Immediately after posting my last piece here, I noticed a bit of a flaw in my logic. I thought about changing it right away, but I decided I'd wait and see if any of my brilliant friends pointed it out. They didn't. So, I'm going to correct myself now . . . because I'm principled and anal that way.
So, I wrote about students with high GPAs and students with low GPAs, and the fact that some of them had earned those GPAs and some hadn't. Concerning the low GPA folks, I said, "Some kids earn a low GPA, and some have unfairly been given a hard row to hoe." The thing is, I seemed to be implying that when unfortunate circumstances in a person's life (bad teaching, bad home environment) result in that person getting a low GPA that they haven't "earned", they might be somehow deserving of someone else's extra GPA points (were this GPA re-distribution scheme ever to come to fruition -- which, of course, it won't).
But I think I kind of mis-spoke there. As I said, a GPA is a record of a student's accomplishments in class; it should be a reflection of a student's academic ability and effort. If a kid has been in a cruddy school all his life where the teachers didn't teach him what he needed to learn . . . or if a disruptive family life has kept him from being able to focus on school and learn what he needed to learn . . . that means he's getting the low grades he's getting because he doesn't have the academic ability needed to get higher grades. It may not be his fault that he hasn't been able to acquire that ability, but the GPA is still accurately reflecting his lack of ability. So, it is the GPA he earned and deserves.
The only way someone could get a low GPA that they haven't earned is if they have done the work they were supposed to do in a class and the teacher unfairly gave them a grade lower than their work deserved. I suppose that happens some, but I don't expect it happens often (although I'm sure many students think it does!). So, to take away points from the high GPA folks (even if only from those whose GPAs are inflated for some reason) to give to the low GPA folks isn't fair to the low GPA folks either. It means that their record will indicate a level of academic ability that they don't actually have -- which basically makes it false advertising for their future employers, something that will likely come back to haunt them.
And that was my problem with the whole GPA/wealth redistribution analogy anyway. A GPA is (or is supposed to be) a reflection of a person's ability and effort. Wealth is NOT necessarily. There are many intelligent and hard-working people out there who are not able to make enough money to get by.
The question is . . . WHY are they not able to make enough money to get by? What exactly is it that is standing in the way? I really don't believe that somebody else's high salary is what's holding them back -- anymore than one student's high grades are dragging another student's grades down. Wealth is not a pie to be divided up, and if one person gets more than their share, others lose out. Wealth can be created. Just like we strive to give every student the opportunity to learn well (rather than just handing out extra GPA points), we need to figure out how to give everyone an environment in which they can create wealth. THAT evens the playing field in a fair way. Wealth re-distribution doesn't.