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“has anyone asked working-class families if being sucked into a frantically achievement-obsessed rat race is a benefaction they are interested in?”

October 2nd, 2018 | 2 min read

By Matthew Loftus

This essay from Helen Andrews is just too enjoyable not to share:

Does Currid-Halkett have anything bad to say about the new elite? She has just one complaint, which she repeats again and again whenever she senses that she is sounding too self-satisfied: inequality.

[T]he choice to be a better, more involved parent, exercise more, read more newspapers, probably does make us healthier, happier, and more engaged members of society.But we cannot lose sight of the extent to which these practices are not even an option for huge segments of society. They are obviously not choices for the poor, the near-poor, and even huge swathes of the middle class.

This exaggerated sensitivity to inequality is even more self-flattering than unadulterated praise would be, because it assumes that the lower orders, if they could do so, would spend their time and money the way Currid-Halkett and her friends do. In her chapter on parenting, she lists a range of things California moms splurge on, including postnatal swim classes and mother-baby Mandarin instruction, then notes with sadness, “These are not the things…low-income moms are fretting about, even if they wish they could.” Do they wish they could? If you offered them a free course in Magda Gerber’s Research for Infant Educarers® (RIE) method—which promises to “discover your baby’s unique personality”—lower-class mothers might just laugh.

While the essay itself is tantalizingly short, Andrews expanded on the foibles of the meritocracy in this fine piece at The Hedgehog Review a few years ago: 

Meritocracy began by destroying an aristocracy; it has ended in creating a new one. Nearly every book in the American anti-meritocracy literature makes this charge, in what is usually its most empirically reinforced chapter. Statistics on the decline of social mobility are not lacking. In 1985, less than half of students at selective colleges came from families in the top income quartile; in 2010, 67 percent did. For those authors brave enough to cite Charles Murray (as Robert Putnam, for one, was not), Coming Apart documents quantitatively the growing tendency of the members of America’s cognitive elite to marry each other, live near each other in “Super Zips,” and launch their children into the same schools, and thence onto the same path to worldly success. Deresiewicz puts this betrayal of the democratic impulse neatly: “Our new multiracial, gender-neutral meritocracy has figured out a way to make itself hereditary.”

But the solutions on offer never rise to the scale of the problem. Authors attack the meritocratic machine with screwdrivers, not sledgehammers, and differ only in which valve they want to adjust. Some think the solution is to tip more disadvantaged kids over the lip of the intake funnel, which would probably make things worse. If more people start competing for a finite number of slots, slim advantages like those that come from having grown up with two meritocrats for parents will only loom larger. And has anyone asked working-class families if being sucked into a frantically achievement-obsessed rat race is a benefaction they are interested in?


Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at