Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I saw an interesting story on Fox News this morning. (Yes, haters, I watch Fox News. Surely that's a surprise to no one.) Didn't catch every detail, but a grad student somewhere did some research with his fellow students. He went around with a camera, interviewing random students about the idea of wealth re-distribution -- that the wealthy should give up some of their money to those who don't have much. Everyone was supportive of that policy.

Then he asked them about a new idea: GPA re-distribution. Those with 4.0 GPAs should give some of their GPA points to those in the 2.0 range. Even things out. Make it more fair. Oh no, the students said, that wouldn't be fair at all.

It was a fascinating analogy, but one that I wasn't completely comfortable with, and I'm trying to figure out exactly why.

The students' arguments were that they had earned their GPAs -- it wasn't fair to give those points to somebody who hadn't earned them. Exactly. That was the researcher's point. But it occurs to me that this is the argument many liberals will make about the wealth re-distribution idea: that many of those rich people did not earn their money. They just inherited it. Or they were lucky in their business dealings. Or they were compensated more than they were worth by their companies (for some reason I can't understand yet . . .). Or they acquired that money through unjust or immoral business practices.

OK, I'll concede that there are rich people in this country who didn't earn their money (or at least earn it ethically). But I still object strongly to the broad generalizations being made by the left about the wealthy based on that minority segment of the group.

Nevertheless, my problem with the GPA analogy is based on something else, I think. The amount of money a person has in the bank doesn't necessarily tell us much about the character or abilities of the person. A student's GPA, on the other hand, is a record of their accomplishments in their school career. It is a quick way to communicate to a graduate school or future employer something about certain qualities of the student it belongs to. Ideally, when we see a job applicant had a 4.0 GPA, we can assume that they are a hard worker, that they have a good base of academic knowledge and skills, etc.

Ideally. Truth is, I don't think GPAs are really that reliable an indicator. There are some kids with 4.0 GPAs who are smart and hard-working. There are other kids who worked their little patootie off for that 4.0, but in reality aren't that bright. There are others who are brilliant and can get the 4.0 without much effort at all. There are yet others who have their 4.0 because they know how to work the system -- which teachers to get, how to butter those teachers up, how to get into the right "study groups" where much of their work gets done for them, how to get a hold of the answer key for the final exam . . . we all know that goes on. There are even 4.0 kids out there who are being coddled through their educational careers because of the people they're connected to. ("Oh, you're the board president's kid?")

And what about the 2.0 crowd? Some of them are there because they really don't have the intellect to make it in academic work, to be frank. Some are there because they don't try or care. But some are there by no fault of their own: they were poorly taught before this point and now have catching up to do, or their home situations were chaotic and destructive enough to keep them from being able to put the time and energy into their schoolwork that was needed.

So, some kids earn a high GPA, and some kids get it through luck, connections, inborn advantages, or unethical behavior. Some kids earn a low GPA, and some have unfairly been given a hard row to hoe. And it is very hard to distinguish between all the groups. Which is why a blanket policy taking points away from ALL 4.0 students to give to the academically needy is completely unfair.

Which is probably the point one should take away from this grad student's research.