Recognizing the vast economic and racial inequalities his students faced, he chose what some might consider a radical approach for his writing and social-studies classes, weaving in concepts such as racism, classism, oppression, and prejudice. Barrett said it was vital to reject the oft-perpetuated narrative that society is fair and equal to address students’ questions and concerns about their current conditions. And Brighton Elementary’s seventh- and eighth-graders quickly put the lessons to work—confronting the school board over inequitable funding, fighting to install a playground, and creating a classroom library focused on black and Latino authors.
The problem with meritocracy is not that it is a myth; it is that it is an ideal. It should play as much role in society as does the study of an ideal gas play in science. It is useful for discussion of concepts but when it comes to the real world, it fails to withstand scrutiny.
In an ideal world, people will fail or succeed based on their merits. People who work hard and innovate will be the ones who succeed. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. Not everybody is born into the same opportunities. For example, Donald Trump and his children were born to wealthy parents. This afforded them the opportunity to attend the best schools and to establish contacts with individuals who have power. Just as he did when his parents passed on, Mr. Trump’s children will inherit his wealth regardless of whether they truly merit it.
This is not to say that the above system is wrong but what it says is that our society is not as merit based as some would like to believe. Life is not fair and a person’s woes are not always due to poor planning or laziness. Sometimes it is society itself that causes unnecessary challenges. These examples can include burdensome regulations resulting from cronyism or the denial of resources and education necessary to be competitive.
This raises the question as to why American society emphasizes meritocracy as it does. What it does do is to give a moral justification as to why we as a society should not give a hand up (not a just a hand out) to those without. If a person or class of people are not succeeding, it allows us to say it was because of a moral failing and thus they are not worthy of help.
Instead of being judgmental, we need to understand why people are failing to succeed and work to tear down those barriers. Only then can we approach the meritocratic ideal.