Monday, November 14, 2011

The Fountainhead of Inequality in America

Peter Sacks’ book, Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education, is an absolute must read. A must read for anybody who harbors the illusion that education is or could be the GREAT EQUALIZER.

It is a must read for anybody who has dared to believe that America is a place where all things are possible. It is a must read for anybody who doubts that American schools and colleges reproduce, reinforce and legitimize social inequality. It is a must read for anybody who is in search of the fountainhead of the divide between the 1% and the 99%.

Peter Sacks argues that American higher education is not a meritocracy and that individuals do not succeed solely on the basis of talent and perspiration. American higher education, especially the elite schools, is an aristocracy. They guarantee a front seat in the proverbial bus.

In an article in The New York Times November 13 2011 Peter Sacks weighs in on legacy admissions into Ivy League schools. He argues that in America, the race up the social, economic and political ladder is rigged and the winners are pre-ordained.

After you read this article and hopefully his book, Occupy Wall Street will make a lot of sense to you.

And here is Peter Sacks "Hard-Core Economics"- Published in The New York Times November 13 2011.

“The notion that highly educated and affluent families -- who already provide so much cultural and economic capital to their children -- should be granted even more favors from elite universities via legacy admissions preferences is bound to rub believers in the American “meritocracy” the wrong way. There’s just a certain stink to the whole enterprise.

The true nature of legacy admissions policies becomes crystal clear if we change frames and consider that the American “meritocracy” as we know it has very little to do with merit. But this “meritocracy” has everything to do with creating ever-evolving rules of the game, as necessary for elites to perpetuate social and economic superiority from ordinary people.

Legacy admissions is part and parcel of a social reproduction process that enables elites and their children to always move to the front of the line.

Elite institutions have an implicit bargain with their alumni that essentially says, 'You give us money, and we will move your kid to the front of the line.'

In fact, besides legacy preferences, institutions have created all sorts of mechanisms to maintain and reproduce inequality. For example, elite schools rely on the dogmatic notion that gate-keeping tests, like the SAT, GRE or LSAT, actually have any bearing on a students’ ability to succeed in school. They don’t.

Why is this dogma so entrenched and powerful? It so happens that the SAT and similar tests invented to assess “intelligence” have always sorted Americans quite conveniently by social and economic class.
In arguing for legacy exemptions from the admissions channels normal students face, elite institutions assert a First Amendment right to create the freshmen class as they see fit.

There’s plenty of lofty rhetoric in defense of legacy preferences, such as the need to maintain the historical soul of the university through intergenerational binds. But that’s a disguise for the real, unstated reasons, which boil down to hardcore economics.

Elite institutions have struck an implicit bargain with their alumni. That bargain essentially says, “You give us money, and we will move your kid to the front of the line.”

The entire basis for creation of the charitable contribution in the U.S. tax code is that individual contributions to charities, including educational institutions, must not “enrich the giver.”

In fact, the system of legacy admissions at elite schools is all about enriching the giver. With a wink and a nod, colleges and universities gladly accept the white envelop stuffed with alumni cash, in return for the promise of favoritism.

The whole enterprise is brought to you by the generosity of ordinary American taxpayers, via tax breaks and subsidies. Their children are waiting patiently in the back of the line, buying into the myth that the system is fair and meritocratic, when in fact, the game is rigged, and the winners are pre-ordained.”

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