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Big Test : The Secret History of the American Meritocracy

Big Test : The Secret History of the American Meritocracy - 99 edition

ISBN13: 978-0374527518

Cover of Big Test : The Secret History of the American Meritocracy 99 (ISBN 978-0374527518)
ISBN13: 978-0374527518
ISBN10: 0374527512
Cover type: Paperback
Edition/Copyright: 99
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc.
Published: 1999
International: No

List price: $18.00

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Big Test : The Secret History of the American Meritocracy - 99 edition

ISBN13: 978-0374527518

Nicholas Lemann

ISBN13: 978-0374527518
ISBN10: 0374527512
Cover type: Paperback
Edition/Copyright: 99
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc.

Published: 1999
International: No
Summary

This brilliant book shows us for the first time the ideas, the people, and the politics behind the fifty-year-old system that determines the course of Americans' lives.

It began as a utopian experiment--launched by James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard University, and Henry Chauncey, head of the brand-new Educational Testing Service (ETS)--to use the then-young science of intelligence testing to assess and sort American students fairly and dispassionately in order to create a new democratic elite that would lead postwar America to progress, strength, and prosperity. No writer before Nicholas Lemann has gained access to the archives of the all-powerful ETS, and none has understood the significance of this extraordinary drama. But now, in a remarkable synthesis of vibrant storytelling, vivid portraiture, and thematic analysis, he reveals the secret history of this major effort to unseat the quasi-hereditary male white elite that had run America.

Lemann's narrative goes across a huge range of subjects, places, and times--from Cambridge and wartime Washington to contemporary California, from the think tanks and policy centers where educational testing was invented to the schools and classrooms where the test forms are handed out. And he describes the consequences, for individual lives and for society as a whole, of this effort to create a new meritocracy.

For the utopian experiment didn't turn out as planned. It created a new elite but also generated conflict and tension, particularly over the issue of race, and America is now a society whose best-educated, most privileged, and most powerful people seem to be leaders without followers--prosperous, resented figures who don't hold the country together around their ideas yet who are trying, like the old elite, to perpetuate themselves down through the generations. Lemann shows that this American meritocracy is neither natural nor inevitable, and it does not apportion opportunity equally or fairly.

The Big Test is superb social history and analysis that not only explains the origins of the inadequate system we are all living with but asks profound moral and political questions about what makes for a good society, and what condition the United States is in today.

Author Bio

Lemann, Nicholas :

Nicholas Lemann, born in New Orleans in 1954, began his journalistic career there and then worked at Washington Monthly, The Washington Post, and Texas Monthly, of which he was executive editor in 1981-83. A frequent contributor to national magazines, he was national correspondent of The Atlantic Monthly in 1983-98 and is now a staff writer at The New Yorker. His last book was the prizewinning The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (1991). He lives in Pelham, New York, with his family.

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