There are many aspects of American culture that are secretly or not-so-secretly rooted in something absolutely abhorrent. I'm not just talking about the "original sin" of settler colonialism, or even the institution of slavery itself — although those things certainly help to inherently taint the nation's origins.
No, I'm talking about all the other things that seem innocuous today — activities or traditions that are just kind of generally accepted as part of the American status quo — that turn out to betray not only the mythologized ideals that our country espouses about itself, but also end up being kind of self-defeating to the entire purpose that they serve.
For example: the SATS.
There are plenty of criticisms that can be made about the collegiate system in this country: how it's an enormous non-profit industry that's also enormously profitable; how it's so terribly unrepresentative of the actual demographics of the country; how it claims to be a bastion of meritocracy while actually upholding the privileges of legacy; how much it costs, where that money goes, and why; how the funding structure enables already-powerful people and institutions to gain more money, power, and clout through tax-deductible donations; how the seemingly well-intentioned intra-campus tribunals and legal systems end up doing more harm than good, especially in cases of sexual assault; and so on. The entire concept of standardized testing is ripe with similar problems — how, even with the best intentions, it still ends up reinforcing certain problematic structures of our culture.
But nah, that's not the problem with the SATs. The problem with the SATs is that they were literally invented to be fucking racist. From The Atlantic:
The original Scholastic Aptitude Test was invented in 1926 by Carl Brigham, a Princeton alumnus and avowed eugenicist who created the test to uphold a racial caste system. He advanced this theory of standardized testing as a means of upholding racial purity in his book A Study of American Intelligence. The tests, he wrote, would prove the racial superiority of white Americans and prevent "the continued propagation of defective strains in the present population"—chiefly, the "infiltration of white blood into the Negro."
Even worse, Brigham admitted within 4 years that the SATs-as-eugenics-test failed, calling his own work, "one of the most glorious fallacies."
"In the history of science, namely that the tests measured native intelligence purely and simply without regard to training or school," he lamented in 1930. "The test scores very definitely are a composite including schooling, family background, familiarity with English and everything else, relevant and irrelevant."
In other words: a eugenicist literally invented the SATs to prove his theories, then was disappointed to learn that they failed their intended purpose. And yet, we continue to use them — ostensibly, for the same reasons that Brigham thought they were bad.
IMHO, when a self-avowed racist says, "Ah shit, this doesn't prove racism is good!" we should probably just throw that thing away, instead of using it as proof that equality is good. There are other ways to prove that part.
The Problem With the SAT's Idea of Objectivity [Sidney Fussell / The Atlantic]
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