According to Joseph Epstein, the merit in our meritocracy may not be genuine. “The only thing that normal undergraduate schooling prepares a person for is –– more schooling. Having been a good student, in other words, means nothing more than that. One was good at school. One had the discipline to do what one was told, learned the skill of quick response to oral and written questions, figured out what professors wanted, and gave it to them.” “The late, great American WASP,” Joseph Epstein, The Wall Street Journal, December 21 – 22, 2013.
This perception of college as the preferred goal for all students is the most difficult single problem that must be overcome if we are to allow individuals to flow naturally toward their own inclinations and abilities.
Most parents, especially middle-class parents, have one question when visiting friends they haven’t seen for a while. “How’s Janie; where’s she going to college?” Of course, it is assumed that she is going to college. If she isn’t, the friends might see Janie’s parents as failures and the parents themselves would feel embarrassed.
Some high schools have debate teams that debate other schools, and sometimes this competition is advertised not as a debate between high schools but as a “college bowl.” Other high schools in wealthy areas are given names such as “University High School.”
If we accept the college-for-everyone concept, these reactions would be understandable, but there are two underlying assumptions to this position that are not valid. The first assumption is that student failure has to do with parents not pushing their kids hard enough, rather than students’ ability level or motivation.
The second assumption is that with concerted effort all students can be helped. Helped to do what? It’s always a nice idea to give students extra help in anything, but fattening them up to satisfy the voracious appetite of state achievement tests? Maybe not. And maybe the failing students are trying to tell us something.
The only way to counteract this misperception is success in the real world of students who completed career studies. This will take time because of built-in stereotypes and prejudices against these students. After all, left-brain academicians make up a large share of our country’s cultural critics and writers. These folks believe they are the best and brightest –– and even the happiest. This carries over to newspaper and television programming as well. But psychological research has consistently shown that after people acquire a solid but modest income, additional monies do not create sustained happiness.
In some ways the university world is a non-real world. It’s a think tank, a finishing school, and a self-congratulatory system that feeds the ego. But it is also an incubator of professional classes such as professors, physicians, lawyers, accountants, engineers, and scientists. From this system, our country expects leadership and the discovery of things that presently don’t exist. These innovations will come from the top 1%-10% of our academic strivers. (Excerpted from The Elephant in the Classroom, How Our Fear of the Truth Hurts Kids and How Every Student Can Succeed)