Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Edward Teller's Memoirs.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reaction to chapter 2 of Guinier's book

One idea that I find tantalizing is the suggestion on pages 24-25 that the new elite feels it has earned what an earlier elite cohort knew it had inherited.  It is an idea that makes perfect sense, accords with anecdotal observation...but might not be true.  Or might be true but irrelevant.  The modern elites are at least as concerned with window-dressing diversity as the earlier elites were with public displays of charitable largesse.  The modern elites send their youth to do resume-building volunteer projects (because the elite colleges insist on it) while earlier elites sent their sons (we needn't even pretend that they gave much thought to the education of their daughters) to engage in character-building athletic and team activities in prep schools.  I admittedly have no statistics on the prevalence of any of these behaviors in past or present, but she has no statistics on the relative prevalence of entitled attitudes in past or present.  Her goal is (presumably) to argue for reducing the use of a system of metrics, as a response to growing inequalities whose statistical validity is well known, yet she makes numbers-free assertions on prevailing attitudes while ignoring known patterns of past behavior.

Also, on page 25 she suggests that Ivy League grads are arrogant and narrow in their thinking because they have aced multiple choice tests for which each question can have only one right answer.  First, I know an Ivy League grad who is arrogant about his enlightenment and sensitivity, and who is narrow in his thinking because he happens to be an expert in the most important subject in the world :) Second, more seriously, surely classes that emphasize writing are an important part of the solution to narrow thinking, but the evaluation of writing is at least as subjective and vulnerable to cultural bias as any multiple choice question on antonyms or whatever.  Indeed, expensive essay coaching is part of the package for rich kids seeking admission to elite schools.  This is not to say that we should favor multiple choice over essays, just that I see more lamentation of problems than a consideration of tradeoffs that could move us forward.

Also, on page 19 she notes that the LSAT predicts only 15% of the variance in grades, and thus characterizes it as being wrong 85% of the time.  Leaving aside, for the moment, whether predicting grades is or ought to be the main concern of an admissions officer, failing to predict 85% of the variance does not mean that a measure is useless.  It merely means that the measure should not be used as the sole basis for decisions, but rather should be combined with others.  Indeed, I am not aware of any US admissions process that is entirely based on one number.  The only systems that even come close to that are foreign countries with much higher stakes college admissions tests, and I don't know that most of those countries are any worse than us on economic inequality.  (Or, at least, not the developed countries.)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"One idea that I find tantalizing is the suggestion on pages 24-25 that the new elite feels it has earned what an earlier elite cohort knew it had inherited. It is an idea that makes perfect sense, accords with anecdotal observation...but might not be true. Or might be true but irrelevant. "

I've heard people make this claim, but from casual reading, it seems to me that *every* elite throughout history has a story justifying their status.

- Barry

Alex Small said...

I'm also not sure that graduates of top colleges wouldn't be just as cocky about whatever other rubric they got in in.

"I totally CRUSHED the teamwork portion of the interview!"

"What can I say? People like us, from the good schools, are naturally more attuned to the societal good. That's why we're in charge."

Alex Small said...

I'm also not sure that graduates of top colleges wouldn't be just as cocky about whatever other rubric they got in in.

"I totally CRUSHED the teamwork portion of the interview!"

"What can I say? People like us, from the good schools, are naturally more attuned to the societal good. That's why we're in charge."