Tyranny of the Meritocracy


Lani Guinier, in her new book, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America, raises the question: what is the purpose of higher education? Is the purpose of education to cultivate an informed and engage citizenry? Is the purpose to prepare laborers to participate in the marketplace? Or is the purpose of education to reproduce social hierarchy based on academic credentials? A look at our overreliance on standardized testing—the creep from college admission testing down into the lower levels of elementary education—suggests the third option. Despite our reliance on standardized tests, such as the SAT for college or the LSAT and GRE for graduate school, to decide school admission, these tests are actually a very poor predictor of who will do well in college and graduate school. Rather, if we are honest with ourselves, these tests are more accurately used to determine deservedness. Students who score well on these tests may or may not do well in higher education. But students who score well on these tests “deserve” to be admitted to a “good” school. Standardized tests become another tool of “entitlement.”

What would it look like if the purpose of higher education were to cultivate an engaged and informed citizenry – not just to reward those who have already had access to opportunities? In a recent Supreme Court case about race conscious admission in higher education (Fisher v University of Texas, 2012), Justice Clarence Thomas argues that using a criterion such as race in admissions decisions does a disservice because it leads to a mismatch. You can read more about Fisher here, but this mismatch argument is what is interesting, and we use it more broadly than in race considerations. The idea is that when we consider criteria other than, say high test scores, (think race, or class, or service in the community) we run the risk of admitting students who are not academically prepared and are thus a mismatch to the schools and all of the high-achieving students. We weed out those un-deserving students for their own good—so that we don’t set them up for failure.

We like this argument because by using something like test scores, we can imagine that we are using objective criteria. Test scores are objective. Students who do well on test scores are smart and hard-working. They deserve to be admitted into institutes of higher education. The higher the score, the more competitive the school. Except test scores are not an objective measure of smartness or hard work. Test scores are more a measure of family wealth than anything else. (Read about that here and here and here and here. Oh, and here.) Yes, there are exceptions. But let’s be real: on a macro-level, test scores are a measure of wealth—not intelligence, not hard work, and not deservedness.

But what if the goal of admissions teams at institutes of higher education were not simply to cull the unprepared and reward the high achievers? What if the goal of admissions were to foster democracy and this cultivation of an engaged and informed citizenry? And what if the purpose of institutes of higher education were to take a diverse and complimentary student population and to actually prepare them for collaboration and achievement in the world?


Finishings and Endings.., and Beginnings


This past month, I have been finishing a lot of things: I finished my classes at school; I finished the class that I taught this semester. I finished another year of life (that counts!) And I switched out my summer and winter clothes (that counts, too!) And these past two weeks I have been riding a rolling avalanche of endings. I ended three years of seminary last week. Two days ago, I preached my final sermon for the congregation where I have been serving as Intern Minister; that service will end soon too. Earlier today, I finished an online class that I have been taking. Last weekend, I bid farewell, to my parents who relocated to another part of the country.

So much ending. So much loss.

But amid these endings, and in truth—because of them, there are also new beginnings. My parents are embarking on a new leg of their journey together. I am a Master of Divinity (yes, I know that’s not how you actually say it, but it’s more fun this way). And next month, I will probably don religious vestments for the first time as we honor and celebrate my own minister—who is ending a 20-year ministry with my congregation.

Amidst so much loss, there are also new beginnings. I have been returning again and again to this mediation by Nancy Shaffer

On Leaving Home

Leaving, I have wanted also
A going toward: something that
catches me on the other side.
Wanted not just leaving but

So I have been grieving.

I form relationships with things:
the height of doorways, plum-colored
wool at the edge of a weaving,
the way shadows fall at night
and still I can see. I am anchored
by the physical: muse for what is within.
Move as I move, because of such holding.

It is not enough to say, Well,
I am going toward God.

There must be particulars—
a bright blue cloth besides a window
beside acacia; loved arms
of the human sort; deep wells of knowing,
only guessed at before.

Summer Pop Culture RoundUp


Before I get back to being all heavy and serious – because life is heavyand since I couldn’t be bothered to read hardly anything on my vast, ever increasing reading list this summer – here’s a taste of how I spent my summer (when I wasn’t holding hands and praying with folks at hospital beds).


(cue frantic Fraggle Rock drumming)


I discovered audiobooks – free from the library. Yay! I listened to two nifty novels about smart and feisty southern ladies

And for the YA crowd

  • Matched, by Ally Condie; the first in a three-part series (because apparently teens only read books in series nowadays. Meh. Government control of all aspects of life, and you just know the people are going to rise up and fight the power – led by the youth. Not as good as Hunger Games (no Rue), but it’s okay to listen to and now I’m curious to see how the series ends.
  • Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater; the first in  the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy (I said – “threes”). Don’t bother with this one. Werewolves are the new vampires. But witches are more interesting that werewolves, so maybe try
  • The Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness. I haven’t read this, but I’ve read good things about it.


With all the audiobooks, not a lot of music this summer. But here’s what I can’t stop listening to now:

“Blurred Lines,” by Robin Thicke. Mired in controversy and preemptive lawsuits, sure. And do we really need all the b*&#@s from TI? But this is a not heavy blog post. I will say, though, this song with its sly, playful and kinda sexy lyrics reminds me a lot more of His Royal Badness than Marvin Gaye. And it was so much fun that it made me also download Thicke’s “Meiplé with Jay-Z (who is having his own trifling summer).

It’s  really challenging to talk about music and keep things light, so just two more:

Icona Pop’s “I Love It“. enough said.

And the CD that I’ve been driving too all summer long: Motown Remixed, Volume 1. I can’t even describe how hot this is. Motown classics with new beats courtesy of Z-Trip, ?uestlove and the Randy Watson Experience, DJ Smash, Salaam Remi, and more more more. Just Listen Now.


Since I ditched my television, most of my tv watching is via Netflix streaming, but it gets the job done.

  • The much awaited Arrested Development was alright, but not as good as I remembered.
  • Drop Dead Diva:  Super fluff, but I went back and watched Seasons 1 and 2 just to catch up for Season 3. I can’t get that time back.
  • Dr. Who! Series Seven, Part 1. Mad thanks to Matthew and to Ariane for reminding me that I could watch this via Amazon Prime. And then, since my New Whovian nephew is getting his mother up to speed:
  • Dr. Who from the 10th doctor. With
  • Torchwood: Children of Earth thrown in for good measure. And since I already had the accent in my head anyway,
  • Mistresses – the BBC version. All three series. Just a whole lot of poor choices there. And now I’m watching
  • Alphas, season 2.

Alas, sweet summer, it was real.  Now back to work.