Read Servant's original article
The scholarship system is broken: here’s how we fix it
Scholarship organisations are not serious about supporting those most in need, Ginie…
But even this traditional view of privilege is under progressive attack. In her recent diatribe against western society, Servant-Miklos’ call for scholarships to help not the best poor students, but rather the mediocre poor students is a blatant bait and switch move. Historically, poverty was a good reason to help people, but, interestingly enough, being poor now does contain some privilege. These students now fall out of the worthy of help category! Being poor is not good enough! The never-ending dance of the finish line goes on.
Servant-Miklos now asserts that a scholarship program should be judged on the level it helps the mediocre poor student, which is laudable . But knowing that funds are limited, this would result in academically strong poor students being disadvantaged in order to support the academically weaker poor students. My direct concern here is, what will the criteria look like in a year? Will the academically mediocre poor student be surpassed by the academically failing student as to earn the right to assistance? And then students who have a proven track record of failing will be the chosen ones for scholarships! Does anyone think this is the correct path we should be embarking on in education?
Servant-Miklos does make some compelling points as to obstacles some students are facing. Some of these obstacles are from the system and some could be attributed to individual students. This last point is important to clear up. Everyone recognises that we have groups of students that face immense struggles: poor (at best) schooling, intergenerational poverty, as well as challenging home situations. But what is totally lacking in Servant-Miklos invective condemnation of modern education is real solutions as well as well-thought-out angles to attack the problem.
For example, the analogy of the tennis racket is clever but highly disingenuous. Why is it that progressives love to find the upper 1 per cent of something (Roger Federer) and then try and compare it to the rest of us in their perceived and socially constructed categories. This can be equated to when I get put in the same category as Bill Gates, because I am a white male. That is where the comparison ends; believe me, look at my bank account: lots of zeros and dust! But many are too willing to transfer those characteristics of the 1 per cent to the 99 per cent and thus find their justification to demonise the complete group. Let’s use some statistics and academic thinking for a change. In a bell curve, the 1 per cent is distinct from the rest of the bell! This works for all well-distributed phenomena: from shoe sizes to IQ. Shoes that are size 50 (EU) are statistically different than the average 44 shoe. These arguments that contain the 1 per cent are weak at best and disingenuous in its application.
Servant-Miklos’ argument is circular concerning the ‘paragons of virtue’. Actually, it demonstrates her own biases towards these students (or maybe their success?). When a student is successful ‘against all odds’, who she thinks should have failed due to the inequality in the system, that success is not enough and maybe not even valid. Because that success, according to Servant-Miklos, takes place within the biased system. And since it takes place in that system, that success actually ‘perpetuates inequality’ by working within the system. Really? The success of these students is fully negated because it was achieved within the system. To be fully clear and in other words, when diverse students are successful within the current educational system, they are actually contributing to the legacy of ‘colonialism and patriarchy’.
For me this is the most damning and insulting assertion in this diatribe. Why? Because when I look at my students from Educational Sciences, I see a beautiful range of diversity in our student population. Is Servant-Miklos actually asserting that all the success stories in my department are fake and shallow? That they perpetuate ‘colonialism and patriarchy’?
It is often asserted that higher education is dominated by males. In some aspects that is true, in others not. However, the composition of my department is overwhelmingly female. I guess Servant-Miklos would also argue that these teachers are also perpetuating inequality by increasing academic success in diverse students because it is happening within the current system.
Servant-Miklos raises salient points when it comes to the selection of students for scholarships or entrance to special programs. I fully agree with Servant-Miklos that these processes are messy at best and can be outright discriminatory. However, what drives the selection process of these initiatives is the idea of how education should function in a society. Plain and simple, and incredibly hard to accomplish.
This is where Servant-Miklos and my self are diametrically opposed. What should drive the selection process? She states that we should not ‘judge these students by their grades; judge them by the strength of their passion for change and the potential for exponential impact in their home communities’. Sounds great, but once the music stops and lights go up, we are left with buyer’s remorse: an eternal emptiness that is inapplicable to reality. Why? Because this progressive perspective positions education’s function as a societal change agent driven by passion. Sounds great, but I have never seen a job vacancy for this type of work. Our students come to higher education to intellectually develop but also to gain knowledge about certain domains. These domains are generally connected to certain professions, i.e. clinical practitioner, lawyer, manager or health care analyst.
I actually think Servant-Miklos is doing a disservice to her students by selling activism as a major. Her students and the world would be better served with stronger focus on becoming a practitioner and then combining that with their activism.
This last statement is not at all hyperbolic; I really mean this. If one wants to change the system, you need to be able to effectively engage that system in a deep way in order to make the changes. For example, if college admittance practices are discriminatory, study educational sciences and then work the educational ministry to enact those changes. Or you can occupy the ministry if you want, the choice is yours. If you feel that current clinical practices might disadvantage certain groups, study clinical sciences and engage those professionals!
I would like to end my own diatribe by pointing out some important points. The work that Servant-Miklos is doing with her foundation is fantastic, admirable and should be communicated from the highest towers of Erasmus University. We often preach social impact, well… there it actually exists. Kudos. The success stories she has illustrated give me hope that a lot is still possible in this world within these crazy and often maddening walls of academia. But having said this, it actually fully makes my point and case. Within the system, Servant-Miklos is able to function to create success stories, and these beautiful stories are shreds of proof of a system that can work (not perfectly!). I hope Servant-Miklos will see someday that her changes within this system are breaking down ‘colonialism and patriarchy’ just like the successes I see every year in my students.