Friday, March 15, 2019

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Nathan Robinson discusses how the language of "meritocracy" is used to entrench structural inequality:
The inequality goes so much deeper than that, though. It’s not just donations that put the wealthy ahead. Children of the top 1% (and the top 5%, and the top 20%) have spent their entire lives accumulating advantages over their counterparts at the bottom. Even in first grade the differences can be stark: compare the learning environment at one of Detroit’s crumbling public elementary schools to that at a private elementary school that costs tens of thousands of dollars a year. There are high schools, such as Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, that have billion-dollar endowments. Around the country, the level of education you receive depend on how much money your parents have.

Even if we equalized public school funding, and abolished private schools, some children would be far more equal than others. Two and a half million children in the United States go through homelessness every year in this country. The chaotic living situation that comes with poverty makes it much, much harder to succeed. This means that even those who go through Singer’s “front door” have not “gotten in on their own”. They’ve gotten in partly because they’ve had the good fortune to have a home life conducive to their success.

People often speak about “equality of opportunity” as the American aspiration. But having anything close to equal opportunity would require a radical re-engineering of society from top to bottom. As long as there are large wealth inequalities, there will be colossal differences in the opportunities that children have. No matter what admissions criteria are set, wealthy children will have the advantage. If admissions officers focus on test scores, parents will pay for extra tutoring and test prep courses. If officers focus instead on “holistic” qualities, pare. It’s simple: wealth always confers greater capacity to give your children the edge over other people’s children. If we wanted anything resembling a “meritocracy”, we would probably have to start by instituting full egalitarian communism.
There’s something perverse about the whole competitive college system. But we can imagine a different world. If everyone was guaranteed free, high-quality public university education, and a public school education matched the quality of a private school education, there wouldn’t be anything to compete for.
- Nick French similarly writes that an expensive and exclusive university system serves mostly to create social immobility. Jamiles Lartey points out that there are plenty of legal mechanisms used to give children from rich families unfair advantages beyond the illegal ones exposed this week. Patti Bacchus focuses in on the problems with exclusive private schools in particular. Matt Kwong contrasts the right's trumped-up complaints about affirmative action against the actual factors which prevent fair access to post-secondary education. And Clare Lombardo notes that it's particularly pernicious that accessibility standards for students with disabilities are being illegally exploited for cash.

- Franklin Foer discusses the broader battle - and lack of success - against political and economic systems based on corruption. And Charlie Angus points out how the SNC-Lavalin scandal pulls back the curtain on Ottawa's similarly compromised power culture, while David Pugliese reports on the illegal outing of an attempt to find out about defence industry abuses as an example of the steps governments willingly take to undermine reporting of corporate wrongdoing.

- Finally, Matthew Taylor, Arthur Neslen and Libby Brooks report on the massive climate strikes taking place today involving students from around the globe. Matt Ford notes that an emerging generation is rightly seeing the threat of impending climate breakdown as its motivating cause. And Abraham Gutman writes that a people-driven Green New Deal may be the source of hope needed to end multiple forms of despair - including the addictions crisis created by the pharmaceutical industry.

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