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The Big Test for American Democracy, too.
on October 8, 2011
Although this book is a bit too long and deviates into individual histories that are interesting, but not completely relevant to the main issue, the main ideas of Leman's book are tremendously important for any thinking American. Not really a history of the SAT, the book is more a history of post-war attitudes towards what we think of when we think of an "elite" or an "aristocracy of intellect," etc. The book is an important one to read, especially now when our society is becoming much more similar to Mexico and the Philippines in its disparity of wealth and class than it is to the image of itself in the years, 1945-80. With one per cent of the population controlling forty per cent of the wealth, we really need to ask some basic questions about where we are headed as a nation. This book begins that discussion. I am amazed that Leeman wrote it a decade ago.
Leman's "Afterword to the Paperback Edition" (343-51) is of critical importance to the message of this book. If you have no time to read any other part of the book, read these pages. Here is where his whole history of American efforts to define or create a "meritocracy" hits home: "The chief aim of school should be not to sort people, but to teach as many people as possible as well as possible, equipping them for both work and citizenship...The purpose of schools should be to expand opportunity, not to determine results" (348). He turns the idea of the SAT to a critically political interpretation: "The culture of frenzy surrounding admissions is destructive and anti-democratic; it warps the sensibilities and distorts the education of the millions of people whose lives it touches" (351). This is brilliant thinking and clear thinking. Leman has linked the (now distorted)goals of higher education in this country to the perverse societal structure that it continues to produce. One does not have to be a leftist or progressive to understand the danger of such a direction for our country. One need only be a patriot.