Opinion

Dispelling the Illusion of Meritocracy

By TRISHA DANG
Staff Writer

With the arrival of college admission and rejection letters, the college admissions scandal involving Lori Loughlin and her daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose, brings both concern and relief among seniors, juniors, and all college-concerned students at University High. Loughlin, along with other wealthy parents such as actress Felicity Huffman, allegedly bought her daughters’ admissions into the University of Southern California. The scandal created a domino effect, triggering an investigation that revealed numerous college admissions scandals throughout the nation. In the USC case, approximately fifty individuals, ranging from Hollywood celebrities to college coaches to standardized test administrators, allegedly participated in the scheme to advantage students in tests and admissions. The college admissions scandal reveals the flaws of meritocracy to which we have turned a blind eye.

If the elite are able to easily buy acceptances to prestigious colleges, then perhaps the American perception of meritocracy isn’t as accurate as we want to believe it is. Meritocracy, by definition, is the selection of a position or title based on the qualifications and ability of the individual. However, since the system of meritocracy is dependent upon the loose definition of a person’s merit, there’s no “correct” approach to meritocracy. While the overall consensus agrees that one’s merit, in terms of college admissions, is based on their intelligence, dedication, and persistence in acquiring a higher level of education, there is no official guide that disqualifies wealth from being viewed as a value of merit. Thus, meritocracy has been ingrained our minds as a system of fairness and equality, but its unclear definition of “merit” allows it to exist as one of the greatest delusions of our country.

If meritocracy was as effective as it portrays itself to be, then lower-class hardworking people would be in the same position as trust fund children who have barely done a fraction of the amount of labor that the hard working people put in. But, they aren’t.

In theory, meritocracy is a straight-forward system that should have no flaws. It makes sense: people who work hard get higher positions in society, and people who tend to do less work receive lower positions. Unfortunately, it’s not as cleanly cut as we think it is.

Meritocracy is flawed to the extent in which it can be manipulated to aid the elite. Even if meritocracy in the context of college admission is intended to be based off of how educated and intelligent a candidate is, the upper class – including the 9 percent of Americans who contribute to the new class of American aristocracy – would still have an unfair advantage over the rest of the population.

For example, New England is notorious for its reputation of being the birthplace of “Old Money” families- lineages of wealth that pass on generation through generation- and its numerous elite boarding schools. These private academies offer the best education in American education, but tend to be costly and therefore are exclusive to only the students who can afford to go to such schools. It’s no surprise that the wealthiest families send their children to the more prestigious high schools so they may later on attend the most selective colleges. There’s nothing particularly “wrong” with doing so, but it serves some kind of injustice towards the lower class students trying to work their way up to become something of significance, only for their chance be taken away by another student who had an unfair lead.     

Of course, meritocracy is not completely ineffective. In fact, there are a number of instances in which the underdog becomes successful through years and years of hardwork and dedication. However, the reality is that these instances are the rare, occasional examples in which hard work truly does pay off.

Meritocracy has continually failed us again and again; the American Dream has continually failed us again and again. So, why do we hold onto the hope that meritocracy is an effective system that filters out who rightfully gets to be favored in society and who doesn’t?

It may be one of the greatest ideals this country has ever attempted to reach.

 

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