March 10, 2003

I just read an interesting

I just read an interesting column in today's BDH: College education an opportunity, not a reward. It brings up some interesting points that aren't often mentioned in the affirmative action debate; when we hear people say things like "that minority person stole the spot of a more-qualified white person", why is it that we never question whether the white person was in fact more qualified? What, really, are the qualifications one needs to get into college? Certainly one would hope for some amount of basic, general knowledge, but that often seems to be a convenient bonus rather than a prerequisite (God knows that even the good schools don't seem to be teaching kids how to write well anymore). If we assume for the sake of argument that motivation and intellectual curiosity are the dominant, or at least major, factors in "being qualified" for college, then grades and scores are at best a poor proxy for this information, which may approximate the motivation and curiosity of people of some backgrounds (i.e. well-funded suburban and magnet schools), but works considerably less well for others.

Much of the rhetoric about affirmative action---both pro and con, actually---regards college primarily as an entitlement of those who got the best grades in high school. The pro-AA folks may have missed the boat by allowing this as an axiom of debate and settling for the weaker argument, which boils down to "sure, we're violating the entitlement, but it's worth it in this case." They should consider the bolder but truer "no, college isn't an entitlement for anyone, and the prime qualifications are not measurable quantities---we think that race and economic background should be used to help interpret the grades and the scores when trying to determine whether someone is motivated and intellectually curious enough to attend college."

"You want to hang out with Dick Cheney and Doctor Evil, or you want to go hang out with the Indians, and ice cream?" --Winona LaDuke Posted by blahedo at 10:55am on 10 Mar 2003

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