I’ve been reading Michael Sandel’s powerful new book The Tyranny of Merit, and it occurred to me that, in over 25 years of being involved in higher education, I have never heard of anyone unpacking the knapsack of college privilege. The more I reflect on this, the more stunning I find it, given just how many advantages our society bestows on college graduates.
The Tyranny of Merit is a searing account of the way that our system of meritocracy has perverted our democracy, and the central responsibility that higher education bears for this disaster. Meritocracy can be defined as the idea that people with the highest merit should rise to the top, and that those who have achieved high places have earned their comfort, status and authority.
Merit is, of course, contextual. In a warrior society, merit would be determined by prowess with a gun or a sword. In our knowledge-based economy, graduating from college is the single most powerful symbol of making it. But, as Sandel highlights, there is a problem with this. He writes, “Elites have so valorized a college degree -- both as an avenue for advancement and as the basis for social esteem -- that they have difficulty understanding the hubris a meritocracy can generate.”
But clearly having a college degree is a form of identity that confers massive privileges, which also impact lived experience and perspective. So why do other forms of identity get movements with profound cultural power (Me Too and Black Lives Matter), while the scant attention paid to educational privilege is wrapped in the boring language of economics with phrases like "the returns to education"?
The hard truth is that, even as colleges critique other forms of privilege, they do everything in their power to advertise the massive advantages graduates of their institution enjoy. College equals privilege. It’s part of the brand, a feature, not a bug.
I’m trying to find a kinder word for this than hypocrisy, but if we look at this situation from the perspective of those who do not have college degrees, how would we characterize it? So many people learn in college that privilege is nefarious, and yet they are part of a system whose goal is to confer advantage.
Early learning programs are collapsing under the financial and logistical strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a July survey, 40% of child care providers, and half of providers of color, reported that they were certain they would close permanently without public assistance. Now, about half of providers report having to take on debt and raise their tuition by 11% to 14% to stay open due to pandemic-related expenses. If families who are already struggling financially during the pandemic cannot afford increased tuition, early learning programs will continue to permanently close. Black and Latino families already had inadequate access to high-quality early learning programs before the pandemic, and these new child care challenges will reduce this access even more.
Among the reasons people aren’t enrolling, particularly at community colleges, is that they’re too busy navigating economic uncertainty to make college a priority. But Strada’s data suggest that when workers eventually do set out to learn new skills, they’re most likely to enroll in a nondegree program or seek skills training.
The full spectrum of high- to low-quality instructional techniques implemented in traditional, face-to-face classrooms across the country can be implemented in some form or another (with similar rates of success) virtually. The prerequisites for quality education—whether it be online or face-to-face—are more similar than they are different. If you want to know whether crisis schooling (regardless of whether it's online or face-to-face) can ever compare with non-crisis schooling, then of course not. That speaks more to the pandemic and the state of this country than it provides any true test of the promise or limitations of online learning.
I’ll state at the outset here that “firsts” are always a tricky thing to write about, especially when it comes to an artistic technique as widespread and important as vanishing point perspective. There are other candidates and other artists for this record, but the Florentine fresco Holy Trinity by early Renaissance artist Masaccio is a widely recognised contender for the first ever use of a single vanishing point in a work of art.
A growing body of scientific evidence also shows that the joy delivered by birds isn’t just anecdotal. Research increasingly links exposure to nature—and specifically, exposure to birds—with improved wellbeing.
The number of rural students expected to enroll in college in the near future has plummeted due to COVID-19. A major indicator of this trend is that the number of rural students completing federal application forms for financial aid has dropped by 16 percent compared to last year. This is higher than the 14.2 percent drop amongst urban students.
In some rural states, the drop was even bigger. For example, West Virginia experienced a 26.1 percent decrease, while Louisiana fell by 26.4 percent.
Back in the first heyday of artificial intelligence, there was a lot of optimism about the rate of progress. In a fairly short time, computers could already do complicated math and play chess faster and better than people. AI researchers had already solved many of the problems that were a marker of intelligence in people – the hard stuff – so surely a truly intelligent machine was not far behind?
Well, it turns out that it’s actually really difficult to teach a robot to walk on two legs, or train an algorithm that can simulate a convincing conversation. It’s not impossible, as the last few years of AI have demonstrated, but it’s several orders of magnitude more complicated than something like chess. To put it another way, for a machine hard is easy and easy is hard.
For instance, at a national level, caesarean section rates are over 50 per cent in the Dominican Republic Brazil, Egypt and Turkey, compared to around 30 per cent in Australia and the USA, and less than three per cent in South Sudan, Nigeria and Ethiopia. The World Health Organization has advised that caesarean section rates higher than 15 per cent at a population level may not improve women’s or babies’ health; while caesarean section rates below 10 per cent may be a sign of inadequate access to quality maternity care.