Home World The school doesn’t live on merit alone – Mondoworker

The school doesn’t live on merit alone – Mondoworker

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The school doesn’t live on merit alone – Mondoworker

The first gesture made by the new government on the school was the change of the name of the Ministry of Education by adding “e del Merito”. A clearly identity-related choice and much criticized for various reasons, some good, some less so. Bringing the political discourse in the field of education to values ​​and principles is a right choice because here the dimension of values, usually neglected, comes into play more than it does for other issues. Except that in this case the choice was made in a monistic way by evoking a single reference value, precisely merit. Already a century ago Weber had noticed how a passage of great historical importance had taken place in contemporary societies: from the “monotheism” to the “polytheism” of values. Instead, it seems that in the sky of the Valditara school, merit is the only star to shine, or at least the brightest so that it can be indicated as a part of the whole. Without taking into account that merit and meritocracy are in turn plural concepts, given that they present a great variety of meanings and declinations. In our book titled Fairness and merit (2022) had used the term equity in a pluralistic perspective, to designate a range of principles-values ​​that have equality and merit at their poles. Principles which can also be combined and whose order of priority varies on a case-by-case basis.

Citing only merit means relegating equality to the background and thus providing a broader justification for inequalities. The opposite of our constitution which includes equality among the general principles (art.3) while speaking of merit much later in a specific provision on education (art. 34), and only in the sense of equality of opportunities (in short EO), i.e. the egalitarian declination of the principle of merit. Demonstrating the greater importance and extension attributed to the egalitarian principle compared to the meritocratic one. In the arguments in favor of the renaming that the minister himself and other commentators have brought, priority is reversed: merit becomes a general principle and equality is exhausted entirely in its meritocratic version because it is considered decisive: “Talent is a gift: rewarding it classism is defeated” (Ricolfi, The RepublicOctober 27, 2022).

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In fact the question is much more complex, let’s see why. Equality of opportunity means conceiving of the school as the arena for a series of competitions for success, based on the talent and commitment of the participants – so Rawls, the greatest contemporary philosopher of justice, and so also the sociologist Young, the inventor of the term meritocracy – but without any influence of the socio-familial origin of the students. Without equalizing the starting points, the result of the race would be distorted and unfair. We have thus distinguished a “pure meritocracy” from a “spurious meritocracy”. However, empirical research tells us that there is no country in the world where the influence of social origins has really been eliminated; the “real meritocracy” always remains (more or less) spurious. Why? Is it just lax school systems that don’t solicit enough student engagement through rewards and penalties? But would the meritocratic teaching of the carrot and the stick really give us equal opportunities? We doubt it because, as much research has shown us, the socio-family origin of students (on average) affects not only results but also commitment, i.e. the motivation to study and continue studies up to the highest levels of education. And scholarships alone are not enough to change the structure of motivations. Not even talent is immune to the influence of social origin. The fear of downward social mobility of the upper classes matters more than the aspirations for medium-long range upward mobility of the lower classes (also due to the calculation of the risk of failure). Furthermore, there is no lack of empirical evidence that the genetic distribution of talents is not at all random, contrary to what Ricolfi claims. For example, a recent English research (Crapohi, PNAS, n.14, 2022) has found how much the academic success of students (on the GCSE exam) considerably reflects intelligence (measured through appropriate tests) and some personality traits of parents. On the other hand, to have a measure of the individual’s talent and dispositions net of the influence of the social environment (genotypes) it would be necessary to obtain it at birth (if not even before), which is impossible. Finally, Rawls, despite having included the EO among his fundamental rules of justice, had recognized in it two other substantial defects. 1) In the light of the principle of responsibility, the genetic inheritance of talent is no less undeserved than social inheritance. 2) EO is a goal that can only be partially achieved. To fully implement it, in fact, it would be necessary to violate the right of parents to ensure their children the maximum educational and social opportunities. So much so that Plato, the far from liberal inventor of the EO, proposed to prematurely remove them from their control and entrust them to the care of the republic. Aware of these limits, to the EO, defined as “liberal equality of opportunities”, Rawls had added another one, defined as “democratic”, based on the redistribution of income and wealth to the advantage of the disadvantaged. Which means rewarding merit but not as a source of a moral right of the individual but as an incentive to commit oneself to the growth and well-being of society so that everyone enjoys its fruits, starting with the weakest. An impracticable address in a hyper-competitive meritocratic society where the same school functions as an individualistic Olympiad of merit, rewarding the winners and disregarding the losers or worse, excludes them. Conversely, it would be necessary to support the development of community, cooperative and solidarity habits.

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In conclusion, we do not agree with the reduction of the principle of equality to only EO, its meritocratic version. But not even the a priori rejection of the principle of merit, which on the contrary should be nurtured to combat privileges, prejudices and inefficiencies also present in the school world. In our book, as well as reiterating the importance of EO in both forms of Rawls, we advocated two other notions of equality in school: that of “fundamental results as a function of inclusion” (the minimum threshold of the school career of students and ‘learning of basic skills) and that of “equal dignity” (principle of respect).

Equality and merit are not always irreconcilable, it depends on the context. In order to speak no longer of students but of teachers, inspired by the criterion of merit as an incentive, it makes sense to structure a selective career by rewarding those who have acquired greater skills and can effectively carry out more complex roles, for example teaching in “difficult” schools where the fight against educational poverty and social and territorial differences is decided. Therefore, define a precise and unambiguous training, entry and advancement path in this fundamental professional career. But at the same time, inspired by the criterion of equality, it becomes necessary to gradually raise the wages of the entire category to bring them to the levels of other major European countries.

Source: Tuttoscuola, 14 November 2022. The Tuttoscuola link is: www.tuttoscuola.com

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