Can we thrive as a mediocracy?

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Once upon a time, not that long ago, one received things from earning them. You merited a raise. You merited a promotion.

That system was referred to as “meritocracy.” The better you performed those things expected of you, the higher and faster you rose into positions of leadership. The greater value you were to the success of a business, or whatever you were involved in, you were rewarded with bonuses and recognition. Over the course of the last generation or two, meriting something has become more and more passé, replaced with mediocracy. We see it all around us. We give every little league player a trophy, not because they played well or were good sports, but rather because they showed up. I was reminded of this story out of northern Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Math and Science in Fairfax County is considered one of the best high schools in America. They accept only those students who are the most qualified in that realm of education. Graduates from Thomas Jefferson High School have their choice of the best colleges in the country.

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Recently, Fairfax announced that they were changing their admission policy from merit to a lottery of chance based on assorted non-academic criteria. The problem, as some see it, is too many students of Asian descent. Never mind that these students are the ones who have applied themselves and worked hard to receive good grades through the years of earlier education. These students have parents that push and motivate their children. They have merited consideration for acceptance. Parents of students of other nationalities and ethnicities have not been so inclined to push their children to be all that they can be. Too often, the parents have “helped” with science projects or other such activities, lessening the student’s knowledge and skills needed to compete. This will come back to haunt them and society later.

Since the school began in 1985 as a “Governor’s School,” specializing in science, technology, engineering, and math, it had taken the community 35 years to build the school’s reputation as a premier high school. It took the 12 Democratic members of the Fairfax County School Board only 12 minutes and 11 seconds in the dark of the night on Tuesday, Oct. 6, during an online meeting in the middle of a pandemic, to kill the school, eliminating its race-blind, merit-based admissions test.

Ideologues in the dangerous philosophy of critical race theory had just scored a major victory. Like bigots and racists in the 20th century targeted Jewish students who secured admission to America’s Ivy League schools, activists are putting a hit on Asian Americans who defy their thesis that “systemic racism” and “white supremacy” so oppress minorities that they cannot advance.

In cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and elsewhere, this is happening also. The rhetoric nationwide mirrors the language in Fairfax County where a small but vocal group of radical activists, espousing ideas of social justice and anti-racism, have been working with the Fairfax County superintendent, the 12 Democratic members of the local school board, the Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni, and the school principal in an organized campaign to not only undermine the school’s selective admissions process but also the very idea of STEM at the school.

It might not have meant much to you that little league and soccer players all got participation trophies. It might not have meant much to you when a school system in another part of the state flaunts their vision of equality. However, one day these high school students will be applying to colleges and graduate schools that need well-prepared students to study medicine and the sciences. Because admissions policy changes are happening all over, standards will have to be lowered for colleges to compete in the marketplace. Will it make a difference to you if the doctor assigned to cure your health problems simply got by on the luck of the draw? Likewise, will the scientist that is working to save the life of your child or grandchild have had strong enough training to develop a cure?

We are a generation into valuing merit less than we value quotas. Can we thrive as a nation on mediocracy?

FRANK RUFF JR. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.