Fave Reads Friday #10.2 – Meritocracy and other Made Up Words

Have you ever heard that word Meritocracy? Did you know that it’s not a real word? More of the many bits of information that I learned while reading The Big Test by Nicholas Lemann.

The word meritocracy was created by Michael Young in his 1958 work titled The Rise of Meritocracy. His work was meant as a satirical piece to pick apart  a system in which children, from a young age, are chosen for their role in society (think something like Giver or Divergent) and that a chosen few are meant to rule based on MERIT; which in this case is determined by intelligence. The word meritocracy is a combination of two unrelated root words, merit a Latin word and cracy (kratos) a Greek word. It is roughly translated to mean that through your worth your are given power.

The idea behind a meritocratic society is that through standardized testing we could best choose who would be successful at what skill and then guide our citizens toward that lot in life so as to be the most productive society in existence. This is what Lemann writes about in The Big Test. However, the main idea gets twisted over time and the use of these standardize tests also gets twisted.

Think about this……when I was in Kindergarten I was given an IQ test which pushed me into the talented and gifted program at my elementary school. The reliability and validity of such tests are often highly debated, but essentially I was chosen. I was bored in traditional school, but never really taught that being able to learn quickly and test well is not the same thing as having true merit. I was involved in talented and gifted programs through 8th grade, breezing through on good test scores. Upon reaching high school I was put on the advanced track for science, math, and language arts. I attempted the advanced track for social science (history) and language, but ended up dropping out of each. When I was in 7th grade I began taking the SAT and ACT exams as part of a program that offered summer camps to students identified as talented and gifted. I scored so well that I went to a camp and studied exercise physiology and biomechanics one summer and genetics in the summer between 8th and 9th grades.

My high school emphasized involvement and I was on sports teams, involved in debate, the lit mag, the yearbook, cultural awareness groups, volunteering at my elementary school and church, and holding part time jobs. I did all that I could on a limited budget and without true guidance as to what any of it meant.

Upon graduating high school, with alright grades and high test scores, I received zero scholarship offers and, because my family was not well off, I attended a state school and proceeded to do fair. I didn’t know how to study and lacked the discipline to perform homework to the fullest. Why? Because I’d always tested well which had been enough to get by in all schooling up until college. I spent time testing out this and that and avoided things that were too challenging or required too much work on my part as far as classes went. I was going to be a lifeguard instructor at one point, but decided that I didn’t have the time. I had a million part time jobs and didn’t stick with any of them very long. I got married and moved around.

In the last couple of years of my undergraduate programs I started to perform better in school and finished with a fairly decent GPA. I eventually became certified as a Personal Trainer and, after moving around a bit more, decided to take a stab at graduate school. (Mostly because a graduate degree “guaranteed” a better job) I studied for about a week and took the GRE; doing well enough to get into graduate school. This attempt at school was much of the same as college…..fair. But, fair is not good enough for graduate school.

I left graduate school for awhile at the end of my marriage and then attempted an MBA. I didn’t want to have to take the GMAT, so I dropped that as well. I eventually ended up at another graduate school where I flourished academically and where my interest in a lot of different things started to grow. I have always though of my journey to where I am today as more linear than it was. I had always considered myself a good student. But, after reading Lemann’s book and considering the true meritocracy I started to really question my own journey.

Last week Evangeline commented about about the idea of two different students applying to college:

This is fascinating. After taking the SAT and a few state mandated standardized tests, the whole system has piqued my interest. The idea of a number playing such a significant role in my future seems a little scary. I know colleges say they look at applicants holistically, but in real life, if person A has a perfect SAT score and person B has an average score, we know who’s getting accepted. I’ll definitely be adding this to my reading list. Thanks for sharing!

Which of these two students has merit? Who should we give the power to? How would you decide?

These are all questions that have been going through my head regarding myself, my children, and the world around us since reading Lemann’s book. How should we decide who goes to college? What is college for? Who should be running our country? What is merit?

Lemann ends his book with many of the same questions and I’m not sure I have the answers. All I know is that being selected at age 5 or 6 did nothing to make me the type of societal member that was going to contribute highly to significant causes….life has done more of that to me than anything…..yoga has done even more. Being identified as having the ability to learn and learn quickly didn’t help me to be successful because there was no guidance in the process. I wrote this post two and a half years ago about education:

TOLT: Book Reviews and The Great Education Debate

in which I talk about a book by Amanda Ripley and the future education of my own children. My children are now starting school (both of them) and we’re not in a traditional school. There is testing to help the teachers understand how the students are progressing, but the schools they go to also focus on grace and courtesy and a universal understanding of respect for yourself, your community, and your environment. These are the types of merits I think we should be basing our decisions on:

  • How kind are you?
  • How much have you done for the good of others?
  • Are you a litter bug?
  • Can you think bigger than yourself?

Maybe if we considered some of these questions before voting our government would look different at all levels. Maybe if we considered some of these questions for ourselves our lives and communities would look different…..

What is meritorious to you?

Fave Reads Friday #10.1 – Testing, Testing….

Have you ever read a kind of older book and when it was finished desperately wished there was a follow up book? I HATE when that happens and it just did again recently when I finished The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy by Nicholas Lemann.

The book is about how standardized testing came about in this country and how much of a scam it is. It takes you through the development of standardized tests, affirmative action, and the whole idea of how we decide (in this country) who gets to go to college. Have you ever wondered about why you took the SAT and/or ACT? Did you ever wonder why some schools accepted one test and not the other? How the scores were calculated? Why it costs so much to apply to college? Why certain schools were free to residents?

This book was published in 1999; ironically the year I graduated from high school and entered college. I wish that someone had given it to me then….

The basic reason that I wanted to review this book for you (even though it has nothing to do with fitness or yoga) is to make you consider the question for the weekend of WHY?

Why do I do the things I do? Why is my life the way that it is? Why?

And in addition to Why, HOW?

How much control do I have over my life? How much control is necessary and how much am I willing to allow others to make decisions for me?

The Why and How questions of the world can be great for guiding you toward your true self and enlightenment. They can also make you want to stand up and shout, THIS IS NOT RIGHT!

At one point in my life I was very proud of my ACT/SAT scores despite my performance on “grades” in high school. I’ve always been a good test taker. I have been lack in commitment to completing tasks like homework. This transferred over into my college career and is shown in my procrastination on this blog. What if someone had taken the time to tell me that test scores were not the best predictor of how well I’d do in college? What if I cared more about actually learning as much in my high school days as I do now? What if I could guide my children down a better path with less focus on testing and more focus on really learning (not memorization) and critical thinking? What if there were a whole generation of kids that got that guidance?

I encourage you to consider these questions this weekend and let me know what your thoughts are. There is a part two to this post….see you next Friday!


Today was Ike’s first day back at school. In the car, on the way to school, he told me that he will never not like going to school. It made me smile from ear to ear. I hope that that’s true! He reminded me of something that I need to do for myself this year. I spend so much of my year teaching other people, that quite often, I forget to learn something new myself. This year, I resolve to learn something new by attending a fitness conference that I am not presenting at myself. This will take a few steps in saving money and working a little extra in order to do so, but it will be worth it! Who knows? Maybe it will mean that I actually take a new level in yoga?! How exciting!

Day Four – Get Ed-u-ma-ca-ted!

What’s something new you could learn this year?


TOLT #8: Book Reviews and The Great Education Debate

One of things I’m doing to see myself as stronger is to make more time for reading. I feel like reading is essential in so many ways. It teaches me new things about fitness, exercise, and living fully in the moment. It also opens my eyes and my mind to new ideas in the world around me. While I mostly read fitness journals (not magazines off of the shelf) and yoga books, I also really enjoy books on education and “the classics”. If I had to name my top three books of all time they would include: The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby (I’ve yet to see the remake of the movie), and Ragtime. However, I have lost myself in Portrait of a Lady (once I got past page 100), Harry Potter, and Anne of Green Gables too. I just really love to read! Here’s a not so brief review (more of a rant on education) of three books I’ve recently read.

In September, I wrote briefly about a book I was reading called the Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. If you have kids, know someone who has kids, or if you’re going to have kids some day, I highly suggest reading this book. I read the 5th edition and then found the 6th at a book sale, but the final edition was the 7th, so look for that one. It contains a list of children’s books that are great for reading out loud to kids at ages from birth until they’re grown. If you work with adults that have literacy problems, read this book too! Anyway, this book got me thinking more about the education I’m currently giving my children. I read to them nightly and often times throughout the day as well. My oldest son does not go to pre-school for financial reasons and by choice of not wanting to stick him in cheap day care where he will not be challenged academically. I know that this post will get me more than one rolled eye and many people will tell me to let kids be kids for awhile, but I’m about to tell you why that is totally the wrong attitude to have.

This spark of my natural curiosity made me not only want to help my kids to be better readers some day (both of them), but also to make sure that I get them to the right kind of school for them. To help them learn for how they learn and to keep them interested and challenged. I was labeled as a “Gifted and Talented” student when I was in Kindergarten and from then on faced times where I was just plain bored out of my gourd in school, while still wanting to learn and loving learning. I never want my children to experience boredom in school nor a loss of love for learning.

Therefore, I started checking out more books from the library and doing my research. I do not intend to home school my children. I have nothing against it, but my stay-at-home mom status was always meant to be temporary.

First we enrolled our son in ABCmouse.com online and I started using their resources to see kind of where he is in the scheme of things. We started spending more time at the library this last year and also attending other programming at the local children’s museum, other museums, and parks that offered nature and science programs. On top of checking out the maximum number of books each week at the library and voraciously reading them cover to cover as many times as possible, I wanted more! Then I found The Giant Encyclopedia of Preschool Activities for Four-Year Olds. (I don’t know if I mentioned it or not, but Ike will be four this month. AAAAGGGGHHHH! I can’t believe I’ve been a mom for almost 4 years!) Well, this book flat out SUCKED! If my son were a “normal” four-year old, according to this book, he would be the most bored child ever in a pre-school class. I really hope that this book (meant for teachers of 4 year olds) is not representative of how children are being taught in this country…..but sadly it is. There are way too many activities based on singing the activity to the child or relating it to a nursery rhyme and far too few activities that require the children to ask any concrete questions or think for themselves. Perhaps I should have jumped ahead to the book for Kindergarteners or just read some reviews of it prior to checking it out. Either way, Thank Goodness for the next book!

While I was traveling last I browsed the newstand at one of the airports and saw a book entitled The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley. I texted it to myself and sure enough it was available at my local library. It sat unopened for 8 days and the was read in full within 4. It’s not a long book, but it’s a telling book. And here’s what it told me:

  • Our country sucks at educating our children in comparison to the rest of the world
  • Kids are smarter than we think, but we don’t let them think
  • There are few good teachers out there because we have a perpetual cycle of allowing anyone to have an education past high school and we’re suckers for a sympathetic story

Thank you so much Ms. Ripley for writing this book! It blew my mind! It made me want to push my kids to see what their little brains could really do and the truth is, a lot! I started asking my son more questions in the last month to see how he’s viewing the world. I started forcing my little guy to do some more things on his own and figure out how to do things. We also started making him say more words and guess what, he can say a lot more than we were giving him credit for. Both of my kids are very smart and have the ability to be smarter yet! The book did kind of make me want to pack up and move to Finland (or at least Canada because it’s closer), but it did make me think very hard about sending my kids to school here in North Carolina. I was starting to get lax about the idea of public school here, but NO WAY any more. And private school is not any better. So, what in the heck am I supposed to do?!

Ripley outlines some important questions to ask when finding a school. And questions not just to ask other parents, but the teachers, the administration, and the students themselves. Questions like, “What are you doing in class and Why?” If the kids don’t know why they’re learning, then what’s the point? I never enjoyed memorization tactics as a child and my kids haven’t learned that way thus far (except for numbers and letters because there’s not really any other way to learn the order than repetition), so why would I stick them in a school where all they do is copy their history books (if they even get to touch a book)? That is why I hate (maybe hated) history in school.

US – Below Average in EVERY category

I had consulted with my pediatrician awhile back about starting our son in school early. Everyone has advised me against that for various reasons. We will not be doing it due to the cost to get him tested and appeal to have him start this coming fall. Instead we’re considering a Montessori school. In the mean time I plan to keep teaching him in any way I can to expand his growing mind. So, I picked up one last book I’d like to tell you about. The Homegrown Preschooler by Kathy H. Lee and Lesli M. Richards. These two ladies have done some amazing things that I could not handle myself. I suggest reading their stories and picking up this book if you’re a stay-at-home mom whether you plan to stick your kid in school or not. Their approach is a hands on learning style that I can get behind. Granted, I won’t be purchasing school supplies every week and going through all of their activities, but even just doing a few of the things, or at least looking at what we’re already doing differently, has made a great change in the way I’m approaching education at home for now. We busted out the play-doh that Santa brought in stockings and started talking more about how it works and what we can do with it. There was a brief time out due to Eli trying to eat it (may have to make some of my own “edible” version for him), but overall it opened up some new conversations and creative outlets. We started finding things in our house we could use to teach math and shapes and properties of matter even! I have so many new ideas thanks to this book. I even let my child do more of the mixing and measuring when we baked the other day…..just to let him learn something new.

Now, I don’t pretend that my child is a genius. I am not naive nor blinded by love for him. He still has a long way to go in life and he is, in many ways, a typical four year old boy. But the one thing I will fight for and defend for him is his right to learn if he wants it. I work in education and I expect a lot from the students in my classes and from the professionals I train. Why is it unreasonable to think that my children’s teachers would do the same? Why is it unreasonable to expect them to have lived up to a high standard in order to educate my children?

I started teaching when I was in high school in the religious education program at my church. I would read the required lesson to the kids in my class (4th graders) and then turn to them and ask, “What does this scripture mean to you?” I was faced with many blank stares, wide eyes and mouths, and a very quiet room at the beginning of the year.

No one had ever asked these kids to think for themselves. They would be adults in the working world in 8 more years and would be expected to do exactly that. By the end of the year we had serious discussions about faith and responsibility. I don’t know why, at 17, I was able to figure out how to teach critical thinking to a group of students and yet most teachers in this country cannot. I had no formal training, but I thought about how it made sense to learn. And it makes sense to ask questions. So…..

What kind of education do you want to have for your children?
Where do your kids go to school?
Are you a kinesthetic, auditory, or visual learner?
What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Thanks Amanda!