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The problem of elitism in education

Our global society, and our global economy, need people whose intelligence is well-developed and who can solve problems in a realistic and lasting way.  To this end, a large amount of public and private resources are devoted to education.

What is the purpose of education?  Is it to cultivate human resources, to bring us all up to a high level of function, as much as we can muster?  Or is the purpose to set up a system by which some are able to greatly extend their economic and political reach over others?

This isn't a simple either/or kind of question.  Clearly, human beings organize their behavior around incentives.  Reaching for a better life is perhaps the very definition of opportunity.  But does that urge seek to create a life that is better for you (and others) than conceivable alternatives, or does it only require that you see yourself as better off than someone else?  Realistically, some people will be more effective at marshalling and organizing resources, making critical decisions, and achieving desired outcomes that affect us all.  That kind of elitism seems right and good to me.  However, when elitism simply seeks to enforce dominance relationships among human primates in the style of our baboon relatives, I take pause.

I feel that this potential conflict of interest may pollute and confuse the organization of education in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Education may act as a 'pump', bringing people up.  Education may also act as a 'filter', letting certain people through, rejecting others.  We can't guarantee that everyone will achieve any specific measure of success, and resources are finite.  But what is our motive in making these resources available?

I once heard an old saying, that a truly wise person would plant a tree whose shade they won't live long enough to enjoy.  Who would they plant it for?

The author's affiliation with The MITRE Corporation is provided for identification purposes only, and is not intended to convey or imply MITRE's concurrence with, or support for, the positions, opinions or viewpoints expressed by the author.