Unmasking the Meritocracy Myth

Political leadership, corporate leaders, and the media share a fascination with the meritocracy myth, primarily in the perpetuation of the claim that meritocracy already exists. Somehow the U.S. has risen above racism, sexism, and classism, resulting in a society where all success is a reflection of high character and all failure is the result of laziness and flawed character.

As long as the claim of a meritocracy remains, “no excuses” rhetoric continues to be both effective and corrosive. Ironically, those most enamored with the meritocracy myth are also those most resistent to any policies or actions that would in fact produce a level playing field for children. “No excuses” ideologies are the environment within which children from disadvantage are told to work harder to catch up with their privileged peers.

In reality, however, the U.S. is not a meritocracy, and as long as we claim that it is and resist taking action that could make it a reality, inequity will not only exist but also thrive and widen.

Choice advocates are comfortable with an invisible hand somehow creating that equity of opportunity, ignoring that the market allows privilege to beget privilege and inequity to beget inequity. A true meritocracy would not come about by the invisible hand, but by taking steps that the privileged will never embrace because it would end generational privilege. A true meritocracy would put to the test who deserves what, instead of the accident of any child’s birth determining that child’s life.

The market fetish of the U.S.—resistent as we are to taking any real action toward equity of opportunity because of our lingering deficit views of people in poverty, people of color, and women—has produced one fact that cannot be denied:

Destiny is determined by the coincidences of any child’s birth.

“Demography & Destiny: College Readiness in New York,” Norm Fruchter

“AISR’s findings were grim. The city’s high school graduates’ college readiness rates were overwhelmingly correlated with their neighborhoods’ racial composition, income and related socio-economic factors. For example, the higher the mothers’ level of education in any city neighborhood, the higher the college readiness rates of the students residing in that neighborhood. Unemployment and single motherhood, conversely, were negatively correlated—the higher the rates of unemployment and single motherhood in any city neighborhood, the lower the college readiness rates of the students residing in that neighborhood. Moreover, the mean income in each neighborhood was very highly correlated with students’ college readiness scores – the lower any neighborhood’s mean income, the lower the college readiness scores of the students living in that neighborhood.”

“Studies Suggest Economic Inequity Is Built Into, and Worsened by, School Systems,” P. L. Thomas

Is Poverty Destiny?: Ideology v. Evidence in Education Reform,” P. L. Thomas


3 thoughts on “Unmasking the Meritocracy Myth

  1. Pingback: Let’s measure love (just like we measure teachers)

  2. Of course their is no such thing as a meritocracy in the United States or any where else in the world. Talent will get you absolutely no where and the more talented you are the less likely it is that you will succeed. Unless of course you are a child of wealth then no matter how little talent you have your success is almost guaranteed. I went to school with a lot mediocre hacks that lacked ability but their parents had money so they got the opportunities the rest of us could only dream of. Take a look at the entertainment industry. We very rarely see anything of merit on the tube or in the movie houses. We get regurgitated story lines and bad acting. Every once and a while a truly talented individual makes it but that is the exception. Effective people are despised by those that are not and they are gotten rid of in some cases in others they are never allowed to progress or sabotaged when they do.

    I know that this seems counterproductive but it is true. I have worked in the private sector my whole career and have seen the mediocre attempt and many times succeed in getting rid of or getting promoted over their better performing peers. I have seen companies fire the gifted and keep the incompetent because those in power felt less threatened by those that were at or below their skill level. The whole idea that private enterprise is better and less wasteful then government makes me laugh. Private enterprise wastes money on poorly executed ideas or by sabotaging the efforts of their own work force.

    Private enterprise is filled with untalented people whose only goal is keeping their jobs and nothing else and they see talented people as a threat to this one and only goal.

  3. Pingback: Top Posts of 2013, and Thank You | the becoming radical

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