Trophy Kids and Aptocrats

What Women Really Think
July 6 2009 6:07 PM

Trophy Kids and Aptocrats

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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."

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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.

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