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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 elites 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 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 elites 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 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.


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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 elites 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 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 elites 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 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.

30 review for The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ellie

    Lani Guinier, professor of law at Harvard University, has written a persuasive argument against the prevalence of high-stakes testing (particularly the SAT) as the primary way of evaluating and predicting student achievement. Her argument, however, is not only against the inaccuracy of the testing process but of the very purpose of education in general and colleges in particular. Instead of merely a means of accessing more powerful and lucrative employment, Guinier focuses on the function of edu Lani Guinier, professor of law at Harvard University, has written a persuasive argument against the prevalence of high-stakes testing (particularly the SAT) as the primary way of evaluating and predicting student achievement. Her argument, however, is not only against the inaccuracy of the testing process but of the very purpose of education in general and colleges in particular. Instead of merely a means of accessing more powerful and lucrative employment, Guinier focuses on the function of education as a means of creating thinking, participatory citizens who work collaboratively with others and leave school prepared (and willing) to contribute to society and to become leaders. I found the first part of the book the most interesting. Guinier demonstrates how the current "meritocracy" (or, as she also calls it, "testocracy") replicates current socio-economic status and create individualists who compete with others at the expense of public policy and a healthy society. Students who score well on the SATs are usually those who have been taught how to take a test successfully, not necessarily those who think most creatively or effectively and certainly not those who consider the welfare of others, or the group as a whole. By focusing intensively on test success, we create a society of takers rather than givers. We also exclude most of the society from access to institutions that, Guinier argues, should function as shapers of society not merely gateways to (a narrowly defined) success. But although many colleges consider factors outside of the SATs for admissions, most primary and secondary schools also fail to prepare students to work collaboratively with others or problem solve creatively, In the second part of the book, Guinier examines programs that have worked to turn this focus around at all levels. Professors who have moved from lecture-oriented to collaborative-focused classes where students work in groups to both challenge and support each other have seen test scores rise across the board and discrepancies between students from minority groups and the traditionally high scoring white male students disappear. In the final section of the book, and, for me, the least interesting, Guinier reviews the well-documented (and publicized) studies showing that students who believe that intelligence is malleable and success based on effort rather than innate qualities over which one has little or no control are more successful than students who view intelligence as a fixed quality. I found the first section of the book the most successful and interesting. The second section tended to focus on such specific examples that the flow of the book virtually halted. However, the examples were interesting and did point the way for systemic changes that could change the course of American democracy. The book is brief but passionate and for me convincing in its arguments for a more inclusive, democratic view of student potential and how to develop it. In the interest of transparency, I won this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Emily Jusuf

    This one is a puzzle to review because while it contains tons of good tidbits and ideas, it nevertheless misses the main point. Here is Guinier's thesis: "Currently, merit is measured by an individual's test scores and grades. The higher the test scores and the better the grades, the more entitlements are granted to an individual by teachers, parents, administrators, other students, and even the general public. But this need not be the case. Instead, I've found that what is urgent for our world—a This one is a puzzle to review because while it contains tons of good tidbits and ideas, it nevertheless misses the main point. Here is Guinier's thesis: "Currently, merit is measured by an individual's test scores and grades. The higher the test scores and the better the grades, the more entitlements are granted to an individual by teachers, parents, administrators, other students, and even the general public. But this need not be the case. Instead, I've found that what is urgent for our world—and thus what we should consider most closely in education—is a student's capacity to collaborate and to think creatively." (2)Or in other words, as she continues to reiterate throughout the book: "Aptitude tests do not predict leadership, emotional intelligence, or the capacity to work with others to contribute to society" (26). The problem with this thesis is that it is nothing revolutionary, and college admissions have already been trying to make up for their limited information. That's why we have college essays, and interviews, and teacher recs, and examination of extracurricular leadership positions + community service. The problem lies not in having too few of these kinds of subjective character measures, but rather in the fact that these measures—in addition to the SAT!—also happen to be heavily correlated to wealth and class in a myriad of subtle ways (comic). Our focus should not be on proving the value of collaboration and genuine problem solving in education (which has already been proven and is common sense!), but addressing the core question of how and whether adcoms can truthfully measure merit at all. ALL THIS ASIDE, the bits on growth mindset and grit in Chapter 7 are really important for anyone who is interested in what makes for a good learner in general. I also liked the part in Chapter 2 where Guinier points out what makes the new elite so dangerous: it legitimately thinks it deserves its success, while the old elite had been able to "recognise[] that it had been privileged by the accident of birth," and so had felt obligated to give back to the community and 'send the elevator back down' (24). This is a concept that I keep coming back to when talking on this topic with my friends: We can't ask that the new elite step down; we only ask that they recognise how they got there. Overall, a well-researched book on an extremely important topic, but won't tell you much that you don't already instinctively understand.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    Lani Guinier's new book The Tyranny of the Meritocracy will be of interest to many in the connectivist circles where I run. We believe that individual knowledge is created in social contexts and through social interaction. We prize collaboration skills. We've heard it all, and buy it - that this is an increasingly connected age, that good jobs will involve work in teams, that globalization and demographic change will require the abilities to negotiate diversity, that the "problems of the twenty- Lani Guinier's new book The Tyranny of the Meritocracy will be of interest to many in the connectivist circles where I run. We believe that individual knowledge is created in social contexts and through social interaction. We prize collaboration skills. We've heard it all, and buy it - that this is an increasingly connected age, that good jobs will involve work in teams, that globalization and demographic change will require the abilities to negotiate diversity, that the "problems of the twenty-first century" are only solvable by multidisciplinary teams, that in fact many of those social and political problems have roots in people who can't communicate outside themselves or their home group. We want to work for an America (for a world) where all people have equal prospects regardless of the color of their skin and circumstances of their birth. Then we exist in an educational system which mostly rewards people for individual accomplishment, and trains them accordingly in individualistic methods which are remarkably vulnerable to the privileges of class and race. Guinier points out that this is out of step. She uses Amartya Sen's definition that merit is the "incentive system which rewards the actions a society values" and points out the stunning disconnect between the skills we claim to value for democracy, and the "testocratic" skills of the K-Ph.D system. This focus on individualized tests and grades actually serves to reinforce power relationships in society - first, because those with the means to impact curricula or hire tutors have a massive incentive to do so, and perhaps more ominously, because students who succeed in the testocracy are allowed to believe that they have achieved success alone, without noting the assistance of their teachers, parents, and classmates. More democratic education would do a better job of reinforcing the importance of working together across difference - and provide that benefit more equitably to those locked out of our current system. The argument against the SAT is iron-clad. It predicts family income and race much better than grades in the first year of college, and was never designed to assess anything further out than the first year. Yet I found Guinier's hope for a system like the Posse Foundation's Dynamic Assessment Process a bit optimistic. Surely, if elite colleges shifted admissions to some form of behavioral interview, it would create a market for coaching. Such tutoring might be more socially valuable than classes on "SAT words" and how to answer a multiple choice question, but it would still be unevenly distributed. We can already see this in admissions processes which do value extracurricular and community involvement. Anyone can take such opportunities, and it makes the admissions process better to consider them. Kids whose families don't need them to work, or whose parents can shuttle them from school to club to volunteer site, can take advantage of more of them. It might still be better than the system we've got, but not quite as diverse as Guinier argues. Guinier goes on to suggest alternatives in college preparation, recruitment, and pedagogy. As someone who works with college professors on teaching issues, it's easy for me to hear the argument that we need to make changes in K-12 schools and the college admissions office. (It's always easier when someone else has to change.) Then she points out that it wouldn't be fair to bring students into college for their collaborative skills, and demand of them the same individualized pedagogy we tend to use now. Students selected for democratic skills will prosper most in a democratic classroom. Oh. That's a challenge. It struck me as interesting that the models here weren't particularly new to me. It seems impossible to read 5 articles on improving college teaching without someone bringing up the peer instruction work of Eric Mazur, as Guinier does. Yet most of the work in the "blended learning" sphere focuses simply on how group work and class discussion is better for retention and transfer of domain knowledge. That's an easy sell; it's harder to talk about the idea that you might actually shift your learning goals in a collaborative classroom. Guinier's frames these potentially fractious issues within the purpose of higher education in a democracy, and if you've accepted the assertion through the first half of the book, Of course, the assertion that college exists to develop good citizens is not universally accepted. Even among those who accept the general idea, we debate exactly what the proper components of a liberal education are. Guinier asserts that colleges exist to fill a democratic need, without much considering the counter-arguments, and other than skills related to diversity and teamwork, she doesn't have specific recommendations for a curriculum. Given how much we hear about colleges as paths to "good jobs", though, or how much "student development" can be taken for granted within the academy, Guinier provides a clear argument, crisply stated and well worth the read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    "One of the purposes of a public education system in a democratic society is to prepare citizens to participate effectively and meaningfully in the processes that govern us. A healthy democracy depends on everyone having equal opportunity to understand and shape public action. When our education system produces a culture of competition instead of collaboration, or when it produces citizens who cannot work together to solve problems or incorporate diverse voices, this has important consequences f "One of the purposes of a public education system in a democratic society is to prepare citizens to participate effectively and meaningfully in the processes that govern us. A healthy democracy depends on everyone having equal opportunity to understand and shape public action. When our education system produces a culture of competition instead of collaboration, or when it produces citizens who cannot work together to solve problems or incorporate diverse voices, this has important consequences for democracy." The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America, by Lani Guinier, discusses crucial (and disconcerting) issues in America's higher-education system, particularly the reliance on standardized testing for college admissions. I found Part I, which addresses the problem as a whole, extremely insightful and well-researched and -written. Part II, which discusses potential solutions, is lacking. While the author eventually gets to the point and lays out some ideas and successful examples, the first couple chapters (of Part II) simply read as case studies divorced from the main narrative. Rather than seeing the case studies as practical solutions to the "testocracy" problem, the reader is forced to infer the connection to the thesis. Sadly, the solution proposals seem like common sense, but educators and schools that successfully address the problem of inequality in education are few and far between. The final chapter ends abruptly and the "Conclusion" does a poor job of tying everything together and and back to Guinier's thesis. In fact, the conclusion reads as more of a mini-autobiography with some inspirational quotes thrown in. However, as an educator, I am fascinated by the data and examples used to discuss the problem. This is an issue that is constantly on my mind, and the statistics and anecdotes regarding the American higher-education system puts a lot of my day-to-day experiences in education into a more global perspective (democracy, elitism, etc.). Finally, Part II makes me feel very lucky to have worked in a school that so closely resembles the successful case studies. ***I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads Giveaways.***

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lyndsey

    Excellent. Must read. Guinier makes a compelling, research-based argument for creating a culture of collaboration rather than competition in our schools to combat the test-based culture that has developed. She calls this a shift to democratic merit. I think we're hard pressed to find a better conceptual argument for how to "save" our public school system from this epidemic of over-testing. (We also need to properly fund them, but that's a whole other discussion.) These ideas are also relevant to Excellent. Must read. Guinier makes a compelling, research-based argument for creating a culture of collaboration rather than competition in our schools to combat the test-based culture that has developed. She calls this a shift to democratic merit. I think we're hard pressed to find a better conceptual argument for how to "save" our public school system from this epidemic of over-testing. (We also need to properly fund them, but that's a whole other discussion.) These ideas are also relevant to community work as they really come down to how to live and make decisions with our peers. IT'S SO GOOD READ IT NOW.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    This book was ok but said the same thing over and over again without really going into depth to explain it. The fact that the SATs are not the best indicator of aptitude is a very solid point. But Guinier did not go into any explanation as to HOW these types of standardized tests are culturally biased, or what other socioeconomic advantages are often mistaken for merit. I didn't disagree with her, but often I read these books as if I were a person who totally believes in the meritocracy of the U This book was ok but said the same thing over and over again without really going into depth to explain it. The fact that the SATs are not the best indicator of aptitude is a very solid point. But Guinier did not go into any explanation as to HOW these types of standardized tests are culturally biased, or what other socioeconomic advantages are often mistaken for merit. I didn't disagree with her, but often I read these books as if I were a person who totally believes in the meritocracy of the US and doesn't understand the concept of cultural and socioeconomic bias. She would not have convinced me of much if I were that person, because she just said the same thing over and over again instead of delving in. The POSSE program and KIPP and Park Campus school were interesting to learn about, but certainly barely scratched the surface of the wide range of innovation going on in education. KIPP especially is running into problems for not being all that different from the traditional schools that challenge the concept of meritocracy.

  7. 4 out of 5

    wade

    This one gets five stars based on the discussion that it should bring about in education. This book challenges many popular beliefs about testing and how best to teach students. The author's two main theses are 1. We should scrap the SAT and other standardized tests as they are poor determinants of college success and 2. Students learn much more working in groups rather than as individuals. She brings evidence to support her conclusions. I am not ready to jump on the bandwagon whole hog but am This one gets five stars based on the discussion that it should bring about in education. This book challenges many popular beliefs about testing and how best to teach students. The author's two main theses are 1. We should scrap the SAT and other standardized tests as they are poor determinants of college success and 2. Students learn much more working in groups rather than as individuals. She brings evidence to support her conclusions. I am not ready to jump on the bandwagon whole hog but am willing to consider what she says as I am in the teaching profession.

  8. 5 out of 5

    William

    While I agree with Guinier on just about every point she makes, the subjects she covers simply cannot be covered effectively in only 160 pages. This seems something cobbled together just to produce a book, and covers the subjects of high school teaching and college admissions, neither of which I would expect her to have any first-hand familiarity with. Maybe it's just me, but most of the book seemed pretty obvious. It is common knowledge that the SAT is of limited value -- though it does have som While I agree with Guinier on just about every point she makes, the subjects she covers simply cannot be covered effectively in only 160 pages. This seems something cobbled together just to produce a book, and covers the subjects of high school teaching and college admissions, neither of which I would expect her to have any first-hand familiarity with. Maybe it's just me, but most of the book seemed pretty obvious. It is common knowledge that the SAT is of limited value -- though it does have some modest value in increasing the ability to predict college grades. That subject has been covered much more effectively by more complete works. But she does not cover the question of grade inflation, which is a parallel issue on predicting college performance. I agree with her indictment of the most prestigious schools, and wonder why to date I know of no evaluation of their "value added" for graduates. Bok and Bowen did demonstrate this for students of color, but essentially only in career outcomes. My sense is that undergraduate teaching is likely to be far better at liberal arts colleges. It is also distressing that Princeton and Harvard grads (and undoubtedly peers at similar schools) end up disproportionately in management consulting (without having managed anything) or investment banking. Some might feel these arewarped communities, yet Guinier makes it clear not only that she is a Harvard grad, but also that her son's alma mater is Yale. (Why did we need to know this?). Sure, I wish admissions were truly holistic, and maybe it is among students with parallel grades and testing. But now now that I work as an independent educational consultant, I have realized that some of my students blessed with admission to the most prestigious schools have far less interesting minds (and personalities) that other students these schools have turned down. The problem is how this can be changed. Kids at less strong high schools are much more likely to generate bland, brief or ineffective recommendations because the staff is not sophisticated in the most competitive admission processes. I headed a number of admission offices and was constantly frustrated that it was incredibly difficult to get readers to focus on intangibles such as drive, creativity and intellectuality. The problem is that guidebooks (and bond raters) focus on admission statistics, and the offices that admissions people report to want these metrics to rise annually. I am not familiar with all the cases Guinier discusses. However, I worked with Posse students for a number of years. The program has many downsides which Guinier never addresses. A number of schools have dropped Posse for those reasons. I agree that the idea of a Posse to support each other on an unfamiliar campus makes sense, and Posse does that well. On the other hand, I did not find the Posse cohorts superior in leadership to other students admitted to the school where I worked. Many had simply seen it as a way to get a full scholarship (they told me this). Posse often created an us vs them attitude for the Posse's view of the school, and I did not see them offering constructive change to the general community. It was also frustrating to be pressured to admit students who could not do the work, especially in the sciences, and to have to give full scholarships to wealthy white kids who had very weak high school academic performance and no real sign of leadership or other special qualities. It's also worth mentioning that while some of the affiliated schools share Posse's sense of their mission, many (perhaps most) do not, and see Posse as simply a source of students of color they have difficulty recruiting on their own. I know similar criticisms have been made about KIPP, though I cannot remember what they are. My point is that valid intellectual discourse requires discussing both strengths and weaknesses of ideas and programs, and this book "has drunk the koolaid." I am impressed with what Clark University has done to collaborate with their neighborhood. The teaching stories (centering on the benefits of group work) were fine, though much of this has been done and studied for forty or more years. The question which is not addressed is the extent to which teacher preparation programs effectively train people in how to do this kind of teaching well. I am skeptical, but I can't say I know much about the subject of teacher education. In the end, while I see immense value in Guinier's proposals, I do not see the book as even remotely effective in exploring them and rebutting their critics. There is just so much more that could be done on these subjects, and this book only scratches the surface and does not think as deeply as I thing it should have about the issues implementation would require and the downsides of some of the programs the extols.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Vernin

    I had wanted to read this book since it first appeared many years ago. I like Ms Guinier's style of writing and think that she is a sharp intellectual. While I do not agree with everything in this book I like her depth of research, citations and references, contextualization, and strength of argument. As a scientist and STEM scholar with experience in several academic institutions (both HBCU and PWI), some of the generalizations on how African Americans ring hollow and far too theoretical - part I had wanted to read this book since it first appeared many years ago. I like Ms Guinier's style of writing and think that she is a sharp intellectual. While I do not agree with everything in this book I like her depth of research, citations and references, contextualization, and strength of argument. As a scientist and STEM scholar with experience in several academic institutions (both HBCU and PWI), some of the generalizations on how African Americans ring hollow and far too theoretical - particularly from the Ivy League perspective. Fortunately, this is not the majority of the book. It is an insightful and worthwhile look at how the elite and the "favorite dark child elite" view the future and potential solutions for higher education.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Just okay--it's interesting seeing that SAT scores are not good predictors of success in college--high school GPA is better, independent of the rating of the school. The rest of the book is kind of mediocre. I agree with the principle -- our so-called meritocracy is not really a meritocracy. The bulk of the book is anecdotal, albeit interesting anecdotes.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Genevieve

    Lani Guinier takes a strong stand in The Tyranny of the Meritocracy against one of the sacred cows of higher education in the U.S.: the college admissions process. That takes guts. To Guinier, the current admissions process, which assesses merit largely on standardized testing—a “testocracy”—creates a feeder system that spits out graduates who are individualistic and entitled and sorely misses the greater mission of higher education to educate young minds toward civic-mindedness and leadership. Lani Guinier takes a strong stand in The Tyranny of the Meritocracy against one of the sacred cows of higher education in the U.S.: the college admissions process. That takes guts. To Guinier, the current admissions process, which assesses merit largely on standardized testing—a “testocracy”—creates a feeder system that spits out graduates who are individualistic and entitled and sorely misses the greater mission of higher education to educate young minds toward civic-mindedness and leadership. The first half of the book is dedicated to describing the flaws in the current system. To this, Guinier largely blames the weight the admissions process gives to the SAT and ACT. She cites credible research that shows the tests act more as predictors of socioeconomic status than of potential or performance in college. Wealthy families can afford test prep and tutoring; they can afford to send their kids to Nicaragua to volunteer at orphanages, or to attend some other summer program to pad their resumes. And a stellar college application, including high test scores, doesn’t necessarily reflect an applicant who is going to contribute to society. Whether or not you buy into the SATs-as-a-wealth test argument (and the author does make plenty of assumptions—e.g., what about the variations of scores within income brackets?), Guinier does make a compelling case nonetheless calling into question the usefulness of these tests as be-all-end-all metrics for admissions. Money matters—to a point (the correlation between socioeconomic status and SAT scores is around .40—fairly high, statistically speaking.) One counterargument to Guinier’s claims is that admissions tests like the SAT don’t really perpetuate disparities, they merely reflect them. Even before students take those admission tests in high school they have already been treated to an upbringing of benefits and advantages associated with family socioeconomic status—from better childhood nutrition and healthcare and access to cultural amenities and travel, to extended social networks and rigorous high school coursework, AP classes, and supportive teachers. Better school districts means wealthier school districts that can draw from a better tax base. In other words, the test is a straw man; the reason for those higher test scores isn’t the fault of the test but everything else that makes up a very stratified K-12 system. Maybe Guinier’s obsession with the bogey man of college admissions is all wrong. Maybe we should be looking at a bigger picture. And besides—the SAT is just one part of the application package being evaluated. The fuzzy stuff—extracurriculars, resumes—they can be gamed, too. For Guinier, what is troublesome is how merit in the current system is largely intrinsic, individualistic merit. Society needs people who have three skills: “collaborative problem-solving, independent thinking, and creative leadership.” In other words the soft skills, the abstract qualities that don’t come through in a multiple choice exam—like character, integrity, grit. According to Guinier, “Our colleges and universities have to take pride not in compiling an individualistic group of very-high-scoring students but in nurturing a diverse group of thinkers and facilitating how they solve complex problems creatively.” Far more compelling is the second half of the book, where Guinier outlines the "solutions" for fixing our current meritocracy. Strangely, she glosses over how to retool the admissions process in favor of changing how learning takes place in the lecture halls of colleges and universities. Two ideas she explores are collaborative learning and peer learning. She illustrates these concepts by delving into various case studies and examples, as well as discussing psychology research delving into teamwork-based learning modalities. Bottom-line: Change the instructional format from a passive, lecture-based one into one where students work in pairs or small groups to discuss and solve problems. Like in the real world. The Tyranny of the Meritocracy advocates for a cultural shift in education—and a much-needed one. It was a thought-provoking read. If anything it made me think back to junior and senior year of high school and the high stakes of applying to universities and schools. Was the admissions process fair? Did the various schools I applied to make the right decision in choosing me? Did my school teach me to be Guinier’s ideal of the creative leader, independent thinker, and collaborative problem solver? This is a worthy book to read, especially for its policy message about how we need to change the way students are taught, how we need to train students to be people who value the learning process over the right answer, and who value effort over ability. [Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher for an honest and candid review. This review was originally written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.]

  12. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    Guinier provides practical examples of her hypothesis in action. The US’s insistence on individualism and merit is deleterious to us all and she deftly argues that point. Well worth the read for anyone who believes systems need fixing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    An interesting perspective on testing and what that really means for higher education. This book gave me alot to think about!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Feathers

    I'd be interested to read an updated version given the events of the past year.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sabreen

    The American school system is messed up. On some level, everyone knows this. We see the “bad” schools and the “good” schools. We see the tracking system failing. We see the mad rush to ace the SAT, hinging all your college dreams on a single (okay, maybe more if you retake it) Saturday morning. But rarely does anyone point out how deeply the issue of “testocratic” merit is connected to the power elite and the widening rich/poor gap. I think that this book explains the problem in a clear and conc The American school system is messed up. On some level, everyone knows this. We see the “bad” schools and the “good” schools. We see the tracking system failing. We see the mad rush to ace the SAT, hinging all your college dreams on a single (okay, maybe more if you retake it) Saturday morning. But rarely does anyone point out how deeply the issue of “testocratic” merit is connected to the power elite and the widening rich/poor gap. I think that this book explains the problem in a clear and concise way. Now I’m biased as taking a class on educational inequality was exactly what got me interested in my major (sociology). So half of this info is not new to me, yet the way it was presented felt fresh. Assessing “democratic merit” rather than “testocratic merit” is a compelling concept. The author’s argument was easy to follow-- educational strategies need to change and collaborative learning is benificial for everyone. Successful programs like the USPCS or the Posse are inspiring examples, as well as the classroom teaching techniques mentioned later o. The rhetoric is persuasive enough that I finished the book with a sense of optimism about reforming the American educational system. However, I am left with questions. The second half of the book addresses the individualist culture on like a micro level? These strategies are helpful and all but it doesn’t really cover the question at the beginning: how can we get standardized testing to have less influence? It’s embedded in our system. Colleges use numerical measures to narrow down the thousands of applicants they get every year. . So, how do you measure democratic merit? Are you telling me they’d have to evaulate every single applicant “holistically”? Instead of judging them based on numbers, judge their entire “character”? As skewed as standardized testing may be, letting humans be gatekeepers may not be so great either. Cognitive bias against minorities and poor people can exist no matter how impartial an examiner thinks they are. Would BDI scores replace SAT scores as a measure of one’s worth as a human being? How is a test based on observers making subjective judgements of “who collaborates well” more fair than a theoretically objective test? You can’t study for a BDI. And in my humble opinion, failing a test of character is more damaging to one’s self esteem than failing a series of multiple choice questions. So you'd have a whole class of people barred from higher education because of some vague measure of “character” like some kind of bad dystopian novel. The assertion in this book, that democratic merit will be an oval to replace testocratic merit's pyramid, is faulty. (This is less a criticism of the book and more of the idea presented) Where you have merit, you have a pyramid. It doesn’t matter if it’s based on numbers or based on percieved grit and social skils. But okay, I suppose there has to be an underclass somewhere. After all, the leadery, resilient, college-deserving folks need *some* masses to control. Or maybe the author doesn’t suggest to change the conventional college admissions process? But is that not the natural consequence of a “culture shift” away from testocracy? I’m overthinking it probably. Nevertheless this book raises several points about privelege and social problems, providing valuable suggestions towards a more democratic future.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rama

    The transformation of higher education in America In this book, Harvard University Law Professor Lani Guinier presents a simple argument in favor of collaborative models that strengthen higher educational systems. She calls for overhaul of the standards of merit based admission policies adapted by colleges and universities. The merit systems dictate the admissions practices that favor the select few; mainly the economically privileged, leaving behind the underprivileged families. The testocracy The transformation of higher education in America In this book, Harvard University Law Professor Lani Guinier presents a simple argument in favor of collaborative models that strengthen higher educational systems. She calls for overhaul of the standards of merit based admission policies adapted by colleges and universities. The merit systems dictate the admissions practices that favor the select few; mainly the economically privileged, leaving behind the underprivileged families. The testocracy is a standardized quantifiable merit that values perfect scores but ignores character, says the author. In her law class, Professor Guinier gives the option of writing an exam in a group two or three. The upside of this task is that it tests one’s ability to implement ideas and commit to communicating one’s perspectives in a problem solving exercise. She offers many examples of new collaborative initiatives that prepare students for engaged citizenship in our increasingly multicultural society. In the inner city neighborhoods of Chicago, residents participated at the community meetings because they saw that their participation made better schools and safer neighborhoods. The city also developed a curriculum for them to learn problem solving and collaboration skills; Archon Fung’s work in Chicago with police, community leaders, schools and city officials is a positive example. Several other examples include; Rail side and other public urban schools in San Francisco, Seattle and New York. Lani Guinier is well known as President Bill Clinton's nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in April 1993, but later he withdrew his nomination, following a wave of negative press which distorted political and academic views of Professor Guinier. This work is certainly worth reading since it examines the responsibility of higher educational institutions in creating learning communities for tomorrow’s leaders.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Seth

    Many great suggestions for the educational policies of tomorrow, but also far too many straw men, and far too tendentious. Standardized testing is portrayed as wrong-headed... except when it's used to validate one of the pedagogical approaches the author recommends (which do seem excellent). College grades are likewise often judged unreliable unless they are being used to prove that some group has made great strides. Things which are lauded in some parts of the book are vilified in others, witho Many great suggestions for the educational policies of tomorrow, but also far too many straw men, and far too tendentious. Standardized testing is portrayed as wrong-headed... except when it's used to validate one of the pedagogical approaches the author recommends (which do seem excellent). College grades are likewise often judged unreliable unless they are being used to prove that some group has made great strides. Things which are lauded in some parts of the book are vilified in others, without enough subtlety or some overarching consistency. There are irritating lapses into (potential) innumeracy. For instance, saying that there's only a small correlation between SAT scores and grades *within* a college may be like saying that there's only a small correlation between height and skills *within* the NBA. YES, but that doesn't mean that SAT/height have so little validity. Likewise, positive correlations (high school grades / college grades) are presented without quantities, leaving the reader to wonder at their actual values. It's stated that group X has lower SAT math scores than group Y, yet gets the same college math grades as group Y... without acknowledgment that self-selection of majors and classes could be a huge factor. It should go without saying that many of the underlying issues the author is addressing are huge problems, and I don't meant to suggest that they're not; I just don't happen to think that this particular book addresses them consistently and well.

  18. 5 out of 5

    David

    This was a quick read, and when I read in the acknowledgments that the book was in development for a decade, I could just imagine her editors tearing their hair out, trying to get her to finish. Oh well, at least the final product is good! And it is important, so that may be one reason why it is best that it be a quick read: So people who think they are busy have no excuse! No surprise that I like the book, take one look at that subtitle and you know I'm on board: "Democratizing Higher Education This was a quick read, and when I read in the acknowledgments that the book was in development for a decade, I could just imagine her editors tearing their hair out, trying to get her to finish. Oh well, at least the final product is good! And it is important, so that may be one reason why it is best that it be a quick read: So people who think they are busy have no excuse! No surprise that I like the book, take one look at that subtitle and you know I'm on board: "Democratizing Higher Education in America." But the book does a nice job of making the case for questioning the supposed meritocracy of testing as a way of improving both education and the society that will be produced by our educational approaches, rather than merely an ideological argument for more democracy. Even if I already agreed with everything she said in the book, I'm still glad I read it. Gives me hope.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kenny

    read, rousing, bears greater scrutiny - got through the first part with the philosophical underpinnings and the recurrent touchstone of Father John's example of mentorship of the young Clarence Thomas (what went wrong there?), and the contrasting example of Sonia Sotomayor's rising above the naysayers. I particularly agree with, and personally had voiced as a wee undergrad (but clearly not loud enough) how colleges and universities have a greater obligation to turning low performing students int read, rousing, bears greater scrutiny - got through the first part with the philosophical underpinnings and the recurrent touchstone of Father John's example of mentorship of the young Clarence Thomas (what went wrong there?), and the contrasting example of Sonia Sotomayor's rising above the naysayers. I particularly agree with, and personally had voiced as a wee undergrad (but clearly not loud enough) how colleges and universities have a greater obligation to turning low performing students into higher achievers rather than getting the high achievers right off the bat - in other words, shifting attention from admission to mission-driven. It's what they say about good cooks - anyone can make filet mignon or lobster, but it takes a really good cook to make food out of garbage.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Shane

    Provides a nice overview of the current research on teaching and learning across higher education. Targeted at a popular audience, but we'll cited with extensive end notes. The idea of testocracy and meritocracy is an interesting framework that can be a useful way to think about the topic.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Katharine Rudzitis

    Great explanation of the history of the SAT and other parts of the college process, but few actionable suggestions for change.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Everyone who cares about education, democracy, and social justice needs to read this book. NOW. GO.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    378.1982 G9644 2015

  24. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Jiang

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

  26. 4 out of 5

    Asen Dimitrov

  27. 5 out of 5

    Angie

  28. 4 out of 5

    Regan Baker

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rochelle

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tom Swiderski

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