Thursday, January 22, 2004

You should try teaching there 

Kimberly Swygert exposes some foolish thinking about the SAT by the current president of Pitzer College. As a former visiting professor there, I'm fairly certain that this movement to eliminate the SAT was not President Trombley's initiative. And one has to understand Pitzer's heritage and mission. It has always been the "alt school" in the Claremont constellation, and I think the elimination of the SAT fits that self-image. There are students I think would be great for Pitzer, and others who would not be, and frankly I doubt that the decision of "who fits" would correlate well with SAT scores. And Trombley's op-ed -- which is really an advertisement for Pitzer, which is her job after all -- is an attempt to place her institution with schools like "Bates, Bowdoin, Hamilton, Franklin and Marshall, Mt. Holyoke and ... Sarah Lawrence."

Moreover, if "we want students who are diverse and talented, with interests and achievements in and out of the classroom," they've already said they aren't going to emphasize academic achievement. At least she saved students some money.

That said, this paragraph just annoyed me.

We Americans desperately want to be reassured that we are the best when it comes to equalizing opportunity and rewarding merit, and the SAT affords us the chance to indulge our appetite for seemingly objective measurement. But at the underside of our meritocracy is a car-crash culture, filled with such wrecks along the self-esteem highway as television programs like "Survivor," "The Bachelor," "American Idol" and "Extreme Makeover."

And that's where you'll find the real message of the SAT: If you are the last one standing, having beaten your competitors by any means necessary, you are the winner. Everyone else is a loser.
Swygert calls this for what it is:
First she natters on about how the SAT was developed in the 1920's - I suppose we're supposed to assume that it's still a product of those old, bad, racist days, despite the fact that eugenic science has been discredited for fifty years - then she claims that the SAT is the same thing as reality TV, which is an ugly by-product of the 2000's. What's more, if I read this right, she's against all competition whatsover, because competition produces winners and losers.
And, Swygert continues, using a GPA or class standing instead doesn't change the competitive nature of admissions at Pitzer, just the arena of competition.

UPDATE: Read Kimberly first, then read Cathy Seipp's send-up of President Trombley. I'll simply say, don't wait for the trustees to do anything.