Do Menand’s Theories Apply to High School?

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:

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.

Theory two:

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.

Theory three:

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.

3 thoughts on “Do Menand’s Theories Apply to High School?

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog. I agree with you that high schools should incorporate all three of Menand’s theories. Student’s should especially focus on gaining and retaining knowledge in order to get good grades in order to be qualified for a field of their choice. By following this chain of events, students tackle all three points. I attended an art school for high school. At my school students were able to audition for an art of their choice. Based on your selection, you would take special classes that not only helped you to strengthen your craft, but also provided performance opportunities. Looking forward to these classes made getting out of bed for school easier. By incorporating all theories and not just one, the students overall benefit and graduate as fully prepared students with a vision in mind, ready to achieve the next step in their education.


  2. Although I enjoyed your post and agreed with how Menand’s first two theories on education fits the high school education, I disagree with your final argument on theory three. Relatively, yes, I agree that the junior and senior years of high school offers more flexibility than the freshman, sophomore, and middle school years offered. However, is that flexibility enough to be considered try specialization for a job market? With an interest in economics, I know I was excited to take macroeconomics senior year, but even with that option my other classes were still limited in terms of specialization. Most schools I was applying to required and/or highly recommended four years of english, four years of math, and other required courses. Specialization, in my opinion, wouldn’t consist of taking one economics course or one environmentally studies course. High school is often intended to fill Menand’s first two theories, in my opinion, but I would not argue that high school can be viewed as a venue for specialization.


  3. I really enjoyed this post. I wrote a post similar to this several weeks ago and I completely agree with your assessment of a normal high school experience. In high school nearly all of my peers were only worried about grades, and I think it is important to change the primary goals of the education system. Menand’s three theories outline the different ideologies in high school very well.


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