Robyn Blumner on humanism vs. identitarianism

May 28, 2022 • 9:45 am

In her terrific new article in Free Inquiry—”a bimonthly journal of secular humanist opinion and commentary published by the Council for Secular Humanism, a program of the Center for Inquiry”Robyn Blumner gives voice to things that have been bubbling up inside many of us but haven’t been expressed, either because we haven’t thought deeply about them or because what she has to say is unwelcome to many. (Blumner is president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, CFI, and executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.)

And her message is this: identitarianism, which she defines from the Urban Dictionary as “A person or ideology that espouses that group identity is the most important thing about a person, and that justice and power must be viewed primarily on the basis of group identity rather than individual merit”—is, as her title shows, incompatible with humanism, a movement which she characterizes in a quote from Paul Kurtz, one of her predecessors:

“The Affirmations of Humanism”: We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity and strive to work together for the common good of humanity. (Paul Kurtz, Free Inquiry, Spring 1987)

Click to read her piece. When I’m writing about a piece such as hers, I first print it out (I can’t read seriously on a screen) and then underline the parts I find most important or quotable. In this case, however, I wound up underlining the whole thing, as there’s not a word wasted. Rather than just give up and say “go read it” (you should and perhaps I should have just written that), I’ll give a couple of quote and perhaps my own take, but read it yourself for free:

Here’s her main message:

The division has to do with a fundamental precept of humanism, that enriching human individuality and celebrating the individual is the basis upon which humanism is built. Humanism valorizes the individual—and with good reason; we are each the hero of our own story. Not only is one’s individual sovereignty more essential to the humanist project than one’s group affiliation, but fighting for individual freedom—which includes freedom of conscience, speech, and inquiry—is part of the writ-large agenda of humanism. It unleashes creativity and grants us the breathing space to be agents in our own lives.

Or at least that idea used to be at the core of humanism.

Today, there is a subpart of humanists, identitarians, who are suspicious of individuals and their freedoms. They do not want a free society if it means some people will use their freedom to express ideas with which they disagree. They see everything through a narrow affiliative lens of race, gender, ethnicity, or other demographic category and seek to shield groups that they see as marginalized by ostensible psychic harms inflicted by the speech of others.

This has given rise to a corrosive cultural environment awash in controversial speakers being shouted down on college campuses; even liberal professors and newspaper editors losing their jobs for tiny, one-off slights; the cancellation of great historical figures for being men of their time; and a range of outlandish claims of microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and other crimes against current orthodoxy.

It has pitted humanists who stand for foundational civil liberties principles such as free speech and equal protection under the law against others on the political Left who think individual freedoms should give way when they fail to serve the interests of select identity groups. The most important feature of the symbol of justice is not her sword or scales; it is her blindfold. Identitarians would pull it off so she could benefit certain groups over others.

To show the misguided priorities of the identitarian project, Blumner slips in a description of an egregious act by the American Humanist Association, a group that, despite its avowed mission, has become too woke to bear.

Good people with humanist hearts have been pilloried if they don’t subscribe to every jot and tittle of the identitarian gospel. A prime example is the decision last year by the American Humanist Association (AHA) to retract its 1996 award to Richard Dawkins as Humanist of the Year. The man who has done more than anyone alive to advance evolutionary biology and the public’s understanding of that science, who has brought the light of atheism to millions of people, and whose vociferous opposition to Donald Trump and Brexit certainly must have burnished his liberal cred became radioactive because of one tweet on transgender issues that the AHA didn’t like.

Blumner will certainly be demonized herself for the piece, as she criticize divisiveness, which is engineered deliberately by many so-called humanists who prefer exhibiting their virtue to improving society, and (like me) favors equality of opportunity over “equity” (equal outcomes):

This is what identitarians have wrought. Rather than lifting up individuals and imbuing them with autonomy and all the extraordinary uniqueness that flows from it, identitarians would divide us all into racial,  ethnic,  and  gender-based groups and make that group affiliation our defining characteristic. This has the distorting effect of obliterating personal agency, rewarding group victimhood, and incentivizing competition to be seen as the most oppressed.

In addition to being inherently divisive, this is self-reinforcing defeatism. It results in extreme examples, such as a draft plan in California to deemphasize calculus as a response to persistent racial gaps in math achievement,  Suddenly a subject as racially neutral as math has become a flashpoint for identitarians set on ensuring equality of outcomes for certain groups rather than the far-more just standard of equality of opportunity. In this freighted environment, reducing the need for rigor and eliminating challenging standards becomes a feasible solution. The notion of individual merit or recognition that some students are better at math than others becomes racially tinged and suspect.

Not only does the truth suffer under this assault on common sense, but we start to live in a Harrison Bergeron world where one’s natural skills are necessarily sacrificed on the altar of equality or, in today’s parlance, equity.

Of course, the identitarians’ focus is not just on racial issues. Gender divisions also play out on center stage. I was at a secular conference recently when a humanist leader expressed the view that if you don’t have a uterus, you have no business speaking about abortion.

Really?. . . .

Well, that’s going to get people’s dander up, but it’s good that someone with both power and credibility has said it. It is the drive for equity, not simple equality of opportunity, that is bringing the Left to its knees.

Blumner goes on to affirm that you don’t have to be a cop to have a opinion on cops, a poor person to have an opinion on poverty, and so on.  We’ve tacitly but mistakenly agreed on the Left that you can address problems relevant to an issue only if you have the correct racial, gender, or class credentials to expound on that issue.  And that’s what drives us apart: the notion that society is collection of moieties, each of which can only suggest solutions to its own problems. The basis of humanistic concern, the individual, is effaced, and here she quotes Kurtz again:

If the Affirmation quoted at the beginning of this article that rejects “divisive parochial loyalties” based on facile group affiliations isn’t a rejection of identitarianism, I don’t know what is. In his 1968 essay “Humanism and the Freedom of the Individual,” Kurtz stated bluntly:

Any humanism that does not cherish the individual, I am prepared to argue, is neither humanistic nor humanitarian. . .  Any humanism worthy of the name should be concerned with the preservation of the individual personality with all of its unique idiosyncrasies and peculiarities. We need a society in which the full and free development of every individual is the ruling principle. The existence of individual freedom thus is an essential condition for the social good and a necessary end of humanitarianism.

The individual is the most important unit in humanism. When our individuality is stripped away so we can be fitted into prescribed identity groups instead, something essential to the humanist project is lost. Those pushing for this conception of society are misconstruing humanism, diminishing human potential and self-actualization, and driving a wedge between good people everywhere.

Robyn is not saying that humanists shouldn’t concentrate on alleviating the problems specific to groups like women (viz. abortion rights) or minorities. Neglecting that there are group afflictions is in fact contrary to humanism. What she is emphasizing is that those problems should be tackled together, that no single problem should get overweening attention over others, and, most important, that nobody has a priority of opinion over others based on their gender, race, class, and so on.  If you adhere to the free-speech assumption that a clash of ideas is essential to moral and social improvement, then eliminating all groups but one or two from discussing an issue is a recipe for disaster.

At any rate, this piece is your reading for the day.

 

Dawkins and Blumner; Imagine No Religion Conference, Vancouver, CA, June 2015:

The ACLU reverses course once again in the interest of wokeness

January 30, 2022 • 11:30 am

Last September, a surprising article in the New York Times reported on how the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seemed to be losing its mission of defending civil liberties, moving more and more towards “progressive” politics. Part of this transformation involved suddenly prioritizing what speech to defend based on its perceived “harm.” More harmful speech (e.g., speech offending minorities or other oppressed groups) was to be given lower legal priority.

This was a complete reversal of the history of the ACLU, an organization that was one of my favorites. (They gave me pro bono legal help when I took the government to court over being illegally called up for alternative service as a conscientious objector.)  Now, it seems, they think that some people deserve more civil rights than others. This was all documented in one of my posts and in an article on Tablet that quoted secret ACLU documents. After Charlottesville, for example, Tablet reports that the ACLU made a momentous decision:

. . . the national ACLU circulated an internal document with new “case selection guidelines,” stipulating, “Speech that denigrates such [marginalized] groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.” Before agreeing to take a free speech case, the document continued, the ACLU would now consider “the potential effect on marginalized communities,” whether the speech advances the goals of speakers whose “views are contrary to our values,” and the “structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur.” A manifestation of the ACLU’s new approach can be seen in the decision by one chapter to intervene in a high-profile case at Smith College, where the group amplified bogus claims of racism leveled by a student against some of the school’s custodial and cafeteria staff.

There are many other signs of the ACLU’s change of mission, and you can see my posts on them here. And today there’s yet another, which Zaid Jilani describes in a post on his “inquiremore” site. Click on the screenshot to read.

In brief, Jilani recounts the ACLU’s history of demanding transparency from government, and how it’s now backed off on its history of fostering transparency. The reason is because of the kerfuffle embodied in state bills that ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Parents who don’t want their children exposed to some of the more divisive or questionable aspects of CRT are now asking that curricular materials (syllabi, reading lists, assignments, etc) be made public, i.e., put online.

For the record, I don’t favor those bills. But I don’t see any reason that material involved in public-school classes shouldn’t be made public. (I’m not asking for all teachers to be filmed or recorded, but for the paper record of classroom assignments to be made public.)

The ACLU doesn’t like this, and I’m guessing because they actually want CRT to be taught to children. Do not underestimate their wokeness! If you think I’m exaggerating about the “new ACLU”, have a listen to legendary civil-liberties activist Ira Glasser, once head of the ACLU for 23 years, speaking on Bill Maher’s show. He’s appalled at what’s happened to his baby. Glasser, despite his vocation, is not a man of hot temper, and when he talks this way, you know that he’s really angry:

Back to “transparency”. Here’s the ACLU’s new stand (the ACLU is nearly as hamhanded at tweeting as was Donald Trump):

In that tweet they deliberately conflate CRT with “teaching about race and gender”. People like me—and, in fact, most Americans—favor the latter but not the former. Critical Race Theory, in both its academic construal and in how it’s taught in many schools, is not just “learning and talking about race and gender.” The tweet above is dissimulation.

The ACLU has a history, as I said. of demanding transparency. From Jilani’s post:

This marks a reversal for the ACLU, which has always argued for government transparency in all arenas, including in schools.

As Tablet’s Noam Blum noted, the ACLU of Nevada argued vigorously for transparency when that state’s schools were setting their sex education curriculum and policies.

“The days of back door decision making are over. Compliance with the open meetings law is meant to secure the opportunity of parents, students, and community members to have a meaningful impact on the development of policy. We are all well served when decisions on the appointment of sex education advisory committee members is subject to public scrutiny, rather than the result of the presentation of a narrow range of interests,” Staci Pratt, Legal Director of the ACLU of Nevada, said at the time. The organization used the state’s public records law to request materials related to sex education in each of the state’s 17 counties.

A few years later, the ACLU of Kentucky used records requests to uncover curriculum in all of Kentucky’s 173 school districts, seeking to find evidence of religious instruction by reviewing both policies and curricula:

The ACLU-KY sent requests to all of Kentucky’s 173 school districts seeking policies and curriculum for “Bible Literacy” courses.  While most districts are not offering these courses, the ACLU-KY found many of the courses that are being offered do not fall within constitutional strictures, which require any use of religious text in the classroom to be secular, objective, nondevotional, and must not promote any specific religious view.

The investigation uncovered public school teachers using the Bible to impart religious life lessons (Barren, McCracken, and Letcher Counties), use of online Sunday School lessons and worksheets for course source material and assignments (Letcher and Wayne Counties), and rote memorization of Biblical text (McCracken County) — practices which fall far short of academic and objective study of the Bible and its historical context or literary value.

If you don’t want curricula exposed that deal with race and gender, why do so many people want curricula exposed that deal with creationism being taught in public schools? It was my reading of Eric Hedin’s online syllabi at Ball State University, for example, that led me to discover that he was teaching Intelligent Design creationism in a public college—a violation of the law. The result was that he was forced to stop teaching religion in the guise of science. And, of course, parents foot the bill for their kids’ education, and surely have some rights in at least hearing what their kids are supposed to learn and do.

The ACLU also demanded transparency from schools when they were violating Title IX by segregating sexes:

The ACLU of Alabama was so bothered by government-sanctioned sex segregation in the school system that in 2008 it formally protested and sought documents from Mobile County schools outlining any policies related to the matter:

After hearing from outraged parents of students who, without notice, were involuntarily segregated by sex at Hankins Middle School in Mobile, Alabama, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama sent a letter to the Mobile County School System warning that mandatory sex segregation in public schools is illegal and discriminatory. The civil liberties organization also asked, under the Alabama Open Records Act, that the school district make public any and all documents relating to sex segregation policies in Mobile County schools from the past two years.

One of the things parents are worried about is racial segregation in schools, which is part of the CRT program (in this cases, segregation of graduations, dorms, and events are considered salubrious for minorities). Yet the ACLU demands transparency for sex segregation but opposes it for segregation by race or ethnicity. Why the difference? You know the answer. Jilani dosn’t speculate much about this, though the reasons are clear to all people not blinded by ideology. He finishes his piece this way:

In arguing against transparency in the public school system, the ACLU is departing from its traditional mission. As has been written about elsewhere, the ACLU is increasingly becoming more of an activist progressive organization. Among activist progressives, sensitivities about race and gender have often brought them to take positions that are in tension with classical liberal values like freedom of speech, transparency, and equal treatment under the law. Those same sensitivities appear to be trouncing the ACLU’s longstanding principles in this case.

You can argue that the times are a-changing and it’s more pressing for the ACLU to defend minorities than to defend the civil rights of everyone. You can argue that the First Amendment is outmoded, and equally outmoded is an organization that embodies Mill’s dictum that even the most offensive or contrarian speech should be heard. (Indeed, Hitchens thought such speech should be prioritized.) Yes, you can argue those things.

But if there’s nobody around to defend the civil rights of everyone, then society will become a homogenous stew of “rightspeak”, and only the rights of those who have The Proper Ideology will be protected. That’s exactly what America’s founders wanted to prevent by enacting the First Amendment, and how the courts have construed that Amendment in the last two centuries. As the ACLU becomes a political organization, all we have left is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which still protects civil liberties in a nonpartisan way. But they are limited to rights in education.

As Glasser notes above, if the ACLU goes down the drain, there will be no organization to replace it.  A slight emendation of Antony’s famous quote from Julius Caesar is appropriate:

This was the noblest organization of them all. All the rest of the organizations acted out of political self interest. Only the ACLU acted from honesty and for the general good. Its existence was gentle, and the elements mixed so well in it that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a great organization.”

The Elect at Princeton University decide that ballet is racist, sexist, white supremacist, and thoroughly problematic

January 27, 2022 • 11:30 am

People might beef because the article below not only appeared in The American Conservative, but was written by arch-conservative Rod Dreher. For those who ignore reports from such sources, you might skip this and see the post from the Guardian above, but I pity such folks for refusing to engage with Right-wing sources, for those sources are almost the sole documentors of the woke shenanigans that may bring Republicans back to power.

To satisfy those who can’t stand to read Rod Dreher, I’ve quoted only his sources, with the rest of the post being the words of the censorious and ultra-Woke Elect Princeton University. It turns out that Princeton is going after ballet, having decided that that genre of dance is racist, white supremacist, and “ableist”. It also needs land acknowledgments before every performance!

Before I start, let me say that I’m not much of a ballet fan, but I do see the beauty in some virtuoso performances. And although it’s traditionally white, like much dance, that barrier is being broken down by people like Misty Copeland and the advent of black ballet companies. What concerns me more, knowing that ballet will inevitably become more diverse, is the credible claim that ballerinas are pressured to maintain a slender image, which may cause them to develop eating disorders. I’m not sure how common this is, but it’s a concern. But it’s impossible to do “traditional” ballet if you can’t jump around onstage, which requires at least an absence of obesity.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Here’s Dreher’s introduction. I’ve omitted his fulminations, which you can read at the site:

A source at Princeton University passed to me two documents sent out by the president of Princeton University Ballet (the student-run recreational ballet club), regarding the club’s diversity, equity, and inclusivity initiatives. I quote them both below, in full. The first was written by the club leaders, who in it affirm that “we are all entering this space with a mindset that what we see as perfect is a white standard” and “we aim to decolonize our practice of ballet, even as ballet remains an imperialist, colonialist, and white supremacist art form.” (Gosh, better not tell these woke dingbats about Alicia Alonso, the Cuban prima ballerina, founder of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and ardent Castroite.)

The second document is about “Action Plan Guidelines”. I am told that it was not written by the students, but by Princeton alumni who led the “EDI Circuit.” The document was given to all the clubs that participated. The source says, “I don’t think it was mandatory for all the performing arts groups. Still, it was organized by the University’s offices, namely the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Lewis Center for the Arts.”

I’ll quote only bits from the first document, and assume that it’s genuine.  I was going to bold parts to emphasize them, but really, the whole screed needs bolding. This is only part of that first document:

Ballet is rooted in white supremacy and perfectionism. We are all entering this space with a mindset that what we see as perfect is a white standard. Unlearning that will be difficult but rewarding. Before we begin detailing our action plan, we want to acknowledge that our leadership and those who composed this plan are all white.

Firstly we would like to add land acknowledgement to our shows, in addition to historical context in our programs. We rarely shed light on the problematic history of our art form, and want to bring it to the forefront of our performances.

We aim to decolonize our practice of ballet, even as ballet remains an imperialist, colonialist, and white supremacist art form. We realize our distinct freedoms as a college run dance group, which is that we do not report back to any sort of board or funding programs that would restrict our choices. In selecting new members and cultivating our style, we want to centralize artistry instead of technique, in the hopes of maintaining our core purpose as a ballet company but doing away with some of the stringent and exclusive standards that pervade the art form. As this is particularly important during auditions, we will be prefacing audition discussions with a frank recognition and repudiation of our own biases. . .

. . . We hope to take steps to ensure that PUB membership, not just leadership, requires a commitment to EDI work. As such, we have decided that participation in service and outreach to local communities will become a requirement of every company member. We partner with an organization that members can sign up to volunteer with, but there are numerous other opportunities for dance service on campus. Even though we cannot change some of the biases and prejudices that exist in ballet off campus, we can dedicate ourselves to combating that exclusivity in our local communities and for the next generation.

. . . We would also like to open a conversation about body image and take steps to heal and deconstruct the harmful and racialized ideas about body image that many of PUB’s members enter the company with just by virtue of being a ballet dancer. Historically, PUB has been neutral on this issue, and while body neutrality is something some may strive for individually, it is not realistic or helpful for a group of ballet dancers who have internalized damaging ideas about how they should eat and what they should look like. We are hoping to bring someone in from outside the company to train the officers or the company as a whole on how to talk about body image and how to create an environment where we feel comfortable talking about our struggles with body image while also helping to deconstruct our assumptions about it.

The last paragraph does have a point, but the aesthetics of an athletic, healthy body is essential for ballet, as it is for sports. But the pressure to develop a thin and graceful body type does not seem to be “racialized” to me. All ballerinas, black or white (and there are now many of the former, including entire companies) will have to deal with the need to be athletic in a way that makes the performance aesthetically appealing.

Maus banned in a Tennessee school distrinct because of eight swear words and a naked rodent

January 27, 2022 • 9:30 am

Today we’ll have two posts on how the “Elect”—et’s use that instead of “woke”, so as to conform to John McWhorter’s supposedly non-pejorative word—are changing or banning art to both confirm virtue and prevent others from enjoying good painting, dance, and writing. One source will be the liberal media; the other the conservative media. This first post deals mainly with literature, but I’ve put some “racialization of art” stuff at the very bottom.

Let’s start with the liberal media, which of course reports Elect shenanigans less often than does the liberal “MSM”. In this case, however, the Guardian is the source. This concerns Art Spiegelman’s “graphic novel” Maus, which won the Pulitzer Prize for literature (the “Special Awards and Letters” category) in 1986.

Before I first read Maus, I was disdainful of “graphic novels,” thinking they were just comic books for adults, made for people who wanted to look at pictures rather than read.

Was I wrong! I first saw Maus at the 57th Street Bookstore soon after I arrived in Chicago, and, knowing the plaudits it got, I pulled it off the shelf.  I started reading, and then couldn’t stop. The artwork, I found, added immensely to the power of the book, especially the depiction of all characters as animals, though one wouldn’t expect that power in a book about the Holocaust. I bought it, which I rarely do with books due to my groaning shelves, and it’s now one of several graphic novels I own. (The other two are volumes of wonderful series The Rabbi’s Cat, given to me by a friend.) It’s not just that the books have moggies in them; the attraction is, as in Animal Farm, that messages can be driven home more deeply using animals as metaphors than by straight depiction of human actions.

At any rate, everyone should read Maus (and I also recommend The Rabbi’s Cat).  But, according to the Guardian the good (?) people on a Tennessee school board have taken it upon themselves to deprive students of this access—for no good reason.

Click on the screenshot below to read the piece. You know it’s gotta be egregious censorship if the woke Guardian reports it!

Why did the school board, which after deciding to redact the book, find it more practical to ban it outright? Because there was a single depiction of nudity OF A MOUSE and a few swear words that kids hear (and use) every day. An excerpt from the article (my emphasis):

Tennessee school board has banned a Pulitzer prize-winning novel from its classrooms over eight curse words and an illustration of a naked cartoon mouse.

The graphic novel, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by New Yorker Art Spiegelman, uses hand-drawn illustrations of mice and cats to depict how the author’s parents survived Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

The graphic memoir elevated a pulp mass medium to high art when it nabbed a slew of literary awards in 1992 but appears not to have impressed educators in Mcminn county.

Ten board members unanimously agreed in favour of removing the novel from the eighth-grade curriculum, citing its use of the phrase “God Damn” and drawings of “naked pictures” of women, according to minutes taken from a board of education meeting earlier this month.

Here’s the only passage about nudity (OF A MOUSE) in the school board minutes (have a look at the link above):

Mike Cochran- I will start. I went to school here thirteen years. I learned math, English, Reading and History. I never had a book with a naked picture in it, never had one with foul language. In third grade I had one of my classmates come up to me and say hey what’s this word? I sounded it out and it was “damn,” and I was real proud of myself because I sounded it out. She ran straight to the teacher and told her I was cussing. Besides that one book which I think she brought from home, now I’ve seen a cuss word in a textbook at school. So, this idea that we have to have this kind of material in the class in order to teach history, I don’t buy it.

. . .We are talking about teaching ethics to our kids, and it starts out with the dad and the son talking about when the dad lost his virginity. It wasn’t explicit but it was in there. You see the naked pictures, you see the razor, the blade where the mom is cutting herself. You see her laying in a pool of her own blood. You have all this stuff in here, again, reading this to myself it was a decent book until the end. I thought the end was stupid to be honest with you. A lot of the cussing had to do with the son cussing out the father, so I don’t really know how that teaches our kids any kind of ethical stuff. It’s just the opposite, instead of treating his father with some kind of respect, he treated his father like he was the victim.

We don’t need this stuff to teach kids history. We can teach them history and we can teach them graphic history. We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff.

At least Mickey Mouse had the decency to cover his shame with pants!

At first they thought about just redacting the panels with nudity and cussing, but that would lead to copyright violations:

“There is some rough, objectionable language in this book,” director of school, Lee Parkison, is recorded as saying in the session’s opening remarks.

Parkison continued to say he had “consulted with our attorney” and as a result “we decided the best way to fix or handle the language in this book was to redact it … to get rid of the eight curse words and the picture of the woman that was objected to.”

Board member Tony Allman supported the move to remove the “vulgar and inappropriate” content, arguing: “We don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.”

. . . After much discussion over the redaction of words the members found objectionable, the board eventually decided that alongside copyright concerns, it would be better to ban the graphic novel altogether.

Eventually they voted to entirely remove the book from the eight-grade curriculum. Those kids are about fourteen years old, and you tell me that none of them has seen a drawing or photo of a naked woman before, or heard (much less used) the words “God damn”.

But apparently the use of animals was said to”brutalize the Holocaust”, as if it wasn’t sufficiently brutal. Indeed, to bring home the nature of the Holocaust, pictures (either photos or artwork) are essential; words alone are insufficient:

Board member Tony Allman supported the move to remove the “vulgar and inappropriate” content, arguing: “We don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.”

“I am not denying it was horrible, brutal, and cruel,” Allman said in reference to the genocide and murder of six million European Jews during the second world war.

“It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy,” he added.

Allman also took aim at Spiegelman himself, alleging: “I may be wrong, but this guy that created the artwork used to do the graphics for Playboy.”

“You can look at his history, and we’re letting him do graphics in books for students in elementary school. If I had a child in the eighth grade, this ain’t happening. If I had to move him out and homeschool him or put him somewhere else, this is not happening.”

Mike Cochran, another school board member, described parts of the book as “completely unnecessary”.

“We are talking about teaching ethics to our kids, and it starts out with the dad and the son talking about when the dad lost his virginity. It wasn’t explicit but it was in there,” Cochran said.

“We don’t need this stuff to teach kids history. We can teach them history and we can teach them graphic history. We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff.”

Here we have a bunch of Pecksniffian parents making the decision that fourteen-year-olds shouldn’t have access to a famous, powerful, and moving graphic novel.

Spiegelman’s reaction:

Spiegelman said he was “baffled” by the outcome in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday. “It’s leaving me with my jaw open, like, ‘What?’” the 73-year-old author said, adding he thought the school board was “Orwellian” for approving the ban.

Spiegelman’s Jewish parents were both sent to Nazi concentration camps and his mother took her own life when he was just 20.

“I’ve met so many young people who … have learned things from my book,” Spiegelman said. “I also understand that Tennessee is obviously demented. There’s something going on very, very haywire there.”

Well of course not all of Tennessee is demented, but there are some school board members who are acting, well, I won’t give my reaction.  Let’s just say it’s similar to Neil Gaiman’s:

*************

I don’t know where else to put this item, but it appears that Wokeness Electness has invaded the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I don’t know how far the rot has spread, but readers might check for themselves.  We know, at least, that David and Canova, were racists.  They could at least have depicted Socrates as a person of color!

Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

h/t: Jean

A trigger warning for Nineteen Eighty-Four !

January 24, 2022 • 10:30 am

First of all, let’s get the title of Orwell’s book straight: it’s Nineteen Eighty-Fournot 1984. And that’s the way Orwell referred to it.

That out of the way, a British University has issued a trigger warning for that book. Click this screenshot from The Volokh Conspiracy, which mis-titles the book, to read Volokh’s take on this warning.

Volokh’s quotes are indented, while the Daily Fail quote is doubly indented. My thoughts are flush left.

Daily Mail (UK) (Chris Hastings) reports:

[S]taff at the University of Northampton have issued a trigger warning for George Orwell’s novel on the grounds that it contains ‘explicit material’ which some students may find ‘offensive and upsetting’.

Volokh:

The advice [was] revealed following a Freedom of Information request by The Mail on Sunday….

[I]t is one of several literary works which have been flagged up to students at Northampton who are studying a module called Identity Under Construction. They are warned that the module ‘addresses challenging issues related to violence, gender, sexuality, class, race, abuses, sexual abuse, political ideas and offensive language’….

I think if individual faculty members want to warn students about particular books this way, they should be free to do so. And I actually support warning students generally about this—preferably in orientation, but perhaps even at the start of a class syllabus—precisely to remind them that studying the human experience at a university necessarily involves confronting the dark sides of humanity.

But I personally think it’s a mistake to offer such book-by-book advice, precisely because it reinforces the presupposition that students in university literature, history, anthropology, law, etc. classes should by default expect nothing offensive, upsetting, or explicit, and are thus entitled to be warned as to departures from this norm. The history of humanity has been in large part the history of tyranny, mass murder, slavery, rape, racism, sexist oppression, and much more. (Thankfully, it hasn’t been only that, but many serious accounts, real or fictional, will include the evil as well as the good.)

Adults who study humanity should recognize that this is so. They should be prepared to deal with it at all times in their studies. Indeed, the more they want to fight such evils, the more they should be ready to deal with it without the need for trigger warnings or other supposed protections. And the institutions tasked with educating such adults ought to seek to inculcate such a perspective, as part of their educational function.

Yes, I agree with Volokh about the book-by-book warning; but I think that professors should always use a light finger on the trigger lest they infantilize students and make them think, as Volokh notes, that anything bad is “abnormal and traumatic.” Further, as studies have shown, trigger warnings don’t work—that is, they don’t reduce the trauma of students who say they are upset by material in a given genre. If anything —and this is like “implicit bias training”—they tend to have an effect opposite to what’s intended. Volokh gives the references to those studies in his article, and dp realize that the data are based on a handful of studies.

When I thought back on the novel, which I recently reread, I scratched my head about what part of its content would require a trigger warning. The furtive sex between Winston and Julia is not at all explicit. There’s a bit of violence when Winston gets caught and tortured, but even that isn’t very graphic.  Fortunately, the Daily Fail gives the trigger warning itself, which actually applies to a module of several works, one of which is Nineteen Eighty-Four.

From the Fail:

Now staff at the University of Northampton have issued a trigger warning for George Orwell’s novel on the grounds that it contains ‘explicit material’ which some students may find ‘offensive and upsetting’.

. . . Yet it is one of several literary works which have been flagged up to students at Northampton who are studying a module called Identity Under Construction. They are warned that the module ‘addresses challenging issues related to violence, gender, sexuality, class, race, abuses, sexual abuse, political ideas and offensive language’.

What is, exactly, “explicit material”? The violence and sex in Orwell’s book is largely implicit—described obliquely rather than graphically.

And for crying out loud: if you are offended by violence, class, race, political ideas, and so on, you should NOT be reading the newspaper! As for the other topics, you shouldn’t be reading serious literature at all.  Madame Bovary: “Warning: contains adultery, sex, and suicidal violence”.  You could use the same warning for Anna Karenina!  And violence, oy! There goes War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and even the Bible. (Do they give trigger warnings in theology class?) Ulysses and anything by Henry Miller or Cormac McCarthy are of course out completely. In fact, I defy you to think of a great work of literature that wouldn’t require a trigger warning on any of the grounds above.  I just remembered The Great Gatsby, but of course that has death by auto accident, murder, and domestic violence.

There’s a common thread in much wokeness, one first brought up by Haidt and Lukianoff in their excellent book The Coddling of the American Mind, which suggests these three principles (they call them the “Great Untruths”) for understanding the behavior of modern young people:

  1. “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”
  2. “Always trust your feelings”, and
  3. “Life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

It’s time to stop infantilizing people and treat them like adults. (One example: when we wrote our critique of the hit job on Ed Wilson published in Scientific American, several people warned us that we should go easy on the author—or even not criticize her views—because she was black. That outraged me, because if you believe in affirming the dignity of all people, you must treat the arguments of minorities as you would the arguments of anyone else: if you object to them, you do so strongly but civilly. To do otherwise is to be condescending, paternalistic, and, in fact, racist.)

But enough. Yes, professors can dispense trigger warnings if they want, but they should realize that there’s no evidence that they work, and that when they do so they are practicing the first Great Untruth. I don’t know how my generation got through college without mass trauma.

h/t: Anna

The road to perdition for the Demonized

January 12, 2022 • 10:15 am

This is something I not only see happening all the time, but also worry about it happening to myself. The phenomenon is this: someone of a liberal bent gets called out, demonized, or canceled on social media by the Woke, and is more or less blindsided because of it.  Then a series of semi-predictable steps occurs, with many stopping before the last step, which corresponds to the lowest circle of Hell.

I won’t give a lot of names, but I’ve given names of people who seem to have stopped at various levels.

1.) Person strikes back either once or not at all at those who have gone after him/her. Remains a liberal. (Example: Nick Cohen)

2.) Person continues to strike back, writing several accounts or emitting several tweets about their cancellation. Person, however, remains liberal. (Examples: J. K. Rowling, Abigail Shrier.)

3.) Person goes into more general critiques of Wokeism, more or less making their living attacking the Woke. Politics begin to move rightward (Example: Bari Weiss.)

4.) Person moves much further towards the right, becoming more or less a conservative (Example: James Lindsay, who voted for Trump, apparently as a reaction to wokeness.) This is akin to having abandoned your ideological principles in the service of revenge, but it never works because the Woke never forgive.

Now of course not everyone goes down this route, but it is a natural pathway, and to me an understandable one: it’s a way of repeatedly striking back at those who, you think, have wronged you. And there are exceptions. Although Andrew Sullivan was center-right, the follies of the Right have moved his politics toward the center. And Sullivan, who’s remarkably open-minded, seems impervious to criticism, and is willing to admit when he missteps.

As for me, I constantly worry about the excesses of the Left moving me towards the Right. (You know the old saying, “A young person who is a conservative has no heart; an old person who is a liberal has no brain.”) And I console myself by saying that I haven’t moved towards the Right; rather, I’ve stayed put while the Democrats have moved leftward. In general I think that’s true, but I always wonder whether, were I to meet my 25-year-old self and exchange political views, the younger Jerry Coyne would be upset at the views of the older one. A tweet by Colin Wright expressing my concerns is mentioned by reader Michael Hart in comment #4 below:

I’ve been a diehard Democrat my whole life, and even voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary. My liberal history when I was younger is known to readers here, but whatever political “activism” remains comes out in this website. (Granted, I spend a lot of time bashing the “Progressive Left,” but that’s because I want to save the classical liberal Left.

I may be missing steps, and am loath to give examples lest I insult people. But feel free to weigh in. Just don’t call me “alt-right” or I’ll ban your tuchas.

The Economist on Wokeness, part two

September 6, 2021 • 9:30 am

The Economist‘s article on the origins and effects of Wokeism, which we discussed yesterday, has been supplemented by a short new piece on the “movement” seen as a religion that has various ways to bend people to its will.  The piece lists six ways of keeping believers in the fold, all of which were used by Catholicism and other faiths; and gives an example of each as adopted by the Woke. This isn’t a new idea, as John McWhorter has especially emphasized Wokeism as a religion, calling adherents “The Elect”. (That was the title of his forthcoming book, but he wisely changed the name.) And, of course, many ideological movements, like Russian or Maoist Communism, share the same characteristics.

Part II of Everything You Need to Know about Wokeism can be read for free by clicking on the screenshot below.

The article begins by noting that one of the great accomplishments of The Enlightenment was to dismantle “the confessional state”—the power of the Church—that had ruled Europe for centuries. People like Milton, Spinoza, and Mill, followed by Jefferson in America, pried apart church and state, though more successfully in Europe than the U.S. Nevertheless, as religion wanes in the West, The Economist avers that it’s simply being replaced with Wokeism:

Yet something extraordinary is happening in the West: a new generation of progressives is reviving methods that uncannily resemble those of the confessional state, with modern versions of loyalty oaths and blasphemy laws. And this effort is being spearheaded in the heartland of Anglo-Saxon liberalism—often by people who call themselves liberals. Here is how the old tactics are being revived.

By the way, you needn’t comment that the Right is more of a danger to our Republican than is Wokeism. I already know that! But I don’t want to spend my time bashing Republicans, because that’s what everybody else does. I bash them enough for you to know where I stand.

Here are the methods that, says the article, are paralleled by Wokeism and religion. I’ll give a quote from each section (indented when it’s a quote).

1.) Imposing orthodoxy. 

The progressive left is even more dominant among students. There’s nothing new about left-wing student revolts, but the protests of the 1960s were against the remnants of the confessional state: radicals at Berkeley in California turned Sproul Plaza into a free-speech zone, where anything could be said, and People’s Park into a free-for-all zone, where anything could be done. Today’s radicals demand the enforcement of codes of behaviour and speech. A poll of more than 4,000 four-year college students for the Knight Foundation in 2019 found that 68% felt that students cannot say what they think because their classmates might find it offensive.

2.) Proselytizing. 

I’ve put two sentences in bold because I think they’re right on the nose:

Progressives replace the liberal emphasis on tolerance and choice with a focus on compulsion and power. As in many religions, righteous folk have a duty to challenge immorality wherever they find it. They find a lot of it, believing that white people can be guilty of racism even if they don’t consciously discriminate against others on the basis of race, because they are beneficiaries of a system of exploitation. Classical liberals conceded that your freedom to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. Today’s progressives argue that your freedom to express your opinions stops where my feelings begin.

3.) Expelling heretics.  There are too many stories to tell here, although The Economist gives only one. You can think of many more. This is what’s known as “cancellation”.

4.) Book banning. Attempts to do this with people like J. K. Rowling and Abigail Shrier haven’t worked, and it’s a stupid tactic because, according to the Streisand Effect, a book that’s banned simply attracts more interest. But here’s one example I may have written about before:

Alexandra Duncan, a white American, even cancelled her own book, “Ember Days”, after writing from the point of view of a black woman, something that is now dismissed as “cultural appropriation”.

You can read a bit more about this at Kirkus. I needn’t list all the books written by people who aren’t of the group they’re writing about. It’s ridiculous to call this “cultural appropriation.” It’s ART!

5.) Creeds.  To the author of this article, the creeds are “diversity statements”, though they could also be the recitations by white people that they are racists, even if they don’t know it.

My emphasis below.

Churches demanded that people sign a statement of religious beliefs, like the Anglican church’s 39 Articles, before they could hold civil office. The University of California (uc) is doing something similar. Applicants for faculty posts have to complete statements about how they will advance diversity and inclusion.

These are worthy goals. But Abigail Thompson, until recently chair of maths at uc Davis and a lifelong liberal, points out that uc’s scoring system rewards a woke view of how to realise them. In 2019 the life-sciences department at uc Berkeley rejected 76% of applicants on the basis of their diversity statements without looking at their research records.

Again, this is ridiculous. If they’re looking for contributions to society by prospective faculty beyond academic endeavors, there are many ways beyond “promoting diversity.” Any form of public outreach, for example, is a good thing by faculty. Why is only striving for racial equity valuable—in fact, so valuable that it can efface everything else you’ve done in science? What about simply working at a food bank or, as I used to do, in a soup kitchen?

And finally,

6.) Blasphemy. We all know of statements that simply cannot be said to the Woke, even if they’re true. One is that inequities in representation may represent something more than existing bigotry, like preferences. There are many others. But this one is recent, and I simply cannot believe it’s true (but it is!):

Scotland, a cradle of the Enlightenment, abolished the crime of blasphemy in March. At the same time, however, it reintroduced it by creating new offences such as “stirring up hatred” and “abusive speech”—punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Scotland’s just replaced one form of blasphemy with another. Has anybody been arrrested for breaking this law yet? (I think it applies only to “minoritized groups”, though not to women.)

Legal Aid Society demonizes progressive public defender who criticized racial tribalism

July 13, 2021 • 11:00 am

I’m not going to go into detail about this issue, which was described on Bari Weiss’s site (I think her article is free). Suffice it to say that it tells the tale of how a progressive Democrat, who worked in the trenches for the Legal Aid Society, providing legal help to the indigent (largely black people), can still get harassed and bullied because she doesn’t adhere to the au courant version of critical race theory.

Click on the screenshot to read about Maud Maron, a liberal lawyer trained by Kathleen Cleaver (look her up), and an employee of the Legal Aid Society of New York since 1998.  By all accounts of her close colleagues, she’s a terrific lawyer. But none of those who praised her dared give their names. Why? Because she’s in the process of being canceled for writing a letter to the New York Post denouncing the racial tribalism promoted by Critical Race Theory and its everyday interpretations and tenets.

Here’s Weiss’s article:

Here’s the letter that Maron, who has the best social-justice bona fides of any white person I know, wrote to the New York Post (click on the screenshot):

Quotes from the letter:

I am a mom, a public defender, an elected public-school council member and a City Council candidate. But at a city Department of Education anti-bias training, I was instructed to refer to myself as a “white woman” — as if my whole life reduces to my race.

Those who oppose this ideology are shunned and humiliated, even as it does nothing to actually improve our broken schools.

Though facing severe budget cuts, the DOE has spent more than $6 million for the training, which defines qualities such as “worship of the written word,” “individualism” and “objectivity” as “white-supremacy culture.”

The administration, and many local politicians, buy into a benign-sounding but chilling doctrine called anti-racism, which ­insists on defining everyone by race, invites discrimination and divides all thought and behavior along a racial axis.

Many of the theories trace to “White Fragility,” a small-minded book which relentlessly insists all white people are racist and need to think about race all the time. Conveniently for its author, who charges $6,000 an hour to discuss this conundrum, there is no way to fix the situation … except with more of her expensive workshops.

. . .We all want a well-integrated, high-quality public-school system. Parents have the right to demand an education that prepares their children to meet or exceed grade-level expectations, which in America often lag other countries.

Those who yell the loudest about integration should stop the accusations against those who think or speak differently than they do about the shared goal of integrated, quality schools — and find ways to work together.

Well, you can imagine the result. Maron was attacked by the Black Attorneys of Legal Aid Caucus, who said she wasn’t qualified to be a public defender, and called “a classic example of what 21st century racism looks like.” Her commitment to representing people of color in court (which she had done very well) was questioned, and the social-media mob went after her on Twitter. One example:

The result? She filed a Title VII lawsuit for workplace harassment, and is having trouble finding not only lawyers to defend her, but also people to defend her using their names. Bunch of cowards! Nor did the Legal Aid Society come to her defense before the lawsuit was filed.

Here’s Maron’s 168-page lawsuit against Legal Aid for creating a hostile work environment (click on screenshot):

This is a prime example of what Sam Harris referred to yesterday in his interview with Helen Pluckrose when he said these things:

“Grownups should be able to talk about more or less everything with a cool head and not endlessly castigate one another for merely thinking out loud.”

“One of the things that’s so pernicious about this silencing effect is that it creates an illusion of consensus where you have the most voluble and hysterical activists taking up most of the oxygen and successfully cowing other people into silence for fear of the reputational damage that awaits them if they open their big mouths on any number of topics, race being only one.”

. . . “Racism exists in some places, but doesn’t exist everywhere, and it is being claimed to exist everywhere and is being found everywhere in what is clearly a mass hallucination. And this hallucination is being defended by people who are highly incentivized to defend it; and the level of dishonesty and callousness that surrounds this whole enterprise is just appalling. Genuinely good people, who everybody knows are not racist or sexist or transphobic, are being sacrificed to this new religion.”

Maud Maron is one of the genuinely good people who is becoming a human sacrifice. Ceiling Cat help us all!

Teacher fights for job after repeating student’s use of racial slur when reporting the student for using that racial slur

July 2, 2021 • 11:30 am

Of all the people who got in trouble for using racial slurs (usually the “n-word”)—and that includes NYT reporter Donald McNeil, who was fired for asking a student if someone else used the word—this case is the most bizarre and unconscionable.  It happened in the Kansas City, Missouri area of Lee’s Summit, and was reported on June 24 by KMBC News. Click on the screenshot to read:

It is the peculiar circumstances of the word’s use that make this case both unique and completely unnecessary. The details are simple:

1). Teacher and coach Joe Oswald, who’s been teaching for 20 years, heard a female student using a racial slur (another teacher heard it as well). The slur isn’t specified, but I’m guessing it was the n-word.

2). Oswald took the student to the principal’s office and wrote up a disciplinary report on the student using the specified “green slip”. After Oswald wrote the report, he read it back to the student twice, also as specified, to ensure that the student heard what she was being accused of (and, I suppose, to contest any errors).

3). Another student overheard Oswald reading the report back to the offender and also heard the use of the slur. Apparently that student reported Oswald to school authorities for using a racial slur himself—twice.

4). The student was suspended. But now Oswald is in big trouble as well.

5). A nine-hour public hearing ensued, and the school is now trying to decide whether Oswald should be “retrained”, disciplined, or fired. As KMBC reports,

The student who said the racial slur was given an in-school suspension. The school’s human resources director recommended Oswald get training. Superintendent Dr. David Buck has recommended termination.

The district said Oswald should never have said the racial slur.

“The reason we are here tonight is pretty simple. A teacher has engaged in conduct that the administration believes is wholly inconsistent with that vision and those commitments, and more specifically, with your board of education policy,” the school district’s attorney said.

“He said it was never OK to use that word. It was condescending, derogatory — a word that should never be used. He was upset that she had used the word. He was trying to be accurate. He’d been told to write down exactly what was said and that’s what he had done,” said Dr. David Carlson, executive director of human resources.

. . . . The school board will not render a decision immediately. The court recorder has until July 6 to give both sides a transcript of Wednesday’s hearing. The board then has seven days to meet in closed session and must publish their ruling within 72 hours.

This is absurd.  Oswald did what he was told to do. Or should he have simply written the word and not spoken it? What’s the difference, anyway?

In a case like this, absolute accuracy of reporting is crucial, and that’s why Oswald read the report back to the student—twice.

Despite NYT executive editor Dean Baquet’s assertion that “intent doesn’t matter” when using racial slurs, and that the feelings of the listener are sufficient to allow punishment of the “offender”, racial slurs are regularly used in court testimony. And surely in this case intent DID matter, because without reading the word verbatim, the student could contest the report. The word was used not just didactically, but also quasi-legally, in a school hearing for punishment.

Now the teacher may be punished as well as the student. I hope to Ceiling Cat that Oswald not only isn’t fired, but doesn’t get any punishment. The school should really apologize him for putting him through this misery.  Instead, he has to agonize for two weeks:

The school board will not render a decision immediately. The court recorder has until July 6 to give both sides a transcript of Wednesday’s hearing. The board then has seven days to meet in closed session and must publish their ruling within 72 hours.

Such is the country we live in. What a world! What a world!

h/t: Carbon Copy

Atlantic: The Left’s dismantling of meritocracy hurts Democrats

July 1, 2021 • 11:30 am

This article, from a recent issue of The Atlantic, highlights two “progressive” issues that are hurting Democrats: the “defund the police” campaign, which has gone nowhere (thank goodness, though we do need a rethink of policing), and—the real subject of the piece—the elimination of standardized testing requirements and “advanced placement” classes as admission criteria for secondary schools and colleges. In contrast with police defunding, says author David Frum, this is a serious issue that is hurting the Left. The elimination of testing and advanced classes are, of course, part of the dismantling of the meritocracy that “progressives” deem necessary to achieve equity (proportional representation of groups) in schools as well as in jobs.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Here are Frum’s contentions:

But as unpopular as “Defund the police” is, local progressive activists have found a cause even more anathema—and are pushing it with even greater vigor. Eighty-three percent of American adults believe that testing is appropriate to determine whether students may enroll in special or honors programs, according to one of the country’s longest-running continuous polls of attitudes toward education.

Yet across the U.S., blue-state educational authorities have turned hostile to academic testing in almost all of its forms. In recent months, honors programs have been eliminated in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Seattle. On Long Island, New York, and in Pennsylvania and Virginia, curricula are being rethought to eliminate tracking that separates more- and less-adept student populations. New York City’s specialist public high schools are under fierce pressure to revise or eliminate academic standards for admission. Boston’s exam schools will apply different admissions standards in different zip codes. San Francisco’s famous Lowell High School has switched from academically selective admission to a lottery system. At least a thousand colleges and universities have halted use of the SAT, either permanently or as an experiment. But the experiments are rapidly hardening into permanent changes, notably at the University of California, but also in Washington State and Colorado. SAT subject tests have been junked altogether.

Frum then adds that these programs face more resistance when pollsters stipulate that the programs would result in the admission of fewer black and Hispanic students, but then adds that the enthusiasm for testing returns when respondents are told that everyone, including students of color and the poor, would get free access to test-preparation courses.

This presumes that test preparation works, and it does a bit (especially when the “prep” consists of actually taking the test several times, which allows you to get an idea of what the questions are like), but it doesn’t do nearly enough to reduce the disparity of scores between Asian and white students on one hand and black and Hispanic students on the other (see here and here).

A quote from the first source, Slate:

For many decades, the testing industry denied that it was possible to raise a student’s scores to a significant degree. If coaching worked, wrote Nicholas Lemann in his essential history of testing from 1999, then “it made the SAT look like a series of parlor tricks and word games, rather than a gleaming instrument of scientific measurement.” Yet it’s clear that even the most elementary form of test prep—simply retaking the exam, multiple times—seems to have some benefit. The best independent research suggests that formal coaching can further boost a student’s score, but only by a little bit.

A quote from the second source, the New York Times, writing about the ridiculously low number of black students  admitted to the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in New York City, which has an entrance exam. (Only 8 black students were admitted out of 4,262, while more than half of those admitted were Asians.)

Ronald S. Lauder, the billionaire cosmetics heir, launched a multimillion dollar lobbying and advertising campaign in 2019 to defeat the mayor’s push to eliminate the specialized school exam. As part of that effort, Mr. Lauder and his partner in the initiative, former Citigroup chairman Richard D. Parsons, promised to shower test preparation companies with money to better prepare Black and Latino students for the exam.

Despite over $750,000 spent on test prep over the last two years, most of which was funneled to existing nonprofit programs across the city, their plan has not made a dent in the numbers.

No, test prep is not a good way to even out inequities, and certainly not a way to assure equal opportunity. While eliminating all standardized tests will create more equity by reducing the disparity among groups in test scores, it also deprives schools of valuable information about a student’s potential and makes it harder to identify outstanding minority students.

What to do? The disparity we’re seeing might be the end result of decades of bigotry against blacks that has created, as John McWhorter suggests, a culture that values street smarts more than academic achievement, and has also led to a surfeit of families with single-mother parents. To remedy this takes a lot more than test preparation. It takes substantial investment in providing families with stability, improving teaching, and tailoring instruction to individual students. And it takes a huge social investment in effacing differences in opportunities available to minority students.

h/t: Carl