Sold on Merit

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 5 min read

I was browsing through Linkedin this morning and came upon an interesting post.

original post on linkedin

I appreciated the sentiment and went into the comments to see what others had to say. More on that in a moment. First…

My Life as a Student

My ADHD made certain classes difficult for me. It wasn’t that I couldn’t absorb the material, it’s that it often wasn’t presented for people who process information like me. Further, there were a number of classes that I struggled with simply because I wasn’t interested in the subject matter yet the classes were somehow required. Funny enough, I still haven’t needed the Pythagorean theorem or calculus but I sure as shit could’ve used a class on paying taxes.

It was obvious to me that certain types of students were more appreciated by the system, and certain career paths were judged to be more serious or important.

As someone who believes that most formal education is little more than a badly designed game with a mixture of objective and subjective progression dynamics and players all bringing different levels of struggles to the table in order to be scored by a system that offers a single, one-size-fits-all method of instruction, this Linkedin post resonated with me.

My Life as an Adjunct

I was an adjunct professor at Drexel University for a brief period. It was fun. However, the process of building the course was completely up to me. When it came time to grade, it was completely up to me how to grade my students. I felt as though I would be partly to blame for any student who did not fully grasp the material.

Furthermore, as someone whose entire career is a product of what I’d learned after my formal education, I knew that the grades I give the students are often less about their work in my class and more about the requirements for future opportunities. Really, who am I to close those doors for them?

So, while I wouldn’t turn a failing student into an A+, I see no problem with rounding up. So, when I saw this post on Linkedin, I thought: “good for her.”

Never go into the comments section

if this were true, we wouldn’t need instant replay in sports
ah, the good old participation trophies dig, complete with a spelling error and a missing punctuation mark. That’ll be .4% off your final grade.
This was easily the most egregious bad take

The comments were full of plenty more examples just like this, primarily, but not exclusively, from older white men. In their minds, school, like the rest of life, is a relatively perfect and objective system that confers upon you a numerical ranking based solely on your merits. Either that or life isn’t fair and pull yourself up by your bootstraps or something. You get what you get and you don’t get upset, am I right?

  • The education system was definitely not created by people who look like them, primarily for people who look like them with funding that tends to benefit people who look like them.
  • There is no conscious or unconscious bias to be found anywhere in these educational systems, especially not toward, women, minorities, disabled, or neurodivergent people.
  • All teachers grade objectively according to test scores only, without any class participation or assignments scored subjectively by the teacher; and none of the tests could possibly be created in a way that disadvantage ANYONE, for any reason.
  • Everyone walking through the doors of any institution of higher learning is arriving with the same advantages and faces an equal number of challenges of equal difficulty. No one has suffered any trauma outside of school that could affect their performance.
  • No one. Clears throat NO ONE would possibly be negatively affected by 0.4% to such a degree that it would jeopardize their future opportunities at institutions with rigid, objective admittance or hiring qualifications… and if it did, there’s NO WAY they would’ve been able to do the job properly anyway.

These commenters seem all but certain that their own success in life could not have possibly been aided by any advantages whatsoever especially not anything that might’ve gotten them that extra 0.4%

My Life of Privilege

Cards on the table, my parents paid for my college, in full. I know people who worked full time, during school, and had taken out loans. Anyone, in any of my classes, who was doing that while I was drinking and smoking too much weed, should’ve gotten a .5 GPA bump off the bat. We were not doing the same amount of work. My B was not the same as theirs.

To which some might say, “Jeff you just admitted to drinking and smoking too much during school, you only have yourself to blame for not doing better.” OK, fair point, but when I started my freshman year, my mom had recently come out of a coma following a traumatic brain accident on my last day of high school, so I had some stuff on my mind.

You have no idea what people are going through. Stop pretending everyone has the same experiences and opportunities.

The Meritocracy is Bullshit

It’s time we start calling it out.

This Linkedin post has been bothering me all day. Not because of the post, but because of the comments. The insufferable, smug arrogance of the people boasting about our fair system where people get what they earn is beyond nauseating.

The system isn’t fair and it’s not a meritocracy. It never was, and it probably won’t be anytime soon. One thing it can be, however, is compassionate and flexible.

The one thing the commenters on this post did that I truly did appreciate, is prove the point of the post:

“Sometimes what people teach us is who we don’t want to be.” 🙏🏻

1 reply on “Sold on Merit”

  • May 19, 2021 at 4:21 pm

    Great response! This is the kind of compassionate, no-one-size-fits-all perspective everybody could benefit from considering more often.

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