Trophy Kids and Aptocrats

What Women Really Think
July 6 2009 6:07 PM

Trophy Kids and Aptocrats

/blogs/xx_factor/2009/07/06/our_meritocracy_is_obsessed_with_aptitude_but_luck_plays_a_big_role_in_success/jcr:content/body/slate_image

While you Gen Yers are bridling at your rep as "trophy kids," overpraised for your potential, baby boomers got a less than flattering epithet from Walter Kirn this weekend : "Aptocrats," he calls the strivers now at the pinnacles of success and influence. In his "Way We Live Now" column in Sunday’s Times , he makes a compelling case that it’s high time to revise America’s aptitude-test-obsessed meritocratic system-but I’m not sure he’s noticed how much it’s already changed. Kids these days-yes, those maligned Gen Yers-have to cough up lots of achievement credentials, not just high SAT scores (and that "a" hasn’t stood for aptitude for a long time now), to get into competitive colleges: APs, extracurriculars, community service, essays with "passion."

Advertisement

Now, you might well ask whether this revised meritocratic rigamarole is just another way to put a premium on "high-level baloney," as Kirn calls the puzzle-solving, teacher-pleasing traits of good test-takers. Or can it perhaps give a better inkling of "determination and courage," which I agree are underrated ingredients of success? The answer is that it probably does some of both: It’s a gauntlet that rewards industrious commitment and glib, resume-enhancing savvy.

As for courage, it seems new graduates will have to learn that as they enter the recessionary real world. There they will discover right away what many of their elders have yet to comprehend-and what the notion of a fine-tuned meritocracy obscures: that luck, never mind talent or some studiously calibrated measure of merit, inevitably plays a big role in getting to the top, or failing to.

Photograph by Getty Images.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.