The University As Sandbox

Tinker Toys, College Admissions, And Sheer Embarrassment

I can't stand it. I'm going to Papua-New Guinea to live in a rain forest, and wear a loin cloth, and eat big nasty-looking grubs out of rotting trees, and worship airplanes. That way I'll never have to hear about Colorado College and its Legos again.

So help me, the college is using Legos instead of intellectual tests to admit minorities who lack discernible academic qualifications. I'm not making this up. I'm really not. Listen. This is Dave Curtin, the Higher Education Writer of the Denver Post:

"Feb. 1 -- Colorado College, in an effort to attract minority and disadvantaged students, is dumping those stodgy old college-admission exams in favor of a novel Lego-building test for a handful of applicants. . . .The tests are seen as a way to help colleges maintain racial diversity even if racial preferences are eventually banned."

See? I told you.

The school wants diversity. In University talk, diversity means people who can barely read. Why a college might want people who can't read is a mystery, but Colorado College wants them. The entrance test requires applicants to make a robot out of Legos.

The story explains that the tester shows the students, if that's the word I want, a robot made of Legos. The students then take other Legos and see whether they can replicate the robot. The test, Curtin says (give the guy a break: he's just reporting this twaddle) is supposed to measure all sorts of heartwarming qualities, such as initiative and leadership -- "qualities that hours-long ACT and SAT tests never quite get at."

I'm going to scream.

Now, sending qualified and prepared members of minorites to university is a splendid idea. I'd be willing to pay for it through taxes. Methinks, however, that if you want diversity, the best approach would be to provide good schools, particularly in neighborhoods that are homogeneously diverse, see whether children could be persuaded to take advantage of them, and send the qualified to college. Another idea would be to send diverse students to remedial high school and then send the prepared ones to college.

The worst idea is to pervert what was once a fairly good system of higher education by having the admittedly unqualified play with toys.

How about a little candor? The reason for the Lego test is not what it measures, but what it doesn't: Intelligence, literacy, capacity to analyze, academic achievement, and any faint hope of success in college. It's a dodge.

Ye gods and little catfish.

Now, if I were a victim of this procedure, I would regard the Lego test as abjectly humiliating. Wouldn't you? All the non-diverse applicants (I think of them as "the homogeneity") would be tested on vocabulary, reasoning, mathematics, literature, history, French, and chemistry. The diverse student would get a robot and little plastic blocks with bumps on them.

How condescending can you get? It's positively degrading. If a kid isn't ready for school, sending him to do make-up work is not an indignity. When he finished, he might have a chance. But no: Legos.

Why is it that so much of social policy ostensibly aimed at elevating minorities serves chiefly to divest them of their dignity?

Does this hoopla really help anyone? Students accepted because they are not qualified will of course perform miserably, and so will need a Department of Diversity Studies, whose function will be to give them high grades without requiring anything of them. Upon graduation, they will work for the federal government or, having straight As in Diversity Studies, will sue if they aren't hired as vice presidents of firms they can't spell. The firms will then put them in Minority Relations and write their salaries off as overhead.

Does this make sense?

The prospects for the future are fascinating. Should Colorado College start a department in laser physics, we may expect that diverse applicants will be expected to gain admission by manifesting virtuosity with a yo-yo. Admittedly, the usual entrance examinations overlook this ability. The Department of Chemistry will perhaps require adeptness with Tinker Toys. The Lit Department might want to be assured that the applicant could chew bubble gum.

Is there no end to the solemn fatuity to which schools will descend to admit people who transparently have no business in college? (No. The question is rhetorical.) If the intent is to give degrees to people who can't earn them, why not issue the degree at birth? Or perhaps have a constitutional amendment declaring all citizens to be honors graduates from MIT?

The notion of engendering competence by fiat is not new. Years back, a local jurisdiction decided that it would compulsorily mix the brightest kids in secondary school in classes with the dullest. Heartwarming: No doubt about it. It was also a damn fool idea. (These qualities are the two requisites for any policy in education.)

I imagined the resulting classes in, say, math. Teacher: "Sally, the first derivative with respect to x of the product of functions u(x) and v(x) is u(dv/dx) + v(du/dx). Bobby, if Mommy Beaver has three sticks, and Itty Bitty Baby Beaver has two sticks. . . ."

The amusing thing is that everyone knows that examination-by-toy is ridiculous. Is anyone in the United States not snickering? The Denver Post describes Colorado College as prestigious, which it may have been until February 1. Do you believe that the normal students will regard the Lego kids with respect? Do you think the admittees-by-Lego won't know it?

I have a suggestion. I will donate it to the country without royalties. Let's concede that no more than perhaps a quarter of our young have the intelligence and academic curiosity to go to college. Let us also admit that a watered travesty of a university degree is in fact of little relevance to most jobs. Therefore it shall henceforth be mandated that only those jobs whose actual substance demands education beyond high school shall require a degree.

Then we can stop sending the unable and uninterested to universities that have to be gutted to allow the entrants to appear to be doing what they aren't.

And now I'm out of here. I have to pack my loin cloth and chow down on those grubs. They're like bug sushi. A 747 comes over at sunset, and we're having twilight services.