Jonge ‘gamma’s’ starten eigen tijdschrift

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4 december 2008 | Gedreven studenten aan de UvA beginnen een eigen tijdschrift voor onderzoek in sociale wetenschappen: Amsterdam Social Science. ScienceGuide presenteert bij de start een appetizer, van de hand van oud-LSVb-voorzitter Jonathan Mijs, die op de site ook als columnist vanuit Berkeley heeft geschreven.

Gedreven studenten aan de UvA beginnen een eigen tijdschriftvoor onderzoek in sociale wetenschappen: AmsterdamSocial Science. ScienceGuide presenteert bij de start eenappetizer, van de hand van oud-LSVb-voorzitter Jonathan Mijs, dieop de site ook als columnist vanuit Berkeley heeft geschreven. Hijgaat nu in op de achtergronden van Marokkaanse jongens en deperceptie van hun achterstand en -vaak negatief- gedrag. “It hasbeen shown that educational failure and success are tightly linkedto labor market opportunities as well as, and perhaps moreimportantly, political participation and (socio-emotional)wellbeing. It is this relation which makes education a veryimportant dimension to explore.”Moroccan youth lagging behind

The Netherlands, in the last two decades, has been facing manyproblems with delinquency, disproportionally (almost exclusively,in the public perception) associated with male Moroccan youth.These young men tend to be from low-income families, raised bylow-educated parents, and are disproportionally concentrated inrelatively poor urban areas. While they often do (much) better thantheir parents when it comes to attained education and occupationallevel, they are lagging behind both native Dutch and other mainminority groups (those from Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles) -while they are in many respects comparable to Turkish immigrants.Their minority status alone, thus, cannot account for theirsocially pathological behavior patterns.

In public debates, explanations for their behavior have been soughtin Moroccan immigrants’ ‘Berber culture’: their ‘primitive andviolent cultural heritage’ from rural northern Africa. Suchcultural explanations have however found little empirical support.In my paper I focus primarily on education as it plays a large rolein perpetuating (or even strengthening) the Moroccan immigrants’relative disadvantages in the labor market. It has been shown thateducational failure and success are tightly linked to labor marketopportunities as well as, and perhaps more importantly, politicalparticipation and (socio-emotional) wellbeing. It is this relationwhich makes education a very important dimension to explore.

The meritocratic ideal

Contemporary norms for educational opportunity and educationalsuccess generally go back to Michael Young’s conception of merit.In his classic essay, The Rise of the Meritocracy 1870 – 2033. AnEssay on Education and Equality, Young portrays a society that isruled by the principle of Meritocracy: power and success areawarded to those who have deserved it by merit. In his book, meritis equated by a simple formula: M(erit) = I(Q) + E(ffort). Whileboth IQ and effort are certainly contested concepts, this’meritocratic ideal’ is, in most Western countries, accepted as thestandard by which the educational system ought to rewardsuccesses.

Many scholars from the interconnected fields of psychology,sociology, and economics, however, argue that our modern societyfalls short of this ideal; they argue that all modern societies, tosome extent, suffer from an inequality of educational opportunity.That is to say: IQ and Effort, for some, do not lead to theirreward of Merit. The main groups within this categorical ‘some’have been identified through their differences from privilegedgroups in terms of race, gender and/or class. Contemporarycriticism has led to the depiction of society as more plutocraticthan meritocratic. In other words, one in which wealth rather thanmerit determines your position in society and your chances forsuccess. While researchers tend to expand their scope ofaccountability beyond wealth, they do emphasize the role ofresources in the generational transfer of educational opportunity.The field that addresses these inequalities of educationalopportunity seems to be rigidly divided into two competing camps:Human Capital Theory on the one side and Cultural ReproductionTheory on the other. While I have no intention of reconciling thesetraditions, I do believe that empirical research is to gain bytaking elements of both into account. In my paper I integrate thesetwo competing explanations into one theoretical framework, suitableto guide empirical enquiries into the Moroccan minority’seducational disadvantages in the Netherlands.

Cracks in the ideal

While meritocratic selection remains the basic process throughwhich students qualify for further levels of education, I lay barein my paper some important cracks in the meritocratic ideal. Albeitnot directly through the transfer of wealth, the social locationone is born into does greatly affect one’s chances for educationalsuccess. This perspective is in contrast with the way many peoplethink about ‘the system’: it works. For disadvantaged groups,belief in the educational system may be a good thing: without it,it would be hard to work up the motivation and effort to performwell in school. This belief however carries a great danger with it,in that it legitimates educational success and failure. If thesystem ‘works’, those who fail do so by their own fault. The valueof thorough, and refined, research thus lies not only in testingthe theoretical framework I have offered. The fruits of suchempirical analysis lie in a better understanding of the processesthrough which Moroccan immigrants, among other societal groups, arebeing disadvantaged in the Dutch educational system. Understandingis policy’s starting point and, consequently, our point ofdeparture, were we to effectively do anything to increase equalityof educational opportunities for disadvantaged groups.

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