Monday, July 26, 2010

French and American models of meritocracy

Here's some food for thought on the meritocratic systems in France and the US, culled from the latest post on Evaluations, the blog of NY Times editorialist Ross Douthat. Very much related to his insightful and provocative recent op-ed on access to the Ivy League by rural white America, which has been causing a decent stir... But back to French-US meritocracy:

"...So the meritocratic elite is not as left-wing, nor the “country party” as principled in its conservatism, as Codevilla wants to believe. Nor are our meritocrats quite as intellectually-challenged as [Codevilla would] like to think:

Much less does membership in the ruling class depend on high academic achievement. To see something closer to an academic meritocracy consider France, where elected officials have little power, a vast bureaucracy explicitly controls details from how babies are raised to how to make cheese, and people get into and advance in that bureaucracy strictly by competitive exams. Hence for good or ill, France’s ruling class are bright people — certifiably. Not ours. But didn’t ours go to Harvard and Princeton and Stanford? Didn’t most of them get good grades? Yes. But while getting into the Ecole Nationale d’Administration or the Ecole Polytechnique or the dozens of other entry points to France’s ruling class requires outperforming others in blindly graded exams, and graduating from such places requires passing exams that many fail, getting into America’s “top schools” is less a matter of passing exams than of showing up with acceptable grades and an attractive social profile … our ruling class recruits and renews itself not through meritocracy but rather by taking into itself people whose most prominent feature is their commitment to fit in.

"This is overdrawn... Elite colleges do seek high grades and sterling standardized test performances (SAT scores are still the coin of the meritocratic realm), and they do select for the brilliant and the driven — not with quite the same ruthless efficiency as the French, perhaps, but pretty ruthlessly all the same..."

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