Saturday, June 12, 2010

School Teaches Students to Accept Inequality

I give a test every Friday. According to economist Robin Hanson, I'm teaching my students a valuable lesson:
At school, our kids are rated and ranked far more often than most adults will tolerate, even though this actually slows their learning! It seems that modern schools function in part to help humans overcome their (genetically and culturally) inherited aversions to hierarchy and dominance.
Here's how much it changes student perception (links added):
The large majority of 5th graders were strict egalitarians (link), and, remarkably, there were almost no meritocrats (link) at this grade level. In contrast, meritocratism was the dominant position in late adolescence, and the share of strict egalitarians fell dramatically.
I wonder, is this lesson on net good or bad, especially when grading could have a negative impact on learning?


  1. How do we know it was school that taught them this?

  2. Good question. It's clear we become more comfortable with inequality during our schooling years, can you think of another example?

    Perhaps just realizing how different people are (in sports, in relationships)?

    My guess is that tests are just one part of that realization.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.