The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Creativity and Peace

ema1During his press conference in response to the massacre that occurred in Charleston on June 17, President Obama recounted the importance of Emanuel AME as a site of memory. Though he did not name Denmark Vesey, a church founder, the President highlighted Mother Emanuel as an important place for early, early civil rights activism. After Vesey and 35 others were executed for inciting a slave uprising, Emanuel was burned during the 1820s. Parishioners rebuilt the church in 1834 and secretly worshipped there until 1865….and on June 17, Dylann Storm Roof sat next to Rev. Clementa C. Pinkney for nearly an hour before killing him and 8 others during their prayer meeting.

In his remarks, President Obama acknowledged the way such violent acts distinguish the United States: “…these types of mass violence don’t happy in other advanced countries, with this type of frequency.” The call for healing in this instance largely amounts to a call for the United States to become a civilised nation. Test scores cannot measure the extent to which a student acts with civility. Test scores cannot measure the extent of one’s ability to act with compassion, kindness, and decency to those who welcomed you into their house. Test scores cannot measure one’s ability to act honourably within a democracy. In The Tyranny of the Meritocracy, Lani Guinier writes, “I’ve found that what is urgent for our world–and thus what we should consider most closely in education–is a student’s capacity to collaborate and to think creatively.” As it stands, the massacre at Mother Emanuel merely repeats the violent scene that occurred in the early 19th century. In my view, this suggests that if we want peace, then we need more ideas about how we can live together in the United States.

What are your thoughts about the importance of creativity for social justice and social change? In reflecting on the descriptions of mass murderers like Roof, why is it meaningful for students to learn how to collaborate?

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3 thoughts on “The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Creativity and Peace

  1. I often read the “Gray Matter” section of the Sunday Review in the New York Times (7/10/15). I was interested in the three scientists who have found that empathy is a choice, a skill that can be learned–that it is not an irrational or purely emotional response to a sad situation. They conclude that empathy, which I would describe as the ability to understand a situation as if it were happening to you, is highly rational. And often, our willingness (or unwillingness) to empathize with others is driven by our assessment of what it will cost us to permit ourselves to care. This economic aspect of empathy also figures, unexpectedly, in the scientists’ finding that empathy is often constrained when racial, ethnic or gender differences are present. This finding leads the authors to ask, if empathy can be learned and is a matter of choice, “what is the relationship between empathy and morality?”

    What has shocked the nation and the world as it observes the culture of violence in the U.S., is the unbroken connection to the economics of race and empathy. Dylann Roof managed to shock even those Americans who typically permit themselves no empathy for black people, as a category. How did he do this? Perhaps because his act of murder seems ruthlessly calculated to demonstrate the relationship between empathy and morality–that there can be no morality without empathy. Dylann Roof made a choice to abjure empathy–not even the shared act of prayer could alter his decision.

    Elsewhere we learn that high officials in the American Psychological Association, the largest organization in the profession, collaborated with the Pentagon in “abetting the torture of terrorism suspects.” One of the chief collaborators was the APA’s director of ethics. Apparently, the Department of Defense “paid handsomely for experts who could give the torture program a veneer of legitimacy.” There have been no prosecutions of the torturers. Guantanamo Bay is still operating. It is unlikely that there will be a prosecution of any APA collaborators. But Dylann Roof, lone wolf perpetrator of a cultural imperative, will pay for his faithfulness.

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  2. Thinking back to this horrific scene in Charleston, SC, just a couple months ago, brings back a plethora of emotions that I felt in response to yet another disturbing act of violence in the United States of America. This shooting was quite personal for me and really hit home as I am apart of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E) Church. As a result of my affiliation with the A.M.E Church, I felt as if I was violated myself or my home church (Pearl Street A.M.E in Jackson, MS) was compromised, even though my church and I were miles away from the unruly violence. That same weekend, I attended choir practice in my church sanctuary and honestly I almost felt uncomfortable in my own place of worship, fearing that maybe someone who shared Dylan Roof’s egregious feelings and outright hatred for African Americans was looming in the background ready to strike again in the name of hatred and white supremacy. Now, of course that never happened and my church continues to be a safe haven for many, but that slight uncomfortableness that I felt on that early Saturday morning should never be felt by anyone in any house of worship or church home.

    Now, focusing specifically on Dylan Roof, the master mind and executor behind this particular act of mass murder, I can definitely see the correlation between Roof and our summer reading book’s, The Tyranny of Meritocracy, principles. Author Lani Guinier encouraged schools to take on the more difficult side of education, which is producing creative, collaborative citizens of a democracy instead of churning out programmed high score test takers who in the end contribute nothing substantive to society. In the case of Dylan Roof, it seems as if the ball was dropped somewhere within the education system and most importantly his upbringing to cause him to truly hate another group of people, for something as simple as being Black in America. If Guinier’s principle of collaboration was truly enforced in the school systems and in society as a whole, Roof might have turned out differently if he was encouraged to learn how to work with others who don’t necessarily share the same perspective or mindset as him. Creativity and collaboration in the education system, encourage a wide variety of skill sets that every person should acquire in order to become a contributing member of society.

    In this day and age, as young people, we are taking a new approach to social justice and social change, just as each generation must. We are creating movements through social media( ex. #blacklivesmatter), bringing attention to stories and topics that matter to us. This innovative and creative approach to social change and justice are all results of collaboration, which is what Guinier encouraged throughout her book. Therefore, I believe if her principle was implemented in the school systems and in society, it might encourage the next Dylan Roof to collaborate with the little Black girl next to him to bring about amazing contributions to society instead of destruction, hatred, violence and murder.

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  3. Hello Bria, welcome to the Castle blog. Your thoughtful comment reminds us of the nature of terrorism–to strike fear in a general population based on the randomness of violence (as much as the violence itself). Your connection of literal violence to Lani Guinier’s “Tyranny of the Meritocracy” is quite apt–that schools can fail in ways that are not measured by test scores. Her portrait of the braggart who tries to humiliate his classmates by asserting his superiority over them based on his scores on a test offers us a peek into how false social values can support or encourage an environment of intellectual violence. That boy has already imbibed the idea that he is more valuable to the world than his classmates. Your assessment of Guinier’s call for a culture of cooperation and collaboration demands that we consider how impossible it would be for Dylan Roof to “see” a Black girl and think of her as “worthy” of a peer relationship. Guinier is concerned that schools and other institutions are creating this kind of emotional isolation–the idea that whiteness, or test scores, or material wealth, or other superficial measurements determine a person’s human value.

    Guinier’s concern for schools becomes clear when we remember that literacy for Black Americans was once against the law. The relationship between education and citizenship and cooperation becomes very clear in our own era (at a time when we are encouraged to believe that social, economic, and legal inequalities are accidental (or due to personal failure) rather than part of America’s “code of conduct.” This recognition of the structures of hatred and inequality, a culture of false values, may be why the families of the slain worshippers were able to offer their forgiveness of Roof. It is important, though, that they do not “forgive” the structures that created him, but rather hold the nation and its laws accountable via a critical intelligence.

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