From News1130 (a Vancouver, BC radio station) via reader Jeff, we have yet another case of academics trying to dismantle the meritocracy. It is no coincidence that ranking and tracking of students, whether it be by eliminating standardized testing or eliminating advanced placement (AP) classes, is all happening at an increasing rate. The reason to anyone with brains is transparently clear: this kind of ranking and sorting leads to inequities—differential representation of ethnic groups compared to their proportion in the population. In the U.S. (and I suspect in Canada), there’s an average achievement gap between Asians (at the top), whites (middle) and blacks and Hispanics (lowest). I suspect this is due to cultural differences that will take years to remedy, but which must be remedied. But in the meantime, it’s inimical to eliminate opportunities available to all groups.
If you ranked or sorted students solely by achievement, then, you would get lower representation of students of color in colleges. That’s one reason why we have affirmative action. But you’d also get the AP classes in high schools filled largely with Asian and white students—another inequity. Abraham Kendi, in his How to be an Antiracist, asserts that inequities are evidence of racism—not just the long-term effects of past racism (as is surely the case in the U.S.), but current and ongoing systemic racism. This claim, while false, is almost untestable if you hold the belief that racism can be so subtle that it’s unconscious but nevertheless still powerful.
The elimination of the meritocracy, while it has some good aspects (I favor limited affirmative action), will have long-term dire effects not only on societal progress, but, as John McWhorter claims, on the self-image of minorities themselves, who don’t get a chance to show high achievement and are told, in effect, that they’re not as good as others. It’s an opportunity eliminated, one that should remain while we work on the root causes of inequality.
Here’s a short piece about the Vancouver School Board eliminating honors science and math programs in the only two schools that offer this option. (Honors English classes have already been eliminated.) Click on the screenshot to read:
While I favor some affirmative action, I do not favor eliminating opportunities, especially ones like these that could act to identify minority students who excel in STEM. Being forced to take a non-honors course when you’re really interested in and talented at doing science is a good way to kill interest in it.
But the worst part is how schools always lie when they dismantle the meritocracy. Here’s the Big Lie promulgated by the Vancouver School Board:
The school board says the move will not mean less opportunity for students.
“By phasing out these courses, all students will have access to an inclusive model of education, and all students will be able to participate in the curriculum fulsomely. Teachers support the diverse needs of all students in their classes through differentiated instruction — and this includes enrichment,” a spokesperson writes in an email.
“Honours Math and Science do not provide enrichment – they are simply accelerated courses. It is important to note that a student who excels in math or science will still be able to learn at a level that challenges them and allows them to explore their potential.”
The pharse “inclusive model of education” not only gives away the real motivation, but denies students the opportunity to have their education tailored to their talents and desires. Such a system, if it’s to help those with the greatest educational handicaps, must perforce teach everyone geared to the needs of the lowest-achieving students. But in such a case a rising tide doesn’t lift all the boats. (By the way, does the school board know what “fulsomely” really means?)
Another arrant lie is this: ““Honours Math and Science do not provide enrichment – they are simply accelerated courses.” Now correct me if I’m wrong, but this sounds like a tautology: a distinction without a difference. Why doesn’t acceleration provide enrichment? My own honors English and classics courses in college immensely enriched me beyond the non-honors courses I was used to taking.
As one academic claims, whose name indicates he’s Asian, this new policy actually increases inequality, reducing opportunities for talented but poor kids who can’t afford access to the private schools that provide the equivalent of honors courses:
Andy Yan, is the director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University, and considers himself a beneficiary of these programs.
“Certainly in my experience the enriched and honours programs actually got us on to the first rung of social and economic mobility. The removal of these programs, I think, is a terrible decision that it doesn’t promote equity,” he says.
In a tweet objecting to the cancellation of the programs, Yan describes himself as an “East Van, blue-collar household, VSB kid. Scrapping this option, in his opinion, means less opportunity for kids whose families can’t pay for private school or extra tutoring.
“If anything it promotes, and increases inequality,” he says.
“Now, those that can afford these program will go to them, and those who can’t now don’t have any of these types of programs.”
Whether or not you favor dismantling the intellectual meritocracy (something also tried without good results in Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China), we should at least expect a little honesty from those who support such a move. The profusion of dissimulation about this stuff is starting to really get to me. Not to draw too fine a comparison, but it reminds me a bit of Orwell’s 1984—not in terms of eliminating social classes, but in terms of promulgating obvious lies but asserting that they’re truths.