The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy

The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy

by Nicholas Lemann
     
 

What do we know about the history, origin, design, and purpose of the SAT? Who invented it, and why? How did it acquire such a prominent and lasting position in American education? The Big Test reveals the ideas, people, and politics behind a fifty-year-old utopian social experiment that changed this country. Combining vibrant storytelling, vivid portraiture

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Overview

What do we know about the history, origin, design, and purpose of the SAT? Who invented it, and why? How did it acquire such a prominent and lasting position in American education? The Big Test reveals the ideas, people, and politics behind a fifty-year-old utopian social experiment that changed this country. Combining vibrant storytelling, vivid portraiture, and thematic analysis, Lemann shows why this experiment did not turn out as planned. It did create a new elite, but it also generated conflict and tension--and America's best educated, most privileged people are now leaders without followers.

Drawing on unprecedented access to the Educational Testing Service's archives, Lemann maintains that America's meritocracy is neither natural nor inevitable, and that it does not apportion opportunity equally or fairly. His important study not only asks profound moral and political questions about the past and future of our society but also carries implications for current social and educational policy. As Brent Staples noted in his New York Times editorial column: "Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts announced that prospective students would no longer be required to submit SAT scores with their applications. . . . Holyoke's president, Joanne Creighton, was personally convinced by reading Nicholas Lemann's book, The Big Test, which documents how the SAT became a tool for class segregation."

All students of education, sociology, and recent U.S. history--especially those focused on testing, theories of learning, social stratification, or policymaking--will find this book fascinating and alarming.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374527518
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
11/28/2000
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
420
Sales rank:
742,763
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Table of Contents

Foreword to the Paperback Edition
Bk. 1The Moral Equivalent of Religion
1Henry Chauncey's Idea3
2The Glass Slipper17
3Native Intelligence27
4The Natural Aristocracy42
5Victory53
6IQ Joe70
7The Census of One Ability81
8The Standard Gauge96
9In the System109
10Meritocracy115
Bk. 2The Master Plan
11Rah! Rah! Rah!125
12Chauncey at Yale140
13The Negro Problem155
14The Fall of Clark Kerr166
15The Invention of the Asian-American174
16Mandarins185
17The Weak Spot198
18Working212
19The Fall of William Turnbull218
Bk. 3The Guardians
20Behind the Curtain235
21Berkeley Squeezed241
22Molly's Crisis255
23The Case of Winton Manning268
24Surprise Attack278
25No Retreat293
26The Fundis and the Realos300
27Changing Sides309
28Defeat323
Epilogue337
Afterword to the Paperback Edition: A Real Meritocracy342
Notes352
Acknowledgments391
Index395

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