WMD: Weapons of Meritocracy Destruction

Written by Ben Cronin
 | Sunday, 27 January 2008 19:44

Several weeks ago, Barbara Dolan, writing in this publication, did the town the great service of exposing the underhanded plan to destroy meritocracy in the Duxbury school system.


“Jesus was a man that traveled through the land,

Hard working man and brave;

He said to the rich give your goods to the poor

So they laid Jesus Christ in his grave.

Several weeks ago, Barbara Dolan, writing in this publication, did the town the great service of exposing the underhanded plan to destroy meritocracy in the Duxbury school system.

The proposal to “un-level” classes is not only iniquitous, it is also intellectually bankrupt. By shackling the quick to the not-so-quick, by chaining up talent, this plan threatens to undo what made Duxbury’s public schools such wonderful educational institutions in my days there.

Why should classes become unleveled? It’s a bigger question than it seems. Machiavelli, a keener observer of the human spirit than Superintendent Williams, noted that, when faced with great changes, men and women are likely to balk. And rightly so. Disrupting a long-standing system which has passed the test of time is sheerest folly ñ or, in the words of one wise and anonymous mechanic: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The plan to fix the self-esteem of the mediocre may have noble intent ñ after all, so did Communism and Fascism. Ah, good intentions! We all know the adage about the composition of the pavement on the road to hell.

More importantl, the philosophical justification behind such a plan is thin and inconsistent at best. That a town like Duxbury, a town of SUVs, sprouting McMansions, triumphant soccer teams and gaudy, vulgar consumption ñ a town devoted at its very core to inequality, the Darwinian victory of the strong over the weak ñ should now try to undo this system in its single most appropriate stronghold ñ a meritocratic school system ñ is outrageous.

But perhaps I am throwing out the idea of a socialist Duxbury prematurely; if this plan succeeds, maybe other “improvements” in the life of the town will follow. It would only be intellectually consistent, after all, that in the wake of redistributing academic opportunity, Duxbury’s wealth be redistributed as well.

This certainly would be a morally preferable choice to hobbling the future scholars, lawyers, doctors, and other thinkers and professionals our schools prides itself on producing. Half a century ago, Duxbury was a modest little summer town; a century before that, it was outright poor, the geographical detritus of the ship-building boom that flickered out with advent of the clipper ship (Why this paper is named for the very thing which did in our ancient economy in is a mystery).

Yet today, Hall’s Corner vulgarly hums each Saturday morning, or each Friday afternoon, or Tuesday noon, with the roar of self-importance, with over-wealthy trophy-wives, their corporate raider husbands and their idiot offspring making the treacherous trip to the former A&P, the bank, the gas station, and other appropriately rugged, SUV-linked destinations. I’ve seen poor people in the hills out here in the west of New England, driving on snow-dirt roads (gasp!) without the de rigueur, hermetically-sealed Lexus sports-utility-vehicle, 4x4 luxury that is apparently necessary to traverse the wilderness of Washington Street. If these brave souls can do without SUVs, surely those of you with two can bear to give one of them to those of us who have none.

Perhaps, on second thought, this introduction of Swedish-style redistributive socialism to the shores of Mattakeesett is a good thing. After all, I live in a small, winterized cottage off Bay Rd; under the logic of this plan, I could become one of the grandees of Powder Point ñ and without even trying!

Moving into a King Caesar Rd. mansion, I would exult: “Bless you, Eileen Williams! Your commitment to unfairness has made this possible!” Why, it’s a better deal than the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Square Deal put together; under those venerable programs, at least you had to work. Under the MDP (Meritocracy Destruction Project), one only has to attach oneself to a more talented peer and take in the scenery as he or she pulls you toward victory.

 Indeed, in a time when we regularly wring our hands over the unavailability of affordable housing in Duxbury while allowing the iniquitous, pine-gobbling developments to roll on in the night; in a time when the rich get richer and the poor get ñ to quote the old callous song ñ children ñ this unleveling plan may be just what Dr. Williams ordered. After all, the teachers who labor for the sake of these soon-to-be-unleveled children can’t even dream of living in an affluent society such as Duxbury. Under the logical extension of the Williams plan, they could.

Some might find it bemusing to see the town’s longtime twin commitments ñ excellent schools and wealth inequality ñ topple at once. But perhaps the dream of a fair polity, a good society, ought to take precedence. In a fair society, the talented would be allowed to use what was providentially granted them, and at the same time, no one would starve or worry about next month’s heating bill.

Of course, Duxbury doesn’t seem to have much interest in that kind of society; as long as the soccer and gas-guzzling continues, so long as the concern with private profit dominates while the concerns of the commonwealth wither, we won’t have to worry about that kind of society developing on the well-moneyed shores of the Bay.

One less thing to worry about, I suppose.

Ben Cronin is a junior at Williams College and a 2001 DHS graduate.