Throughout my Political Science 101 class, students have dissected Live and Learn by Louis Menand. Most people compare colleges, or their college experience, with whichever of Menand’s theories they find most applicable. However, I would like to look at Menand’s three theories and compare them to my high school experience because I feel most people are yet to realize the similarities
Menand discussed three theories in his article Live and Learn. Menand’s first theory suggests that college is a sorting process, setting a value on graduates; students with the highest value, or merit, are the best. His second theory is that people should try to become well-rounded because once they are working they will be forced to specialize. Menand’s third, and final theory is that an education should offer specialized knowledge in order to prepare for future employment. In my opinion, all three of these theories could be translated to describe high school.
Theory one is a perfect description of what every high school student stresses about for his or her entire junior and senior year. High school’s rank each graduate with a GPA, which colleges use to decide who is worthy of acceptance. Also, the College Board and ACT use standardized tests to offer a second numerical dimension to each student. Most colleges, especially schools with a large applicant pool such as UCLA, don’t have time to read 70,000 application essays, and must follow Menand’s meritocratic system when admitting students.
Additionally, high schools use grades to be selective within their own school. My high school would only allow access to upper level classes to students who completed the prerequisite with a certain grade. For example, you would only be able to take AP Calculus AB if you completed Pre-Calculus A with a B+ or better, or Pre- Calculus Honors with a B- or better. In certain cases, the schools use of meritocratic system to admit students into upper level classes is beneficial, but in other cases, such as using Biology grades to place students in Chemistry, it is holding students back.
Whether it is by the use of high school GPA’s and test scores, or grades to place students in classes, Menand’s first theory fits my high school experience.
Menand’s second theory fits my freshman and sophomore year of high school perfectly. During my freshman year I was required to take Geometry, Western Humanities, Biology, English 1, a foreign language, and Gym. During my sophomore year I was required to take Algebra 2, US History, Chemistry, English 2, a foreign language, and Gym. My high school had built a curriculum that forced me to learn many different subjects. My high school believed that students should be building a well-rounded knowledge base before deciding on specialization. This is most similar to Menand’s theory two of having a balanced liberal arts education. However, that changed when my junior and senior year came around.
By the time you were a junior at my high school you had more freedom with your class choice. The freedom gave students the opportunity to start specializing in a specific subject field. I had the opportunity to take Statistics, Accounting, Economics, Environmental Studies, or Film Studies rather than typical Math, Science, English, and Social Studies courses. Students were able to specialize rather than just learning pieces of everything.
Is using someone’s GPA and standardized test scores the best way to decide how smart someone is? Not necessarily. Do I believe the way my high school was set up was the right way? No. Do I believe everyone who employs one of Menand’s theories is correct? No. I honestly believe that schools should try to employ a little bit of all Menand’s theories. A school where students can become well-rounded, but also have the opportunity to specialize in a certain subject sounds like the exact school I want to attend.