Dumbing Down the SAT

Posted on March 25, 2014

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“Social justice” has a nice ring to it. In fact, just about any word joined to “justice” tends to have a comforting sound. “Racial justice,” “justice for all,” “we want justice!” they all call forth a resonance in the American public.
So does “equality.” Let’s put them together. We’re for “equal justice for all.” Who can argue with that principle? “All men are created equal,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, although we argued in a column last year that not all are created equal, as in “the same.”
By “equal,” however, I think Jefferson meant all possess equal natural rights. That T.J. also owned black slaves kind of tarnished his credentials as the ideologue of freedom, but, heck, we all have our warts.
Recently the College Board issued new standards for its iconic college admissions exam, the Standard Achievement Test, or SAT. If one reads through the changes–eliminating the essay, eliminating penalties for guessing, eliminating old, long words not in common usage, simplifying the mathematics–one has to come to the inevitable conclusion that the exam has been made easier.
The question is why? Its supporters say it is to “bridge economic and demographic barriers” and to “focus on the knowledge and skills that current research shows are most essential for college and career readiness and success.” That last phrase, by the way, ties it to the principle driving the immensely controversial Common Core which expresses the same end: the “college and career readiness” of potential students.
If you haven’t heard of it, the “Common Core” is the Obama administration’s agenda for what schools should be teaching. It is the federal camel’s nose under the tent of what many consider to be the business of the states.
Critics of the new SATs claim it is just another step in the program of the Obama administration to promote social justice. But embracing “social justice” has to be done with some care, for if you embrace one abstract principle like social justice you may step all over another one like liberty which we like pretty well also.
The same goes for equality. We’re all for equality, but it can sometimes come at the cost of freedom, another precept we find congenial and part of our heritage and, indeed, one of the fundamental ones.
“Social justice” has a special meaning in the jargon of intellectuals and social engineers, especially of the Left. It means leveling society, promoting equality rather than competition, celebrating sameness rather than differences, “leveling the playing field” so no one is left behind, another favorite phrase of educators.
Let’s get even more specific. The Common Core and the new SATs play to the lowest common denominators, invoking the principle that some people in American life—women, Hispanics, African Americans, and you can add any minority you wish, such as gays, Lesbians, Asians (be careful, however, Asians do better in our schools than the general population, and women are now in the majority in American demographics)—need to be given special privileges to achieve equality or parity within society and overcome ancient discrimination against them.
To do all this, everyone has to be lifted up by government. These “lift ups” come in all sorts of packages with different names– entitlements, benefits, insurances, social and economic networks, quotas, etc.—that invariably produce a dependence upon government.
The new SAT is a remarkably accurate bell weather, or indicator, of this ideology to inculcate social justice across American life. Since, in the nature of the world, some students are going to excel, some are going to founder, and some are downright going to fail, depending upon their background, their families, their income, their nature, their (dare we say it?) Intelligent Quotients, or IQs, something needs to be done to ensure that all survive and prosper. No child left behind.
Rather than push students to excel, rather than pull out the achievers from the pack, rather than promote excellence in learning across the board, from literature to chemistry to grammar, we lower the goal posts so all can kick their field goals and be happy.
In some schools, I’m told, you can retake the test if you failed, and you get the same questions the second time you take it. In some colleges, you can’t fail freshman English. You just keep retaking it until you pass.
When you are on an aircraft, bouncing around in night clouds and rain, lightning strikes flashing outside your window, and every one a bit uptight, do you want a captain and first officer in the cockpit who may have gotten there on some quota for minorities? Or, if you have to go under the knife, like in surgery, do you want the best, the very best, skilled surgeon who has gone through a very long and demanding apprenticeship—one that many failed and dropped out–to reach the level in her profession when she is in charge of your life? Or would you be satisfied with someone who moved through the system, stressing equality and contentment rather than learning and excellence?
Ask yourselves what you want for your children and grandchildren, tomorrow’s takers of tomorrow’s SATs. Do you want them to be comfortable, or do want them to be challenged? Do you want them to be in a school system that pushes them to learn and excel, or one that wants them to be happy?
I know there are lots of exceptions and buts and other factors at work. I am an Hispanic, I’m an old guy who collects Social Security (I worked for that BTW), and I know that social justice in history has often been a heck of a lot better than tyranny, dictatorship, racism, elitism and the rot that has run through some of our civilizations.
But we have to make decisions based on big, broad principles, and you need to line up with those you think are not only best for you, but also for your family, your children, your community, and your country. Dumbing down the SATs is going in the wrong direction.

This essay appeared in my column The Port Rail in The Tuscaloosa News as Justice is No Reason to Dumb Down the SATs Sunday March 30, 2014

Posted in: Life in America