America is gripped by grievance. Factions defined by race, class, gender, and sexual orientation compete for victimization status. Nowhere is this more evident than in college-admissions processes, already perceived as rigged in favor of the children of the privileged and stacked against others who have faced considerable adversity, but who do not fall into an approved victim category.
Against this backdrop, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and other media recently reported that the College Board, which administers the SAT, has created a new “demographic handicap” for colleges to “level the socio-economic field” in admissions decisions. According to the reports, the College Board plans to assign students an individual “adversity score” alongside their SAT, based on 15 social and economic factors related to students’ neighborhoods, homes, and high schools.
Critics have panned the adversity score as a “bogus [effort] . . . to rank students on a one-to-100 pseudoscientific index of oppression,” a “backdoor to racial quotas,” and an approach that will “only invite a new quest for victimhood.” I understand this criticism. I run a network of public charter schools that educates almost entirely low-income Hispanic and black students in the South Bronx and Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Young people in these communities are pummeled constantly with the message that they are marginalized, helpless victims of systemic discrimination. Adults in their lives are often steeped in victimhood themselves, which can lead to a kind of learned helplessness that perpetuates a self-fulfilling cycle of failure. The last thing our kids need is yet another set of codified grievance categories to compete over in the Oppression Olympics.
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