Monday, October 22, 2007

The g-factor

My "courtship" with Dave went something like this. "Hi." "Hi." "What did you get on the SAT?" "XXX on math. XXX on verbal. You?" "800 on both." "Combined?" "Ha."

That conversation, which occurred at Bennigan's on North Academy in 1984, as I sat at a table holding hands with my cute-but-inferior tennis pro boyfriend, sealed our fate. Dave and I were less than crazy about each other. Our DNA, on the other hand, fell fast and hard. Over the moon in fact. Our double-stranded helices playfully batted amino acids at each other, wanting to intertwine forever in a heart-shaped petri dish. Messenger RNA played Yenta. We were both far more concerned about the g-factor, inherent ability to learn, IQ for you old schoolers, than the g-spot, which I still don't understand well or care much about. Really.

Our top colleges had traditionally drawn from the spawn of the affluent. Students from northeastern prep schools such as Exeter and Andover were the incoming freshman class. Higher education was not for the many, but for the privileged few. Thank goodness that a rebel Rockefeller or Carnegie daughter defied her parents and married a cowboy from Wyoming. The rich began to question the system. "How can I get my dung-covered grandson into Princeton? I know he is far more brilliant than some of these Vermont yahoos. I know! Let's create a test that shows off the Mayflower genome. Diamonds in the American rough." Thus the SAT was born.

For many years the SAT served a noble purpose. Intelligent hardworking children from mediocre schools, from up-and-coming western states, from blue collar families, could distinguish themselves as better than their circumstances would normally allow. Stanford, the "Harvard of the West," helped America meet her Manifest Destiny.

But the rich are not comfortable with a level playing field. Perhaps they fear that too many trophy wives have diluted their genetic purity. I don't know. But, predictably, they began to climb back up Mount Superior. What was designed to be a test taken after a good night's sleep, by anyone, became a game to be won. Expensive review courses and other manipulations once again favored the privileged few. Not about to give up flagship universities to the underclass, they changed the rules of engagement.

Educators say that the SAT tells us nothing much. Yes, a certain segment of society has an inherent superior ability to learn, to achieve what they've been asked to achieve. No surprise there. But it is a limited quest. A limited vision. And a poor indicator of future success. Superiority for its own sake is a dead end. Our kids can walk around now with pride but not purpose. They can achieve but not accomplish. The SAT has become the measure of a person. Works aside. That's sad. I feel for my children, being raised in this environment. They want to do well, and achievement is what it takes. I rue the pressure they feel, but I am unable to remove them from the competition.

Abolish the SAT. Abolish the ACT. Abolish the CSAP. Let the measure of a person be what they DO. If they work hard to attain good grades, let us honor that. I made a mistake when I thought that good genes were the loftiest goal. Not so.

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