This post at Eli’s reminded me, I hate fairness.

I don’t have an analysis of it but conversations at work where appeals to fairness come up almost invariably make my insides squirm and involve some form of penalizing some students – it would be unfair to allow something for students who do not merit it to benefit in some way. I’ve gotten to the point where I tell co-workers and supervisors “I don’t care about fairness” because I have no patience for the practices of penalizing students or for people’s attempts to rationalize their role in these practices through resort to higher values. Fairness-talk, or at least the fairness talk that sets my teeth on edge, seems to me entirely about people with power over students trying to convince themselves that they are write to exercise that power in ways that are obviously unpleasant for the students on the receiving end. Not just unpleasant, bad for. (Unpleasant can be good for people, like being pushed to exercise or the bad taste of medicine.) To be clear, I’ve penalized students on occasion, it’s part of my job, I try not to make excuses or rationalize/moralize it in order to wash my hands. It’s one of the many things that suck about working in the diploma industry. People claim that those job rules are good and right, but I think largely on the basis of feelings that they need in order to maintain a sense of themselves – if the rules are unfair then my enforcement of them is unfair or cowardly. Unflattering, but true.

Where is meritocracy in all this? One link is that the standard of fairness is largely about merit. Some people merit higher grades. We can’t cut one student a break because then we’d have to cut all the students a break and then…. this neglects that many students with good grades and high test scores themselves caught a break socially.

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