somewhat close, then they go on to look at what the student has done outside of school to better themselves. As if the student is not to have any social life or personal development beyond education. Not everything can be learned in a classroom in my opinion. Good job and see you soon!

  10. I don’t know. This all seems very nice and the author is correct, there are more and better ways to judge a student. Hell, standardization may be the absolute worst way to judge a student, but there has to be an efficient baseline. How many thousands of applicants does Harvard get last year? The answer is 39,041 applicants. Harvard then has to shave that down to the around 2000 they accepted. How easy and simple do you think that was? How many man hours were spent choosing the applicants Harvard wanted? I don’t know but I assure you it was a sizable number. Now imagine if they didn’t look at SAT scores or any other standardized number, such as grades from High School. Those are standardized too right? It is a very nice idea, to rid ourselves of standardization but in doing so we are opening a “Pandora’s box” of inefficiency and general uncertainty. Where does this end? By jobs? “I know I barely passed med school but don’t worry I’m just a bad test taker, now be a dear and hand me that scalpel.
    Standardization is like the uncle who maybe drinks a little to much and makes super inappropriate comments at the Thanksgiving meal. You don’t want him there, he makes everyone uncomfortable, but without him it just isn’t the family Thanksgiving meal. Standardization is not nice, it is not pretty, but none the less its a reality and I would argue necessity. To a certain extent of course.

  11. Standardized testing has been a lifeline for me because I am indescribably lazy. The ability to be judged by an robot/automated process is so much easier than having to individually deal with the body(school, class, eligibility) I seek access to. Although this may stem from the Computer Science bug in me, it seems so efficient and, at least to me, effective. I took several AP’s in school, and I abused the fact that the teachers could not actually fail me if I showed up and did well on their tests. I calculated the necessary work, and kept my head above the water at a steady barely passing(~70%) with a schedule full of AP’s, and the 10% curve that the school gave to the AP classes, which literally kept me from getting dropped if I got under a 70%. This obviously translated poorly to my only passing 2 AP exams and outright failing the rest others. I was actually surprised I made it to Queens College with a ~1400 SAT. So in conclusion, I really like standardized exams because they are logical and helped me.

  12. The positive side of standardized testing is that it can evaluate huge numbers of students, in a timely manner. It attempts to be fair by being administered equally across the nation, but I agree with you that it is an unfair far before the test is actually taken due to income inequality. The negative side is that it does not evaluate every person thoroughly. It simply tests everybody for only about four things total. People are gifted at hundreds of different things, allowing only certain people to shine during this type of testing.

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