Schools and delinquency
January 30, 2008 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Who wrote that the meritocratic nature of schools contributes to juvenile delinquency?

It goes like this: Schools are meritocracies, but they are pyramidal, and only a small number of students can excel and receive the rare, precious rewards of top academic performance. This REQUIRES that many, indeed most, students perform poorly, relatively speaking, and the system needs lots of failures to remain in the system to make success a rare and therefore esteemed thing. So you have huge masses of students stuck in a system in which their failure is required, and they are warehoused with peers who are often delinquent or otherwise troubled. Take these kids out of school, put them in jobs or apprenticeships where they can succeed, and you have less delinquency.

Interesting argument that runs counter to received "stay in school (at all costs)" mantra, and I lecture on this every time I teach sociology of youth crime. Problem is, I can't find out who said this.

posted by ethnomethodologist to Society & Culture (2 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is probably worth checking into:
Society and Education: A Book of Readings - Page 79
by Robert James Havighurst, Bernice Levin Neugarten, Jacqueline M. Falk
"Instead of breeding Huxley's Alphas and Betas, the Meritocracy School System
polishes the bright and placates the dull."
It's categorized under the "Educational Sociology" section.

Page 88 starts with "The Dangers of Meritocracy". I didn't see it on my NetLibrary, and the google preview is limited. Amazon lists some versions as old as 1957, though the worldcat listing says 1967.
posted by cashman at 1:18 PM on January 30, 2008

I don't know if it helps, but The Big Test by Nicholas Lemann is a pretty good history of the idea of meritocratic education in the U.S.
posted by General Malaise at 2:03 PM on January 30, 2008

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