Meritocracy and diversity are at odds

Affirmative action is back in the news because the Supreme Court once again will consider its role in college admissions. The argument for its continuation is that meritocracy and diversity can simultaneously exist (“Can Affirmative Action Survive?” The New Yorker, July 26).

I disagree.  The two are fundamentally at odds.  Perhaps in theory, they are possible, but in reality they are not.  The California Institute of Technology has long admitted students solely on the basis of their grades and test scores, with no preference whatsoever given to racial minorities, athletes, legacies or development cases.

As a result, Asians constituted more than 40 percent of Cal Tech’s undergraduate student body at last count.  I see nothing at all wrong with that outcome. Asians are the most qualified to handle the rigorous academic work based on their academic track record, and deserve to be admitted accordingly.

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Summer school shortchanges students

The pandemic has resulted in a rise in the number of students in summer school (“Nearing Fourth Grade, and Racing to Catch Up,” The New York Times, July 26).  Although summer school is well intentioned, it is no substitute for the traditional school year.

How can it be when both teachers and students are under intense pressure to cram into the few weeks knowledge and skills best covered over a period of months?  Like credit recovery, summer school shortchanges students, but neither will disappear.

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College tuition is outrageous

When the former chief executive of student-loan giant Sallie Mae admits that it is criminal what colleges charge for tuition, it’s finally time to ask why (“A Student-Loan Titan Thinks Twice,” The Wall Street Journal, July 24). The short answer, as Al Lord said, is that they keep raising tuition because they can.

What would happen, however, if enough young people and their parents said enough and began to boycott colleges and universities?  I’ve long maintained that we have been wildly oversold on the importance of a college degree.  College is merely the most convenient place to learn how to learn.  It is not an absolute requirement. 

So many majors leave graduates ill prepared to enter the workplace.  Those that manage to land a job find that what they studied in college has little relevance to their tasks. 

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Degree in diversity, equity and inclusion

Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. is the first school to offer a bachelor’s degree in diversity, equity and inclusion, but it will certainly not be the last (“University debuts nation’s first bachelor’s degree in diversity, equity and inclusion,” thecollegefix.com, July 23). I say that because we are obsessed with the idea that the proper racial mix in the workplace is the No. 1 goal.

I don’t doubt that the new major will attract many applicants who hope to use their degree to land a well-paying job in corporate America.  But I wonder if other majors would not be just as helpful.  I remember when some colleges began to offer bachelor’s degrees in public relations.  However, the degree opened no doors because the majority of those in PR had backgrounds as working journalist

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Vocational education more important now than ever

The nation’s obsession with mathematical and verbal ability overlooks the need for workers in the trades.  Identifying them depends on the importance of recognizing spatial ability early on (“We Are Leaving ‘Lost Einsteins’ Behind,” The New York Times, July 21). 

Unfortunately, vocational education is never accorded the respect it deserves.  As a result, many young people who can make a valuable contribution to the nation’s economy are shortchanged.

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Law schools under attack for lack of diversity

There was a time when admission to law schools in this country was based on grades and test scores.  But they are now under pressure to make them racially diverse (“Why the Lawyers Cartel Is Pushing for Woke Law Schools,” The Wall Street Journal, July 16). 

I have no objection to the overall goal, but I question whether the move is overlooking something important. Most law schools still rely heavily on the Socratic method, which involves grilling individual students. But if students complain that such aggressive questioning makes them uncomfortable, which it unavoidably does, then I bet that time-honored technique will be abandoned.

As a result, the quality of instruction will suffer and graduates will be shortchanged. 

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Racism instruction is a delicate balance

Teaching about racism in schools is one thing, but teaching all subjects solely through the lens of racism is quite another (“How to Raise Kids Who Won’t Be Racist,” The New York Times, Jul. 15).  There will always be some parents who want to totally ban racism from the curriculum, but I maintain that the overwhelming majority have no objection as long as it doesn’t become an obsession.

Unfortunately, that is not the case today.  Every single subject is affected by the demand to make racism the paramount factor. That is going to shortchange students in this country. Students abroad don’t have to deal with the same pressure about racism.

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Rethinking value of college degree

It won’t be long before high school seniors will have to decide if applying to a four-year college or university is worthwhile.  So much has already been written about the pros and cons, but I always come back to a slim volume published in 1965 by John Keats entitled “The Sheepskin Psychosis” as the best advice for young people.

Keats wrote that college is merely the most convenient place to learn how to learn.  It is not an absolute determinant, despite what everyone seems to think.  In short, he correctly believes that we have been wildly oversold on the value of a bachelor’s degree.

When few adults continued their education beyond high school, possession of a degree in any field meant something.  But today, its value has been so diluted as to be little more than a high school diploma.

I’ve written this often before in this column: College is not for everyone because not everyone is college material.  Most would be better served by pursuing a vocational curriculum in high school, coupled with an apprenticeship.  Other countries with robust economies have long known this, which is why a degree abroad is indeed prestigious.

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Not all master’s degrees pay off

What students major in is far more important in landing a well-paying job than where students graduated from (“ ‘Financially Hobbled for Life’: The Elite Master’s Degrees That Don’t Pay off,” The Wall Street Journal, July 9).  Yet too many young people are obsessed with brand-name schools. They find out too late that they have burdened themselves with six-figure debt while earning less than $30,000 a year.

If they took the time to do their homework first, they would have learned that a master’s degree in film, for example, opens no doors, whether the degree comes from the Ivies or any other school.  But youth is addicted to brands, in education or in other fields.  There is little to no evidence that marquee-name schools are better than others.  It’s the major that is.

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Teachers unions are committing suicide

The National Education Association, the largest teachers union, and the American Federation of Teachers announced their support for critical race theory, a move that I believe they will regret (“The Teachers Unions Go Woke,” The Wall Street Journal, July 8). As readers of this column know, I was a member of United Teachers of Los Angeles during the 28 years that I taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But my support is waning because they have gone way too far. There is a big difference between presenting a balanced view of our nation’s past and seeing everything in terms of race.  It’s the latter that I object to.  Not only is it historically incorrect, as expert historians have pointed out, but it divides us at a time when unity is vital.

Surveys have shown that most people are sympathetic to teachers but opposed to teachers unions.  Coming out for critical race theory in classrooms will further undermine support for their unions.

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