My son Alex’s school puts on a highly prestigious musical each year. Competition for the lead roles is tough. Closed-door auditions are held to ensure the most talented kids get the leading roles – reward-through-merit in action you might say.
Apart from the fact that some parents involved in the production appeared to be giving their kids an insiders leg-up: passing on privileged information that would give them a rather large edge over the competition.
I’ve been pondering this as I have been thinking about one of the more subversive ideas floating around in academia – the idea that someone’s achievements should depend on their abilities; not on color, creed, sex, or a leg-up from the “old boys” network.
Of course everyone knows that reward-through-merit is a wonderful idea that is usually the first against the wall come the metaphorical revolution – just look at politics if you doubt that. Which is why academic adherence to the concept, while seemingly mainstream, is so wonderfully subversive.
The only trouble is, this subversive streak doesn’t often stretch to a primary source of merit-distain – parent politics. Or to be more precise, what we teach our kids about what really matters as we try and get them to the front of the queue by any means possible.
Alex didn’t make the cut in the auditions. I suspect it was because he auditioned in the voice of Gollum – the musical is Grease! But I do wonder whether there were other children that may have made on merit, if it wasn’t for the insider-parent network.
More significantly, I wonder where these early lessons of “merit is for loosers” take us. Wherever it is, I’m rather glad that, in the maze of academia, merit still has some standing.
Of course, I am fairly new here…