The tyranny of the meritocracy Democratizing higher education in America

Lani Guinier

Book - 2015

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Subjects
Published
Boston : Beacon Press ©2015.
[2015]
Language
English
Physical Description
xiii, 160 pages ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 142-152) and index.
ISBN
9780807006276
0807006270
Main Author
Lani Guinier (author)
Review by Choice Reviews

This excellent book examines the intentional and unintentional implications and consequences that high-stakes testing creates in American higher education.  Guinier (Harvard Law School) identifies the worst result as the rise of a smug, elitist "meritocracy" that benefits from what she labels the "testocracy," or gate-keeping mechanism of entrance exams.  In the end, these testing gates circumvent the concepts of "merit" and benefit to society that the standards were originally intended to achieve.  Organized into two sections, Guinier's book addresses the blind adherence to standardized testing and the resulting elitism of "winners" in the first part, "The Problem."  In the second section, "The Solutions," she presents examples of educational institutions' tackling the deeper questions of how to build excellence and merit in students who collaborate and think in democratic ways to achieve success.  In place of the flawed meritocracy complex, the author suggests a system of "democratic merit" aimed at serving the goals of democracy by adding a layer of evaluation focused on candidates' capacities to collaborate and think creatively.  The final two chapters move on to examine applied sociocognitive theory and redefine academic "meritocracy" in the context of American "democratic meritocracy." Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. --D. D. Bouchard, Crown College Don D. Bouchard Crown College http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/CHOICE.190029 Copyright 2014 American Library Association.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Argues that the system of meritocracy that dictates the admissions practices of American universities causes elitism and results in the exclusion of minorities and a prejudicial learning environment.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"Standing on the foundations of America's promise of equal opportunity, our universities purport to "serve as engines of social mobility" and "practitioners of democracy." But as acclaimed scholar and pioneering civil rights advocate Lani Guinier argues,the merit systems that dictate the admissions practices of these institutions are functioning to select and privilege elite individuals rather than create learning communities geared to advance democratic societies. Having studied and taught at schools such as Harvard University, Yale Law School, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Guinier has spent years examining the experiences of ethnic minorities at the nation's top institutions of higher education, and here she lays bare the practices that impede the stated missions of these schools. Guinier argues for reformation, not only of the very premises of admissions practices but of the shape of higher education itself, and she offers many examples of new collaborative initiatives that prepare students for engaged citizenship in our increasingly multicultural society"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

An acclaimed scholar and civil rights advocate describes her research on the experiences of minority women at elite institutions like Harvard and Yale and reveals the practices that stall and prevent the schools from creating the democratic learning communities described in their missions. By the author of The Tyranny of the Majority. 10,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

A fresh and bold argument for revamping our standards of “merit” and a clear blueprint for creating collaborative education models that strengthen our democracy rather than privileging individual elitesStanding on the foundations of America’s promise of equal opportunity, our universities purport to serve as engines of social mobility and practitioners of democracy. But as acclaimed scholar and pioneering civil rights advocate Lani Guinier argues, the merit systems that dictate the admissions practices of these institutions are functioning to select and privilege elite individuals rather than create learning communities geared to advance democratic societies. Having studied and taught at schools such as Harvard University, Yale Law School, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Guinier has spent years examining the experiences of ethnic minorities and of women at the nation’s top institutions of higher education, and here she lays bare the practices that impede the stated missions of these schools. Goaded on by a contemporary culture that establishes value through ranking and sorting, universities assess applicants using the vocabulary of private, highly individualized merit. As a result of private merit standards and ever-increasing tuitions, our colleges and universities increasingly are failing in their mission to provide educational opportunity and to prepare students for productive and engaged citizenship. To reclaim higher education as a cornerstone of democracy, Guinier argues that institutions of higher learning must focus on admitting and educating a class of students who will be critical thinkers, active citizens, and publicly spirited leaders. Guinier presents a plan for considering “democratic merit,” a system that measures the success of higher education not by the personal qualities of the students who enter but by the work and service performed by the graduates who leave. Guinier goes on to offer vivid examples of communities that have developed effective learning strategies based not on an individual’s “merit” but on the collaborative strength of a group, learning and working together, supporting members, and evolving into powerful collectives. Examples are taken from across the country and include a wide range of approaches, each innovative and effective. Guinier argues for reformation, not only of the very premises of admissions practices but of the shape of higher education itself.