Picture it now: You’re rolling down a hospital hallway on a stretcher. The fluorescent lights above scroll past your eyes as your gaze is fixed on the ceiling.
Sure, you’ve talked over everything with your neurosurgeon, but something doesn’t fit right. You want to be reassured before you go through those flapping doors.
You turn to the nurse at your side. “Say, what do you think about Dr. Finknottle? He’s qualified, right?” you say.
The nurse nods vehemently. “Absolutely,” he says. “The doctor received one of the highest adversity scores of any physician we’ve hired here at Blandings Hospital.”
“Adversity scores?” you reply.
“Yes, yes,” the nurse continues, nodding again. “Dr. Finknottle had a very rough childhood. Poor family. He battled a gambling addiction during his med school years and managed to overcome it. At least we think. Haven’t had a look at his bank account recently. But what he says about it seems legit.”
“But he’s … good at surgery, right?”
The nurse looks down at you quizzically: “Are you prejudiced?“
The flapping doors do their flappy thing and you’re in the operating theater. The lights are much brighter now, but everything’s about to get very dark once they put that anesthesia mask over your nose and mouth. Are you not reassured?
The impetus for this scenario, of course, comes from the following news.
“The College Board, the company that administers the SAT exam taken by about two million students a year, will for the first time assess students not just on their math and verbal skills, but also on their educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, entering a fraught battle over the fairness of high-stakes testing,” The New York Times reported on May 16.
“The company announced on Thursday that it will include a new rating, which is widely being referred to as an ‘adversity score,’ of between 1 and 100 on students’ test results. An average score is 50, and higher numbers mean more disadvantage. The score will be calculated using 15 factors, including the relative quality of the student’s high school and the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s neighborhood.”
Our cultural impression of initiatives like this seems like a lukewarm positive.
Sure, it goes against the idea that the most qualified students should be the ones chosen for spots at our nation’s universities, but there are already those legacy set-asides and children of minor “Full House” cast members sneaking into the University of Southern California, we think.
Is an adversity score really that problematic?
The problem is that college is part of the pipeline of life. So perhaps your academically impoverished high school was in a crime-riddled, penurious corner of the United States. College is going to fix that? An adversity score is somehow going to make up for a lack of academic knowledge?
No. And if you didn’t benefit from an adversity score even though you faced adversity, it doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck in the cycle of poverty, either; a college degree is a profoundly overrated thing these days.
However, if we are to assume that a certain level of academic attainment is necessary to certain careers — or even to succeed in the training for said careers — adversity scores aren’t just antithetical to the concept of a meritocracy.
They also don’t actually help out students who are put in academic environments where they may be in over their heads.
So, what’s next then? “Adversity grades?” “Adversity resumés?”
Let’s take the potential adversity bridge, for instance:
Hey, look: Stuff happens. Nobody died in the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse.
Sure, this occurred without adversity engineering, but that just means we should get used to it. Plus, think of the viral videos!
Or perhaps adversity dentistry. Lidocaine in the water pick? Look, it just makes things more numb — which is what you want, right? And you’ll be speaking funny for a few hours. Big freaking deal. Plus, again, viral videos.
This isn’t to say that our college admissions system isn’t already broken. Admitting less-qualified people isn’t going to change that.
In fact, that’s part of the problem — the fact that we’ve been letting in less-qualified individuals from privileged backgrounds.
Doing the same for people from underprivileged backgrounds gets us no closer to the ideal state of higher education, which is a meritocracy.
It just means a different set of people — one that we probably find less obnoxious — are benefiting from the brokenness.
It’s also not fair to students who are only qualified through their adversity.
They would arguably be better served, if they want to go down the path of attaining a degree or getting into a certain school, by going to community college or a school with less-rigorous standards and beefing up their academic chops there.
Throwing someone into the academic deep end because you believe they’ll have adversity-based buoyancy isn’t a solution to any problem.
Of course, it may assuage the guilt of wealthy liberals, though it’s worth noting that traditionally, these wealthy liberals don’t seem to particularly care whether or not underprivileged students manage to swim or whether or not there’s someone to throw them a life preserver.
Either way, adversity scores aren’t going to get you over that bridge.
They’re not going to make your mouth any less numb.
And they’re certainly not going to make you feel any better as the anesthetic takes hold and the darkness sets in.
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