OPINION: Ethics of meritocracy in education and the ‘American Dream’:


Vanessa Freije is a sophomore
Prindle intern from Indianapolis.
-This article is also featured in The Prindle Post.

As a current college student, I understand the struggle of endless nights in the library: clinging onto your coffee, dreaming about sleep and wondering, what is all of this studying actually worth?  

Most might agree: what you are studying is well worth something, but what you are studying for may not be. In today's society we are not measured by what we have learned through experiences and the struggle of learning. We are measured by a single note that is supposed to merit our academic worth. 

Is it possible that we are no longer studying for intellectual growth or a true pursuit of knowledge, but rather just to earn passing marks? Has our education system become so institutionalized that it is now simply a meritocracy? If so, then what are the moral implications of this meritocracy? What is our role?

Youtuber and Spoken Word artist, Suli Breaks spurred my interest in this idea with his videos, "Why I Hate School but Love Education" and "American't Dream." In the first video, he details the flaws of current education system by acknowledging this misled emphasis that society places on education. That society says we need an education to get a job, that education will equal success, to become successful you must pass exams. He says that education is much richer and satisfying than what we have created it to be.

In his second video, he questions his audience on why they are working. He recounted the industrial revolution and how the consequences of advancing technologically have redefined how we work for a living. He recalls, "the industrial revolution was beneficial technologically, but it coerced a lot of people into factories, for ridiculous salaries to benefit their families, and that shaped people's mentalities exponentially, and essentially it became the norm." Mr. Breaks paints a Marxist criticism of capitalism in today's society as he urges us to "not become a slave to a paycheck."  And ultimately defines the 'American't Dream' to represent "the ideal of people striving for success by working an unsatisfactory job, rather than a fulfilling career that feeds into their own success or passion. It propagates that rather than chasing the 'American Dream' they are chasing the 'American't Dream' by allowing their own dream to be stifled by another person".

Since when did grades equal success. And why should we allow for this absurd notion to continue?

This notion of grades equating to merit lacks the ability to measure the true potential and talent of an individual. So why do we still use grades as a standard of merit, to create an equal playing field? But what happens when those who are playing on this "equal" field are not actually equal? What happens when that GPA or the score on the standardized test does not represent the potential and talent of the individual, simply because of, for example, their socioeconomic disadvantages? This is where our system is flawed. 

Will it ever be possible for these people to move up the economic ladder and prevail despite the adversities that social mobility places? And more importantly, does America still have the 'American Dream'? Are we living in an age of the 'American't Dream'?

My question is this: is it ethically sound for us to simply be bystanders to what we have deduced education and working to? I say no. The systematic method we have for marginalizing our youth should not impress blame upon them for what our system has done. It is our prima facie duty as millennials and as students to ensure that we, put forth the effort to stand up against this cyclic injustice of education, poverty and lack of social mobility that has been so dissolved by our facade of the 'American Dream.'