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Merit and Difference


by Benjamin Baez — 2006

Using the arguments over college admissions as a point of departure, this article analyzes the idea of merit in education. Situating the concept of merit historically and philosophically, it advances the argument that merit should be considered not as an individual construct but as an institutional one. The debates over merit focus on which individual abilities should be privileged in college admissions. But the author argues the merit does not—indeed, cannot—exist outside the institutions that use it. The article suggests that it may be counterproductive for educators to insist upon an individual basis for merit, even when it is linked to furthering emancipatory goals. In other words, the predominant definitions of merit privilege an idea of the individual that itself should be questioned for how it justifies the institutional practices that create difference, practices that ensure that such an idea never materializes in fact.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 6, 2006, p. 996-1016
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12515, Date Accessed: 10/22/2017 8:03:16 AM

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About the Author
  • Benjamin Baez
    Georgia State University
    E-mail Author
    BENJAMIN BAEZ is associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University. His research interests include legal issues in education, diversity in higher education, and privatization of public education. His the author of Affirmative Action, Hate Speech, and Tenure: Narratives About Race, Law, and the Academy (Routledge Falmer, 2002) and “The Study of Diversity: The ‘Knowledge of Difference’ and the Limits of Science” in The Journal of Higher Education.
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