Posts tagged ‘credentialism’

Credentialism and “Meritocracy” and Philosopher Kings

Does America Really Need More College Grads? – George Leef

The Chinese imperial bureaucracy was immensely powerful. Entrance was theoretically open to anyone, from any walk of society—as long as they could pass a very tough examination. The number of passes was tightly restricted to keep the bureaucracy at optimal size.

Passing the tests and becoming a “scholar official” was a ticket to a very good, very secure life. And there is something to like about a system like this … especially if you happen to be good at exams. Of course, once you gave the imperial bureaucracy a lot of power, and made entrance into said bureaucracy conditional on passing a tough exam, what you have is … a country run by people who think that being good at exams is the most important thing on earth. Sound familiar?

The people who pass these sorts of admissions tests are very clever. But they’re also, as time goes on, increasingly narrow. The way to pass a series of highly competitive exams is to focus every fiber of your being on learning what the authorities want, and giving it to them. To the extent that the “Tiger Mom” phenomenon is actually real, it’s arguably the cultural legacy of the Mandarin system.

That system produced many benefits, but some of those benefits were also costs. A single elite taking a single exam means a single way of thinking:

The examination system also served to maintain cultural unity and consensus on basic values. The uniformity of the content of the examinations meant that the local elite and ambitious would-be elite all across China were being indoctrinated with the same values.

All elites are good at rationalizing their eliteness, whether it’s meritocracy or “the divine right of kings.” The problem is the mandarin elite has some good arguments. They really are very bright and hardworking. It’s just that they’re also prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority, because that is what this sort of examination system selects for.

. . .

[T]his ostensibly meritocratic system increasingly selects from those with enough wealth and connections to first, understand the system, and second, prepare the right credentials to enter it—as I believe it also did in Imperial China.

And like all elites, they believe that they not only rule because they can, but because they should. Even many quite left-wing folks do not fundamentally question the idea that the world should be run by highly verbal people who test well and turn their work in on time. They may think that machine operators should have more power and money in the workplace, and salesmen and accountants should have less. But if they think there’s anything wrong with the balance of power in the system we all live under, it is that clever mandarins do not have enough power to bend that system to their will. For the good of everyone else, of course. Not that they spend much time with everyone else, but they have excellent imaginations.

America’s New Mandarins – The paths to power and success are narrowing. So is the worldview of the powerful.


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The Higher Ed Bubble is Leaking

A growing number of liberal-arts colleges are supplementing their traditional glossy brochures touting ivy-covered libraries and great-books seminars with more pecuniary pitches: Buy seven semesters, get one free. Apply today, get $2,500 cash back. Free classes after four years.

The schools are adjusting their marketing to attract students at a time when families are struggling to foot the bill for college—and increasingly concerned about the potential payoff. Some of the most aggressive offers come from the most financially vulnerable schools: midtier, private institutions that are heavily dependent on tuition and sit in regions with shrinking pools of college-bound high-school seniors.
. . .
The pressure on liberal-arts schools is coming from several directions. Nationwide, the number of graduating high-school seniors this year is expected to decline to 3.32 million from a projected all-time high of 3.41 million during the 2010-11 school year, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. And fewer college-bound seniors are choosing private four-year schools: Between 2006 and 2011, the percentage of students at those schools dropped to 20% from 22%, according to the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center.

For students headed to college, tuition is a bigger issue than ever. The average cost of public and private schools jumped 92% between 2001 and 2011, compared with a 27% rise in the consumer-price index. Last year the average amount that students at public colleges paid in tuition, after state and institutional grants and scholarships, climbed 8.3%, the biggest jump on record, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

Colleges’ Latest Offer: Deals: Liberal-Arts Schools Dangle Bargains in Response to Concern Over Cost, Value

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