Censorship of schoolbooks by the Right

September 26, 2021 • 1:30 pm

I’ve been criticized for concentrating on “cancelling” by the Left and ignoring the same activities by the Right. If that’s true, it’s because I think the Left’s activities will help the Republicans in the next elections, while everybody in the liberal media concentrates on the Right. But it is true that we shouldn’t forget that the Right is guilty of some equally stupid attempts at censorship, several of them described in this article in The Daily Beast. Among the things that the Right-wing group “Moms for Liberty” are fighting to ban in schools are predictable ones: mentions of race, the struggle for civil rights, Native Americans, descriptions of segregation in schools, and so on.

But click on the screenshot below to read some new and unpredictable targets of Right-Wing opprobrium, including, for crying out loud, the reproduction of seahorses!

This article describes the battle in Tennessee’s Williamson County School District, in a state where there are already laws against teaching CRT (I object to any such laws).  Here’s some of the offensive stuff:

At the heart of that fight is a conservative group, led by a private-schoolparent, that has a sprawling list of complaints against common classroom books. Many of the books are about race, but other targets include dragons, sad little owls, and hurricanes.

. . .With school back in session, the Williamson County feud has been renewed, Reuters reported this week. And the scope of the proposed book ban is even broader and loonier than MFL’s June letter suggests.

Accompanying that letter is an 11-page spreadsheet with complaints about books on the district’s curriculum, ranging from popular books on civil rights heroes to books about poisonous animals (“text speaks of horned lizard squirting blood out of its eyes”), Johnny Appleseed (“story is sad and dark”), and Greek and Roman mythology (“illustration of the goddess Venus naked coming out of the ocean…story of Tantalus and how he cooks up, serves, and eats his son.”) A book about hurricanes is no good (“1st grade is too young to hear about possible devastating effects of hurricanes”) and a book about owls is designated as a downer. (“It’s a sad book, but turns out ok. Not a book I would want to read for fun,” an adult wrote of the owl book in the spreadsheet.)

You can find what I think are the 11 pages of spreadsheets here and here (enlarge a download), and you can see a pdf presentation of some of the offensive stuff here, along with some videos by The Offended.

But wait—there’s more! Foreign words don’t make the cut, and the parents also join those historians of science who say that the affair of Galileo does not show antiscientific behavior of the Catholic church!

Multiple books that contain Spanish or French Creole words receive warnings from the group for potentially “confusing” children. An article about crackdowns on civil rights demonstrators, meanwhile, is deemed inappropriate for “negative view of Firemen and police.” A fictional book about the Civil War (given to fifth graders) is deemed inappropriate, in part due to depictions of “out of marriage families between white men and black women” and descriptions of “white people as ‘bad’ or ‘evil.’”

At one juncture, the group implores the school district to include more charitable descriptions of the Catholic Church when teaching a book about astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was persecuted by said church for suggesting that Earth revolves around the sun.

“Where is the HERO of the church?” the group’s spreadsheet asks, “to contrast with their mistakes? There are so many opportunities to teach children the truth of our history as a nation. The Church has a huge and lasting influence on American culture. Both good and bad should be represented. The Christian church is responsible for the genesis of Hospitals, Orphanages, Social Work, Charity, to name a few.”

Finally, my favorite bit is the seahorse ban. As I’ve written before, both seahorses and pipefishes reverse the usual course of offspring care. In both groups, males have pouches to contain and incubate the fertilized eggs, and females compete for those eggs to get into those pouches. (This is because females can produce eggs faster than males can incubate broods.) Because here females compete for rare space in male pouches, sexual selection is reversed, and in seahorses and pipefish it is the females rather than the males that is the highly decorated sex (see here and here).

You can imagine the consternation this situation would cause for right-wingers: males get pregnant! Why, it’s almost like transexuality! And so they object:

MFL’s Williamson County chapter also takes issue with a picture book about seahorses, in part because it depicted “mating seahorses with pictures of postions [sic] and discussion of the male carrying the eggs.”

The Daily Beast reviewed the text in question via a children’s story time YouTube channel.

Readers looking for a Kama Sutra of seahorse sex will be disappointed. Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish In The Sea contains nothing more risqué than watercolor illustrations of two seahorses holding tails or touching bellies (never—heavens—at the same time).

The passage that “describes how they have sex” reads: “they twist their tails together and twirl gently around, changing color until they match. Sea horses are faithful to one mate and often pair up for life. Today Sea Horse’s mate is full of ripe eggs. The two of them dance until sunset and then she puts her eggs into his pouch. [JAC: OMG that is HOT!] Barbour sea horses mate every few weeks during the breeding season. Only the male sea horse has a pouch. Only the female sea horse can grow eggs.”

MFL recommends the book be reserved for older children, up to grade eight.

As your reward, here’s a video of a male seahorse giving birth to hundreds of miniatures (warning: sex-role reversal!):


h/t: GInger K.

Why do people think the coronavirus vaccine should be an exception to mandated vaccinations?

August 6, 2021 • 9:15 am

On the news last night, and almost every night, one can see irate parents objecting to their children having to be vaccinated for school (mostly college now), or having to wear masks. And the mantra they cry is “We’re the parents: we make the decisions for our children and know what’s right for them.” Likewise, much of the objection by adults to getting vaccinated centers around the freedom to make decisions that affect their own bodies. While that reason may hold water for things like abortion, it doesn’t work for vaccination, because your “freedom” can make other people sick, whether it be resistance to masks or to the jabs themselves.

Most of you, at least if you’re American, know that vaccinations are required to attend most public schools unless you file a religious objection, and so it’s not up to the parents to decide about getting jabs for their kids. They could, however, send their kids to religious schools, or try homeschooling, if they wish to avoid vaccination.

To check on this again, though, I looked up the public-school vaccination requirements for two states: my own liberal state of Illinois, which has been pretty strict about masks and restrictions during the pandemic, and Louisiana, which has the highest per capita rate of infection and a lot of vaccine resisters. It turns out that the school requirements for vaccination are pretty much the same for both states, and in fact require a fair number of jabs. Here are are for the states, with the links to where I got the data:



The State of Illinois requires vaccinations to protect children from a variety of diseases before they can enter school. Students must show proof of immunization against up to 12 vaccine-preventable diseases (the number and schedule of these vaccinations depend on a student’s grade and age).

More information about minimum immunization requirements for Illinois can be found here. A summary of State of Illinois immunization requirements by grade follows:

Pre-K: Immunization records that reflect the following:

    • Tetanus/Diptheria/Pertussis – four doses
    • Polio – three doses
    • MMR – one dose
    • Hepatitis B – three doses
    • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) titer – 4 doses
    • Varicella (chicken pox) vaccine – one dose
    • Pneumococcal series, or one dose after the age of 2

Kindergarten: Immunization records that reflect the following:

    • Tetanus/Diptheria/Pertussis – 4 or more doses, most recent must be dated after 4 years of age
    • Polio – 4 dose series with the last dose dated on or after 4th birthday
    • MMR – 2 doses
    • Hepatitis B – three doses
    • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) titer 4 doses – (not required after fifth birthday)
    • Varicella vaccine – 2 doses, first on or after first birthday, second no less than 28 days later

Grade 6: Immunizations as per kindergarten requirements listed above, plus

    • Proof of having received a Tdap booster
    • Proof of having received one Meningococcal vaccine (first dose received on or after student’s 11th birthday)

Grade 12: Immunizations as per grade 6 requirements listed above, plus

    • Proof of having received 2 doses of Meningococcal Vaccine with the second after age 16 (only one dose required if the first dose was received after the age of 16)

All students who are new to a district in any grade will be required to provide complete immunization records.

Exemptions to immunization requirements:

  • Religious: Parents/Guardians requesting religious exemptions from health requirements must complete the required form along with their child’s healthcare provider.
  • Medical: If your child has a physical condition that prevents adherence to the vaccination schedule, their healthcare provider should indicate this on a physical examination form or in written documentation. Depending on your child’s medical condition, this may need to be reviewed on an annual basis.




Note: Students can participate in school without the required immunizations listed above if either of the following are presented: 1) a written statement from a physician stating that the procedure is contraindicated for medical reasons; or 2) written dissent from the parent/guardian.

The requirements for both states are pretty much the same, except that Illinois requires flu shots and Louisiana doesn’t. Also, Illinois will exempt kids only if they have religiously-based objections or medical contraindications. In contrast, while Louisiana, like Illinois, allows religious exemptions, it also allows parental exemptions of any sort, and I’m not sure if any written dissent will suffice.

As I wrote several years ago, religious exemptions from vaccination requirements are nearly ubiquitous:

  • 48 states have religious exemptions from immunizations. Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states that require all children to be immunized without exception for religious belief.

That those two states don’t allow religious exemptions is surprising, as they’re both in the South. But good for them: there should be NO religious exemptions allowed for vaccination given that if you get ill you can make others ill. This is a case of rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. And public healthcare is Caesar’s purview, not God’s.

This is only one of many religious exemptions from children’s healthcare that are required; see the post just above (and this one). Being religious gets you a real break if you don’t want to have to give your kids science-based medical care when they’re ill (I wrote about this in Faith Versus Fact.)

What about nonreligious objections? I assume that every state, like Illinois, allows students to be exempt from some vaccinations if they have medical conditions that may make vaccination dangerous, but I haven’t looked that up. What I have looked up is nonreligious and nonmedical exemptions: philosophical or “other” exemptions like those in Louisiana. Here’s what I found:

In 20 of those [48 states that allow religious exemptions from vaccination], you can also avoid vaccination if your exemption is based on philosophical reasons.

So in 48 states you can avoid jabs if you have a religious reason (and I’m not sure how strict they are about what “religion reason” counts), and in 20 you can avoid jabs if you have a philosophical reason. (I imagine that they’re not too strict about what constitutes a “philosophical reason.”) Ergo, religious belief trumps rational thought—though I’m not arguing that there are rational objections to most vaccines. It just shows how much American’s prize religion over philosophy.

In 30 states, then, your children must get vaccinated regardless of the parents’ wishes unless they can make a religious case.

But neither philosophical nor religious reasons constitute, in my view, valid reasons to exempt public-school students from vaccination. In fact, one can argue that all children, regardless of whether they attend public school or not, should be vaccinated unless there are medical contraindications.

The point of all this is that—except for religion—there is no parental “right” to decide whether or not to get their children immunized—not if they want them to go to public schools.  It makes me angry to hear those parents vehemently assert their “rights”, without any apparent awareness that those “rights” deprive other children of the “right to stay healthy by not being forced to go to school with unvaccinated kids.” It’s like the old but true bromide: “Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.”

I feel the same way about masking. Though the data on mask efficacy isn’t as thorough as for vaccine efficacy, if public-health officials in a state look at the data and decide that masks prevent the spread of infections to and fro, there should be no parental “right” to disobey. Parents can of course object and make a data-driven case, but if they fail, well, they’ll have to send their kids to St. Corona’s.

Now parents could argue that the mandated vaccines for school have been around a much longer time, so we know what any deleterious effects might be, while the newer jabs are “unproven”. But if you know the statistics, that objection doesn’t wash much. Yes, there may be longer-term effects of the jabs that we don’t yet know about, but what are the chances of those effects outweighing the substantial protection from illness and death that the vaccines confer?  Well over 95% of people in hospitals with Covid-19 now are unvaccinated.

I am always wary when one invokes “rights” as an argument stopper, for that smacks of objective morality when in fact, as with most things claimed to be “rights”, they are subjective decisions based on a philosophy of social harmony. As a consequentialist utilitarian, I prefer “dicta”—we should make those rules with the most salubrious effects. And I don’t think one can argue that allowing people to avoid avoid vaccination when they have no good reason to do so (unless they are hermits), or avoid letting their kids get vaccinated, is a better alternative than letting everybody decide for themselves.  Now, the U.S. yet has no laws for doing this except for schoolchildren, but I’m in favor of them, particularly laws that you can’t work at company X unless you are vaccinated against coronavirus. I hope Biden mandates this for federal workers.

Call me a hardass; it won’t bother me.

Jennifer Haller, left, smiles as the needle is withdrawn after she was given the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Once again, should teaching CRT be banned? Richard Hanania says it won’t work, but offers another solution that liberals won’t like

July 14, 2021 • 10:30 am

About a week ago, I posted a piece about Critical Race Theory (CRT) called “Should teaching CRT be banned?” As you know, and will see below, legislatures, all of them Republican, are in process of banning what they see as critical tenets of CRT.

My own view was that it shouldn’t be banned as I was wary about government mandating what should or should not be taught in schools. (Creationism and its variant of intelligent design are exceptions; the courts have interpreted both as forms of religion, and teaching them in public schools is thus violates the First Amendment.)  In saying that teaching CRT shouldn’t be banned but that teaching it, at least in its divisive form, was still bad, I agreed with Andrew Sullivan. There were, I thought, legal recourses against the most divisive aspects of CRT—the bits that set races against each other.  Lawsuits, I thought, could eliminate that kind of pedagogy.

I’ve had to rethink all this after I read the new article below by Richard Hanania on his Substack site (click on screenshot). In particular, I didn’t realize that governments have a perfect right to dictate what and what cannot be taught (so long as it doesn’t violate the Constitution), that they do this all the time, that mandating what can be taught also tells you what cannot be taught, and, adds Hanania, it doesn’t matter anyway because teachers, who are mostly liberals, will manage to teach what they want regardless of the law.

I can’t find much about Hanania’s politics. He seems to be a conservative but it’s not obvious, and at any rate it doesn’t matter when we’re weighing his arguments:

First Hanania presents a map showing where anti-CRT-teaching bills have been passed or are in the legislature (some states apparently are labeled for bills “with other discussions about racism”):

Then he makes his points, which I’ve characterized in bold (Hanania’s quotes are indented; mine are flush left):

Legislatures have a right to tell schools what and what not to teach, and they do it constantly:

Legislators tell schools what to teach and not to teach all the time. It’s sort of a basic function of government. Illinois just mandated “Asian American History” and California requires teaching of “LGBT History,” cementing the idea that American history should be understood through the lens of groups of people defined by their sexual preferences or racial characteristics (or, in the case of “Asian American History,” a made-up census category). As of 2019, California mandated “LGBTQ+ inclusive sex ed,” which includes teaching kids about newly discovered genders and sexual identities. A Vox article tells the story.

Andrew Sullivan and I are thus confused in saying that CRT shouldn’t be banned but is still wrong to teach.

Some, like Andrew Sullivan, take the position that CRT is a pernicious and false doctrine, but that legislators should nonetheless do nothing about it. I’m struck by the discrepancy between his discussion of what’s being taught and his ultimate recommendations. Here’s how Sullivan describes CRT, implying that it is psychologically damaging to children and even potentially abusive.

The goal of education of children this young is to cement the notion at the most formative age that America is at its core an oppressive racist system uniquely designed to exploit, harm, abuse, and even kill the non-white. This can be conveyed in easy terms, by training kids to see themselves first and foremost as racial avatars, and by inculcating in them a sense of their destiny as members of the oppressed or oppressor classes in the zero-sum struggle for power that is American society in 2021.

Liberals want to teach Critical Race Theory because they think it is true, while others want to ban teaching it because they think it’s false. I can understand both positions. In contrast, the position “this is all pernicious lies but nobody should do anything about it” is puzzling to me.

Okay, I’ll accept that. Decisions by legislatures or school boards about whether to teach CRT should be made on the basis of whether it’s imparting facts that are right or wrong. But there’s the rub, for classic academic CRT is not what’s being taught in these schools, but interpretations of CRT filtered through the likes of Ibram Kendi and Robin Di Angelo. Anything racially divisive I see as wrong, but to call attention to the odious history of bigotry in our country should surely be done. Both are parts of “garden variety” school CRT.

Mandating teaching a subject or viewpoint explicitly prohibits teaching the other viewpoint. 

Notice that by mandating one thing, you ban another. A classroom that is required to teach gender is fluid and homosexuality should be accepted is banning traditional sexual morality. One that teaches that every major racial census category has its own history decides which groups are singled out for official identities (“Hispanic” and “AAPI,” but not “Jewish” or “Italian”), and denigrates the idea that American history should be taught from a more unified perspective.

The idea that government schools teach some things, but not others, and that a government school curriculum is set by government, has never been controversial. It’s only causing such debate now because instead of Democrats mandating that you teach identity politics and gender fluidity, it’s Republicans wanting to teach their own ideas.

Now maybe you think Critical Race Theory is true. In which case, you should oppose these bans. If you think it’s a false and harmful doctrine, then banning it is pretty much the job of government.

But of course this all depends on what aspect of CRT is being taught, and you’ll never know unless someone monitors the classroom.

Lawsuits aren’t a solution. As Hanania notes:

This highlights what is so strange about David French and other writers arguing that if CRT discriminates against whites, that’s already illegal under the Civil Rights Act, and people can just sue. As I have pointed out, the Civil Rights Act has been interpreted to not only allow anti-white discrimination, but actually mandate it in the form of affirmative action. As it turns out, people interested in enforcing civil rights law think discrimination against blacks is a major problem society has to constantly be on guard against, while discrimination against whites isn’t really a thing.

And of course to stop CRT teaching with lawsuits is a piecemeal effort, state by state, that may ultimately wind up in the Supreme Court; and you know what that means.

But it doesn’t matter, for what does matter is who is teaching the kids. And who is teaching the kids are, of course liberals who will impart aspects of CRT to students if they can. Although secondary-school teachers aren’t as liberal as college professors, they definitely lean Left:

A 2017 survey of school teachers and education bureaucrats showed that they voted for Hillary over Trump, 50% to 29%. That’s actually not as lopsided as I would have guessed, but there’s evidence that Democratic teachers are more committed to politics than Republican teachers, just as liberals care more about politics more generally. In 2020, educators who donated money to a presidential campaign were six times more likely to support Biden than Trump. So while Democrats may have “only” a 21-point lead in voting preferences among educators, when it comes to those who care more about politics, it’s more like an 85%-15% advantage. And teachers are probably conservative compared to the kinds of people who write textbooks, design curriculums, and work in education departments.

With those kinds of numbers, there’s really nothing conservatives can do to make the schools friendlier to their ideas and values. A CRT ban might mean a teacher won’t say “Ok, kids, today we’re going to learn about Critical Race Theory!,” but they’ll still teach variations of the same ideas.

The solution? Send your kid to private schools, or homeschool them, as such schooling is either generally more conservative or, at home, you can teach your kids what you want. It’s this solution that makes me think that Hanania is a conservative. He notes, though that private school enrollment has dropped in grades 1-8 and 9-12, as it’s expensive, but homeschooling has nearly doubled in the last two decades:

On the conservatism of private schools:

That being said, are private schools really any less liberal than public schools? Maybe not at the most elite level, as Bari Weiss has shown. Yet every indication is that private schools are in general more conservative. According to a 2015 study, “of the 5.8 million students enrolled in private elementary and secondary schools, 36 percent were enrolled in Catholic schools, 13 percent were enrolled in conservative Christian schools, 10 percent were enrolled in affiliated religious schools, 16 percent were enrolled in unaffiliated religious schools, and 24 percent were enrolled in nonsectarian schools.” Combining Catholic and “conservative Christian” schools, this indicates that at least half of private schools teach a sexual morality that would be illegal if promoted by a public educator, at least in California and other blue states.

In the end, Hanania’s solution, if you’re worried about CRT being taught more widely, is to put private schools on a more equal footing with public ones, perhaps using school vouchers to avoid the expense. That, of course, is not a solution I recommend, as I’m a big fan of public schools. And his solution is sure to sicken other liberals. But at least, says Hanania, it is a kind of solution, and nobody has offered any thing else that’s likely to stem the teaching of CRT. Hanania ends this way:

“Banning Critical Race Theory” sounds like a new, vigorous, and exciting idea, while “more school choice” seems like the same old conservative spiel.

But those who hope to change the public schools have no plan to make an overwhelmingly left-wing, and increasingly radicalized, profession reflect their preferences and values.

Trust me, I like finding new and original ideas to promote, and hate to come out for such a conventional and boring suggestion like “more school choice,” although I at least take comfort in the fact that I took an unconventional path to get to that conclusion. Nonetheless, please try not to judge the idea based on how edgy it sounds, but based on a clear understanding of how the world actually works.

My solution? Oppose the teaching on the grounds that much of it is false and it also has a pernicious effect on schoolchildren


FIRE: Should teaching CRT be banned?

July 9, 2021 • 9:30 am

Four people at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) have written a personal take on the new laws designed to prevent the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in campuses and secondary schools. Their views don’t constitute not an official FIRE position but rather raise some considerations about the spate of laws, put in place mostly by Republican states. What I like about FIRE is that they are nonsectarian, defending the civil liberties of students regardless of what ideology is involved. (That’s what the ACLU used to do.)

So in this case, though much of the motivation for these laws could stem from a Republican desire to prevent the teaching of the history of racism and the genocide of Native Americans, Lukianoff et al. argue that there are some genuine motivations for enacting these laws based on what’s happened in classrooms. On the whole, though, the authors come down with the view (a view I’ve expressed myself) that although these laws may be constitutional, they are also undesirable, and that there are other ways to prevent some of the invidious effects of how CRT has been taught in the classroom.

Click on the screenshot to read:

The authors call these bills “divisive concepts bills” (DCBs) rather than CRT bills, as Lukianoff et al. (referred to as “I” in the text) say that DCB better expresses what the bills promote.  They make 13 points about the bills. These are not reasons to oppose to bills, but rather things to consider when thinking about whether DCBs should be opposed. I’ll list the points (FIRE’s quotes are indented) and give my own take in type that is flush left.

Note that most of the interest in these bills centers on their use in public secondary schools rather than public universities, which have greater latitude for teaching what the faculty wants.

1. There are dozens of these bills, with possibly hundreds of amendments.  And they all differ, making it hard to formulate a blanket opinion. As FIRE says:

Indeed, there are so many that it has made discussion of the bills difficult, with some being clearly unconstitutional, while a few others essentially reiterate existing racial discrimination law and seek to ban the kind of compelled ideological speech that is already prohibited under the First Amendment.

2. Laws that bar the teaching of certain concepts or materials relating to race and gender in higher education are almost always unconstitutional and are contrary to a free speech culture.  According to the essay, this constitutes illegal “viewpoint discrimination”. But that applies in universities, and such discrimination is surely illegal. The crunch comes in secondary education (kindergarten through 12th grade), where the law is different.

3 Laws that bar the teaching of certain concepts or materials relating to race and gender in higher education are almost always unconstitutional and are contrary to a free speech culture. Why FIRE thinks DCBs shouldn’t be passed to apply to secondary schools is largely because the parts of CRT that liberal parents object to involve compelled speech, such as attesting that you have white privilege and are racist—speech that is already illegal. Teaching about the history of racism in America, which is why Republicans largely want these bills, isn’t wrong, but is an important part of our history. It’s the compelled thought and speech bits that are illegal. But not all bills mandate that.

4. K-12 curricula are not suddenly political. They have always been political. The point is that curricula are decided in a “democratic manner”, which, I suppose means that the authors think that legislatures have the right to mandate curricula. Two quotes:

. . . what will become the curriculum in most public K-12 schools is democratically decided by a combination of state legislatures, local school boards, and individual schools. As such, they represent the will of the people, as expressed in local and state elections. The individual schools cannot exceed the scope granted them by their school boards, which themselves derive power and authority from the state. There is a large distinction between the expansive role that higher education plays in our society and the restricted responsibilities incumbent upon an American elementary, middle, or high school. Higher education is a gigantic engine not merely for teaching but also for engaging in knowledge-expanding research. As such, it enjoys certain necessary privileges, such as academic freedom.

. . . Because K-12 attendance is compelled by the state and, at public schools, funded predominantly by local taxes, it is understandable that the substance of that teaching is subject to democratic oversight, through state legislatures and elected (or appointed by those who were elected) school boards. Legislators are expected to exercise oversight when citizens with children in the schools voice legitimate concerns about curricular matters.

5. Most of the divisive concepts bills aimed just at K-12 are probably constitutional, given that legislatures have a lot of power to decide curriculum. That doesn’t mean they are above criticism. Restricting teacher’s speech rights is much easier in secondary school than in colleges. Exceptions, as I’ve pointed out, include teaching ID or other forms of creationism, which are banned from public education by the First Amendment (creationism is considered a religious doctrine).

But, as FIRE points out, “legal” doesn’t mean “wise”, especially when the bills prohibit teaching things that make students “uncomfortable”. As the essay notes,

 Rhode Island’s H6070 (tabled in committee) bans “race or sex scapegoating,” defined as, in part:

(ii) “Race or sex scapegoating” means assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex and similarly encompasses any claim that any particular race or sex is responsible for society’s ills.

This could be read as making basic statements of fact — for example, “In the United States, until 1865, the enslavement of black people by white people was widespread practice,” — unlawful if spoken by a teacher or administrator to a student.

This isn’t the only part likely to cause anxiety for well-intentioned teachers. Many of the bills prohibit “making part of any course” that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” It is not hard to imagine a student feeling uncomfortable by learning true facts about historical racism, presented reasonably, coming home distraught and telling their parents. Under these bills, parents may argue that the teacher has done something unlawful. This is always an issue when speech restrictions focus on concepts characterized by a subjective reaction like discomfort or guilt, without making absolutely clear that the regulation is targeting behavior intended to create that response in students. Indeed, my book with Jon Haidt, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” emphasized the dangers of focusing on impact over intent.

As Lukianoff et al. emphasize, these constitute “vague speech codes”, which could, and will, lead to both chilling of student speech and lawsuits.

6. Banning specific curricular materials like The 1619 Project in public K-12 schools, whether or not you agree with doing so, is within the power of the government in many states. I object to teaching the 1619 Project not on legal grounds, but on didactic grounds: it’s an ideological program that promulgates a view of history that is largely inaccurate. But banning its teaching is censorship. Its vetting should be done democratically, through legislatures, school boards, and schools themselves.

7. Misleading reporting has muddied the waters. One example are reports that the new Florida law mandates that students and professors must register their individual political affiliation. That simply wasn’t true: the bill mandates a “climate report” on “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” in schools which could be useful in seeing how many students feel that they aren’t able to speak freely. FIRE did oppose that bill, but for other reasons

8. Proponents and critics of the divisive concepts bills are largely talking past each other on the issue. This is, I think, the most important of all the points. I’ll quote Lukianoff et al. here;

Proponents of the bills see them as banning sessions where preteens are made to apologize for their race privilege, or where biracial children have been told that one parent probably physically abused the other due to their oppressor status. They look at sections in the bills that ban teaching mandatory guilt, genetic essentialism, and racial superiority and wonder — and assume — that opponents of the bills must be proponents of teaching those concepts.

On the other hand, critics of these bills see bans on the 1619 Project, and vague clauses that arguably reach any discussion of slavery, and interpret them as a highly politicized mandate to teach a certain view of history intended to soften the horrors of slavery and minimize historical racism. They see those who support such laws as wanting children to learn a jingoistic and propagandized version of history. While some on each side are undoubtedly acting in bad faith, the majority are motivated by sincere and valid concerns, and both proponents and opponents are motivated to ignore the valid points of their opposition.

Each side’s distorted impression of the goals of the other side, and of what’s actually in the bills, has been an unfortunate side effect of the media coverage. Those listening to left-leaning outlets and pundits could be forgiven for thinking that the bills outright ban discussion of slavery. Those listening to right-leaning outlets and pundits could be forgiven for having no idea of the breadth and vagueness of a lot of the clauses in these bills, and the chilling effect they may create with teachers making good faith attempts to comply. The media coverage of these bills has been largely lacking in deep-dives into the actual text of the bills, instead relying on broad characterizations of their intent and the motivations behind those introducing them.

As one example, South Carolina’s bill prohibits schools from promoting things like the superiority of one race over another or that an individual bears responsibility “for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.” The authors point out that these things are already prohibited by laws on racial discrimination and harassment.

And yet the termites continue to dine, as in these examples of real things that happened in school, collected by Bonnie Snyder:

  1. biracial high school student in Las Vegas was allegedly singled out in class for his appearance and called derogatory names by his teacher. In a lawsuit, the student’s family alleges he was labelled an oppressor, told denying that status was “internalized privilege,” and told he needed to “unlearn” the Judeo-Christian principles imparted by his mother. When he refused to complete certain “identity confession” assignments, the lawsuit claims, the school gave him a failing grade. He has had to attend counseling.
  2. Third grade students in California were forced to analyze their racial and other “identities,” rank themselves according to their supposed “power and privilege,” and were informed that those in the “dominant” culture categories created and continue to maintain this culture to uphold power.
  3. Parents in North Carolina allege that middle school students were forced to stand up in class and apologize to other students for their “privilege.”
  4. Buffalo public schools teach students that all white people perpetuate systemic racism and are guilty of implicit racial bias.
  5. Elementary children at the Fieldston School in Manhattan were sorted by race for mandatory classroom exercises.

These exercises are indeed illegal, and some of the proponents of the new bills are worried by stuff like this. They are right to do so, especially because ascertaining that these things happened might be difficult if children’s speech is chilled. I have no doubt that much of this stuff goes on now and yet is unreported.

9. Legislation is not the only way to address the aforementioned concerns. First of all, many of the behaviors prohibited by the new bills are already illegal. This could be remedied with either lawsuits or things like issuing the “warning letters” that are a specialty of FIRE. The other ways are less convincing, involving vague notions of “broader reform with a positive vision and lots of creative thinking and experimentation.” Granted, it wasn’t this article’s brief to outline specific reforms, but rather to give us thinking and talking points. Still, if you don’t think the bills are a good idea, but still shouldn’t be banned in general, you need to figure out a way to eliminate their invidious effects.

10. Critical race theory isn’t a perfect term for the problematic behavior these bills are trying to address. The authors note that the academic version of CRT, as adumbrated by scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell, isn’t what is being prohibited. Instead, it is the more authoritarian versions of anti-racism,  as spread by people like Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo.  The authors consider variants of the latter ideas to be “antiliberal.”

11. The California ethnic studies curriculum helps demonstrate what the proponents of these bills are afraid of. I won’t go into detail here, but the authors consider the California curriculum anti-Semitic. Their essay gives examples.

12. What is the deeper cause of this battle? A breakdown in societal trust and trust in expertise, particularly along partisan lines. One quote from the essay:

While trying to explain the situation in a forthcoming interview with Michael Moynihan at VICE, I realized that at the core of what’s going on is a fundamental lack of societal trust and the lack of trust in expertise. Many parents, even many on the left, don’t necessarily trust K-12 teachers to do the right thing on their own. They believe that without new laws, rather than educating about certain historical facts, teachers will be indoctrinating their children into a bleak worldview.

The authors see no quick fix for this problem. Indeed, it is the reason why we have so much vaccination resistance and opposition to evolution in the U.S.!


13. There are going to be lots of lawsuits. That’s for sure!

The authors’ conclusion, with which I again agree, is that “Sometimes the principled thing will make nobody happy.” Apparently the “principled thing” espoused by Lukianoff et al. is that teaching bans are unconstitutional for higher education, but often are not unconstitutional in secondary schools, so they can’t be dismissed or attacked as illegal.  Here’s how the authors end:

The reality is, as usual, complicated. Proponents of these bills need to realize that they can’t legislate these ideas out of existence, and that the more egregious bills are not only unconstitutional and thus totally futile, but throw fuel on an already raging culture war fire. Opponents of these bills need to read the bills and be honest about what’s actually in them and recognize that their opponents are motivated by something other than a desire to hide the true history of slavery. It is my hope that, wherever you lie on this issue, this article has given you a greater understanding of the opposing side. And if not, you’re welcome to join those yelling at me across both sides of the aisle!

I’m not yelling, as these are all good points. It’s worth reading the piece and cogitating before you take a stand on the anti-CRT (or anti-DCB) bills.

WaPo editor blames reading gaps between groups on systemic racism

June 22, 2021 • 12:30 pm

Here we have an example of the Kendi-an principle that the existence of an inequity—disparities between proportions of groups in a population and their proportions in professions or in measures of performance—is prima facie evidence for systemic racism. (I take systemic racism to mean racism embedded, either formally or systematically, in an institution.) In this case of this Washington Post article, reading gaps between four groups of students: Asians/Pacific Islanders; White non-Hispanics; Hispanics, and African-Americans, is seen as evidence of systemic racism in the schools. But, as John McWhorter always emphasizes, there are alternative explanations.

Click on the screenshot to read:


Here are the data from the Education Department’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading (there are other results, but they’re not described):

The percentage of each group’s achievement levels was reported as advanced, proficient, basic and below basic, or very good, good, good enough and worrying. The national results in eighth-grade reading were: 4 percent at advanced, 29 percent at proficient, 39 percent at basic and 28 percent at below basic. One-third above average, nearly one-third below average.

. . .That is the outcome for the entire public school population. NAEP did not stop there. It then analyzed the data in a number of different ways, one of which was by race/ethnicity. Twelve percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students were at the advanced level, 42 percent were at proficient, 31 percent were at basic and 15 percent were at below basic; it’s something like a bell curve skewed a bit to the right.

Achievement outcomes for White non-Hispanic students (whom NAEP calls “White”) were something like a bell curve skewed to the left: 5 percent at advanced, 36 percent at proficient, 39 percent at basic and 19 percent below basic.

Outcomes for Hispanic students were heavily skewed to the left: 1 percent at advanced, 20 percent at proficient, 40 percent at basic and 38 percent at below basic.

Outcomes for Black students were even more heavily skewed to the left: 1 percent at advanced, 14 percent at proficient, 39 percent at basic and 47 percent — nearly half — at below basic.

. . . In 2019, our public schools taught 80 percent of White non-Hispanic students to read at least at the level expected for those middle school students, but they failed to teach nearly half of their Black students to read as well as eighth-graders might be expected to read.

Author Strauss says, correctly, that this is a disaster, because to function in many jobs, or simply to function well in life, you need to read at least at the “basic” level.  28% of the entire country being “below basic” is bad enough, but 38% of Hispanic students and 47% of black students testing below “basic” is a scandal. It signals that something has gone badly wrong, especially for minority students, and that something needs to be fixed. (Strauss also notes that, in general, female students in each group do better than males ones.)

Now these disparities aren’t new; they’ve been known, and pretty stable, for years. The question is how to fix them. To do that, you need to know a.) the causes of the disparities and b.) what to do to make students read better. (I’d say that “b” is the crucial factor, and I don’t know much about that.)

Strauss goes on to adduce data from Texas, which is marginally worse for all students as well as for ech group of students. (I suppose she singles out Texas because that’s where “Juneteenth” originated.)

The causes? Strauss rules out income because when she does a rough control for income, looking at the proportion of students in each group eligible for school lunch programs, meaning being pretty poor, the disparity remains. Income “matters” (she means it’s correlated with reading proficiency) for white non-Hispanic students, but not for black students. In fact, she sees the causation going this way:

Household income, then, does not appear to explain the gap in reading skills. Rather, I would posit, it is the reverse: A lack of basic reading skills and, in general, inferior educational opportunities, such as those for Black students in Texas, result in a gap in household income in successive generations.

Well, she can posit what she wants, but we don’t have the data either way. Further, she backtracks on her own hypothesis by adducing income as a factor in proficiency connected with incarceration:

Texas is far from alone in producing large racial gaps in NAEP reading scores. Similar, if slightly less dramatic, gaps can be seen in other states and nationally. This, and the related high incarceration rates for Black males, limits household income for Black Texans and other Black Americans, passing those limitations on to the next generation.

Unless I read her wrongly here, she’s connecting low income in black Americans (caused by higher incarceration rates) with a “limitation” that reduces reading skills. Yet she ruled out low income as a cause of reading inequity. But never mind; her point is to say that the disparity is due to systemic racism, which she simply declares without evidence:

How is this to be explained if, as former vice president Mike Pence tells us, there is no systemic racism in this country?

Or is systemic racism invisible to those who benefit from it, like water for fish? Kings do not protest monarchy. Aristocrats and millionaires rarely have protested class-based societies. Only after millennia did men begin to notice the oppression of women.

Admitting the systemic racism in American education is a necessary step toward ending it.

But if the systemic racism is “invisible”, how do we test for it? And what does she mean, exactly, by “systemic racism”. Clearly the status of African Americans as an oppressed minority must reflect the racism connected with slavery, and persisting for decades afterwards. As Brown v Board of Education declared, separate is not equal. And things are still largely separate, with de facto segregation of many schools due to segregation of neighborhoods. And, of course, only a fool would deny that racism is still with us, even if it’s not “systemic”.

But is the present gap in reading really due to systemic racism somehow built into the current educational system? Or could it be unequal facilities or teaching quality correlated with schools whose students largely belong to one group or another? That might not be systemic racism, but the present reflection of old racism. It’s still racism, but what’s important is to rectify the disparities.

Alternatively, and as John McWhorter maintains, achievement gaps between blacks and whites could reflect cultural differences: a devaluing of academic achievement, a dearth of two-parent families, a lowering of expectations for black students, and so on. Cultural differences are absolutely rejected by many—almost as a taboo—but McWhorter’s ideas (he is of course is black and has more credibility on such issues—could be part of the explanation. McWhorter’s been saying this for years. This piece from Wilson Quarterly in 2000, for example, “Explaining the black education gap”, sounds like he could have written it yesterday on his Substack site:

It is not pleasant to think that blacks are held down by black culture itself. But it is absolutely vital that we address antiintellectualism in black American culture honestly. To deny its pivotal significance is cultural self-sabotage.

We have arrived at a point where closing the black-white education gap will be possible only by allowing black students to spread their wings and compete freely with their peers of other races. More than 30 years of affirmative action have shown conclusively that programs that let black kids in through the back door will not solve the problem. Youngsters coming of age in a culture that does not value educational achievement are not helped by a system that only reduces the incentives to excel.

. . . . Our interest, then, must be in helping black students shed the shackles of anti-intellectualism. Any effort that prepares black students to compete is laudable: For example, secondary schools should urge black children to form study groups, which have been shown to improve minority students’ performance. Immersing black students in extended academic work sessions with fellow blacks counters the conception that school is “white.” Minority students should also be given standardized tests on a regular basis in all schools, even those with insufficient resources. This alone will raise students’ test scores.

Now, as I always say, I have no dog in this fight, and am hardly an expert on black culture. But I am a scientist, and I know that fobbing off the achievement gap as wholly due to present racism in American school systems (which could, indeed, be part of the explanation), and doing so without evidence, is not going to convince anybody who’s not already a committed ideologue.

And, most important, we need to spend less time finding people to indict and more time figuring out how to fix the situation. That will be a very tough one, but surely we can all agree that kids of all colors, family incomes, and backgrounds should have the same government-supplied resources and opportunities to learn.

h/t: Luana

Vancouver school board ditches honors math and science courses (English, too), fibs about why

June 20, 2021 • 10:45 am

From News1130 (a Vancouver, BC radio station) via reader Jeff, we have yet another case of academics trying to dismantle the meritocracy. It is no coincidence that ranking and tracking of students, whether it be by eliminating standardized testing or eliminating advanced placement (AP) classes, is all happening at an increasing rate. The reason to anyone with brains is transparently clear: this kind of ranking and sorting leads to inequities—differential representation of ethnic groups compared to their proportion in the population.  In the U.S. (and I suspect in Canada), there’s an average achievement gap between Asians (at the top), whites (middle) and blacks and Hispanics (lowest). I suspect this is due to cultural differences that will take years to remedy, but which must be remedied. But in the meantime, it’s inimical to eliminate opportunities available to all groups.

If you ranked or sorted students solely by achievement, then, you would get lower representation of students of color in colleges. That’s one reason why we have affirmative action. But you’d also get the AP classes in high schools filled largely with Asian and white students—another inequity. Abraham Kendi, in his How to be an Antiracist, asserts that inequities are evidence of racism—not just the long-term effects of past racism (as is surely the case in the U.S.), but current and ongoing systemic racism. This claim, while false, is almost untestable if you hold the belief that racism can be so subtle that it’s unconscious but nevertheless still powerful.

The elimination of the meritocracy, while it has some good aspects (I favor limited affirmative action), will have long-term dire effects not only on societal progress, but, as John McWhorter claims, on the self-image of minorities themselves, who don’t get a chance to show high achievement and are told, in effect, that they’re not as good as others. It’s an opportunity eliminated, one that should remain while we work on the root causes of inequality.

Here’s a short piece about the Vancouver School Board eliminating honors science and math programs in the only two schools that offer this option. (Honors English classes have already been eliminated.) Click on the screenshot to read:

While I favor some affirmative action, I do not favor eliminating opportunities, especially ones like these that could act to identify minority students who excel in STEM.  Being forced to take a non-honors course when you’re really interested in and talented at doing science is a good way to kill interest in it.

But the worst part is how schools always lie when they dismantle the meritocracy. Here’s the Big Lie promulgated by the Vancouver School Board:

The school board says the move will not mean less opportunity for students.

“By phasing out these courses, all students will have access to an inclusive model of education, and all students will be able to participate in the curriculum fulsomely. Teachers support the diverse needs of all students in their classes through differentiated instruction — and this includes enrichment,” a spokesperson writes in an email.

“Honours Math and Science do not provide enrichment – they are simply accelerated courses. It is important to note that a student who excels in math or science will still be able to learn at a level that challenges them and allows them to explore their potential.”

The pharse “inclusive model of education” not only gives away the real motivation, but denies students the opportunity to have their education tailored to their talents and desires. Such a system, if it’s to help those with the greatest educational handicaps, must perforce teach everyone geared to the needs of the lowest-achieving students. But in such a case a rising tide doesn’t lift all the boats. (By the way, does the school board know what “fulsomely” really means?)

Another arrant lie is this: ““Honours Math and Science do not provide enrichment – they are simply accelerated courses.”  Now correct me if I’m wrong, but this sounds like a tautology: a distinction without a difference. Why doesn’t acceleration provide enrichment? My own honors English and classics courses in college immensely enriched me beyond the non-honors courses I was used to taking.

As one academic claims, whose name indicates he’s Asian, this new policy actually increases inequality, reducing opportunities for talented but poor kids who can’t afford access to the private schools that provide the equivalent of honors courses:

Andy Yan, is the director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University, and considers himself a beneficiary of these programs.

“Certainly in my experience the enriched and honours programs actually got us on to the first rung of social and economic mobility. The removal of these programs, I think, is a terrible decision that it doesn’t promote equity,” he says.

In a tweet objecting to the cancellation of the programs, Yan describes himself as an “East Van, blue-collar household, VSB kid. Scrapping this option, in his opinion, means less opportunity for kids whose families can’t pay for private school or extra tutoring.

“If anything it promotes, and increases inequality,” he says.

“Now, those that can afford these program will go to them, and those who can’t now don’t have any of these types of programs.”

Whether or not you favor dismantling the intellectual meritocracy (something also tried without good results in Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China), we should at least expect a little honesty from those who support such a move. The profusion of dissimulation about this stuff is starting to really get to me. Not to draw too fine a comparison, but it reminds me a bit of Orwell’s 1984—not in terms of eliminating social classes, but in terms of promulgating obvious lies but asserting that they’re truths.


h/t: Jeff

Should the government pay for everyone’s college?

June 6, 2021 • 2:00 pm

Here’s Bill Maher’s take on Biden’s new $1.8 trillion plan to subsidize higher education for Americans (i.e., everyone pays for it). According to Forbes, the plan has these provisions:

President Biden today released a $1.8 trillion domestic spending proposal, called the “American Families Plan,” that would transform elements of American safety net programs, with a particular focus on higher education. Here’s what’s in it — and what’s not.

  • $109 billion for free community college. The plan would “ensure that first-time students and workers wanting to reskill can enroll in a community college to earn a degree or credential for free,” without incurring any student loan debt. The White House estimates that 5.5 million students could benefit. Free community college would also be available to DREAMers under the proposal.
  • Expansion of Pell Grant program. Pell Grants are financial aid awards for low-income students that do not have to be repaid. The current maximum Pell Grant award is $6,495; Biden’s plan would increase the maximum award amount by $1,400. The larger award would be available to DREAMers, as well.
  • $62 billion to invest in completion and retention activities at colleges and universities. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students who do not complete their degree programs are three times as likely to default on their student loans. Biden’s proposal would provide significant funding to colleges and universities to keep students on track for degree completion; this funding would include “wraparound services ranging from child care and mental health services to faculty and peer mentoring; emergency basic needs grants; practices that recruit and retain diverse faculty; transfer agreements between colleges; and evidence-based remediation programs.”
  • Two years of subsidized tuition at HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs. Biden’s plan includes a new $39 billion program that provides two years of subsidized tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled in four-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The proposal also includes $5 billion to expand existing institutional aid grants to these schools, and “$2 billion directed towards building a pipeline of skilled health care workers with graduate degrees.”

Note that the program does not, as Maher implies, subsidize college for well off families, like Lori Laughlin’s: it’s aimed at students who are too poor to have access to college, and is thus a good liberal program in every way I can see.

Maher doesn’t like the plan, which he sees as misguided in many ways. First, he doesn’t like it because those without college educations will pay for those who do. That I reject, for all of us pay for secondary education even if we don’t have kids. That’s because we see secondary education as a universal good for society. Those who don’t drive are still taxed for building roads, for having roads benefits us all whether or not we drive. Same for college.

He also sees a college education as not generally worth it, just as “a racket that sells you a very expensive ticket to the upper middle class.” (Maher got his ticket to Cornell University.) He calls colleges “luxury day-care centers”, and criticizes things like college water parks and useless courses, all of which, of course, are risible. But he’s exaggerating what college means to many people. An education that improves us all. After all, the program doesn’t force you to go to college if you don’t want to or don’t have to for your career plans.

Finally, Maher mourns the rising costs of college and the unconscionable grade inflation (from 15% A grades in 1960 to 45% now), a trend that is distressing since it reduces the ability to judge accomplishment.

While Maher points out the pecuniary advantages of going to college—it has a substantial effect on one’s future income—he seems to think that college education is pretty much useless for many professions. As he says “The answer is not to make college free; the answer is to make it unnecessary, which it already is for most jobs”. But even if that were true, that doesn’t eliminate the monetary advantages that already exist. To get rid of those seems nearly impossible, and for some professions—like medicine, chemistry, and engineering—there’s no way to just “learn on the job” without formal training.

I’m not sure what got Maher’s panties in a wad about this, but I can say that this is not one of his better pieces.

h/t: Eli

John McWhorter favors affirmative action, but based not on race but on disadvantage, not race; also says that there’s little evidence that racial diversity improves schools and education

June 3, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Every time I say I favor affirmative action for minorities as a form of reparations, someone makes a counterargument that makes me examine my position. I haven’t changed it, but this new piece by John McWhorter, while also favoring affirmative action, favors affirmation based not on race but on “disadvantage, not melanin.” Further, he argues that diversity as an “innate good” that improves universities turns out to be an unproven assumption, and in fact has been disproven, depending on your definition of “improves”. Only a black man could get away with writing such a column, but it does make one rethink one’s views, and points to some research that I didn’t know about.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Here are McWhorter’s two points, and his quotes are indented.

1.) Affirmative action should be based on the disadvantages faced by a student, not by their ethnicity. Fifty years ago race-based affirmative action was a useful thing; now it’s not.

I do not oppose Affirmative Action. I simply think it should be based on disadvantage, not melanin. It made sense – logical as well as moral – to adjust standards in the wake of the implacable oppression of black people until the mid-1960s.

When Affirmative Action began in the 1960s, largely with black people in mind, the overlap between blackness and disadvantage was so large that the racialized intent of the policy made sense. Most black people lived at or below the poverty line. Being black and middle class was, as one used to term it, “fortunate.” Plus, black people suffered open discrimination regardless of socioeconomic status, in ways for more concrete than microaggressions and things only identifiable via Implicit Association Testing and the like. In a sense, black people were all in the same boat.

Luckily, Affirmative Action worked. By the 1980s, it was no longer unusual or “fortunate” to be black and middle class. I would argue that by that time, it was time to reevaluate the idea that anyone black should be admitted to schools with lowered standards. I think Affirmative Action today should be robustly practiced — but on the basis of socioeconomics.

A common objection is that this would help too many poor whites (as if that’s a bad thing?). But actually, brilliant and non-partisan persons have argued that basing preferences on socioeconomics would actually bring numbers of black people into the net that almost anyone would be satisfied with.

I’m no odd duck on my sense that Affirmative Action being about race had passed its sell-by date after about a generation. At this very time, it had become clear, to anyone really looking, that the black people benefitting from Affirmative Action were no longer mostly poor – as well as that simply plopping truly poor black people into college who had gone to awful schools had tended not to work out anyway. It was no accident that in 1978 came the Bakke decision, where Justice Lewis Powell inaugurated the new idea that Affirmative Action would serve to foster “diversity,” the idea being that diversity in the classroom made for better learning.

McWhorter has a point, for “black” or “Hispanic” is almost automatically acquainted with “disadvantaged” these days, but the correlation is not perfect. However, if you conceive of affirmative action as reparations for centuries of race-based oppression, as I do, then “disadvantage” becomes less important, as there are advantages in divers in sociopolitical views, life experiences and the chance to know people from different backgrounds that provide compensatory advantages. Whether this warrants McWhorter’s recommended change in affirmative action is a question above my pay grade. Remember, the Bakke case approved a form of non-quota affirmative action based on the inherent advantages of racial diversity, not as a form of reparations.

2.) But does affirmative action really “make for better learning”? McWhorter says that the evidence is thin. And again, I must plead ignorance of the literature and let you follow McWhorter’s references. He does cite one recent case that seemed to show a genuine educational advantage to diversity, but rushes past it, counterbalancing the data with other references claiming to show that diversity has no substantive effect. To wit:

Of late, we hear that when standards are “adjusted” to be more “holistic” (ahem) to get more black law students editing law schools’ law review journals, the journals’ articles are cited more widely – i.e. that diversity among the editors creates a better publication. This is a weird result but we must accept it – while still asking whether even this justifies basing Affirmative Action on “diversity” overall. Law review editorship is but one thing. How will diversity enhance learning how to do differential quotients or mastering the mechanics of immunology?

Our question is whether diversity is important enough, to enough classes, to justify lowering standards for black kids. To never really ask that question is terribly, terribly fake, and is much of why the nation never comes to any real conclusion about Affirmative Action despite endless starry-eyed perorations about diversity.

And his data:

Students themselves do not seem to find diversity terribly important to their classroom experience. Minority graduates of the University of Michigan law school from 1970 to 1996 were surveyed as to what aspects of their education they most valued. Of the seven aspects given as choices, “ethnic diversity of classmates” was at the bottom. Mitchell J. Chang examined whether diversity affected GPA, social self-image, intellectual self-image, likelihood of graduating, general satisfaction, whether one talked about race, and whether one spent time with people of different races. Surprise – only the last two mattered. The first five are the kind of thing diversity is supposedly so good for – but this study showed that they apparently aren’t. Stanley Rothman, Seymour Lipset and Neil Nevitte showed that on 140 campuses, the more diversity there was, the less satisfied students were with their college experience.

So maybe the idea is that these students are just naïve, or closet racists, or closet self-haters if black, and we must impose diversity upon them as a kind of medicine because it makes them learn better? But the thing is, it does not seem to. Alexander Astin compared degree of racial diversity with grades, test scores, graduation rates and admission to graduate programs at 184 schools. Diversity had no effect on these things.

Or, remember when the University of Michigan was on the griddle about racial preferences for undergraduates and in its law school twenty years ago? You might recall a certain “Gurin Report” that supposedly proved that diversity enhances learning. There was an Amen chord on the soundtrack whenever this Gurin Report was brought up. But did you ever actually read the thing? It was, frankly, a joke.

It asked students whether they exhibited 11 traits which, in fact, no sentient member of human society would disavow having — such as whether they thought about the influence of society on other people, whether they thought they had a greater desire to achieve than the average person their age, etc. Patricia Gurin scored positive answers as evidence that “diversity” had made the subjects “better students.”

The National Association of Scholars rightly answered:

Nowhere in society – not in graduate school admissions, college rankings, job recruitment – do we measure a student’s academic success by asking him how much he personally values artistic works or whether he enjoys guessing the reason for people’s behavor. Very few parents would be likely to accept a transcript that reported not grades but their child’s self-rating of his abilities and drive to achieve.

And finally, black undergrads regularly bridle at the idea that they are on campus to be “diverse.” I recall a good line in an undergrad-penned Black Guide to Life at Harvard a generation ago — “We are not here to provide diversity training for Kate or Timmy before they go out to take over the world.” Yes, that was a while ago, but black students’ feelings about this have not changed about who we might now call Chloe and Jacob.

I’m not sure that last paragraph makes sense, as black students want to be on campus not to be a component of “diversity”, but because they feel they deserve to be there. Yes, we often hear minorities say that they don’t want to enact the “emotional labor of anti-racism—though they don’t seem to tire of that readily—but that’s irrelevant to McWhorter’s point.

McWhorter’s article didn’t change my mind, though I can see that one could add to affirmative action a “hardship” score independent of race. I think some schools already do that, using criteria based on poverty, first-generation status as college students in a family, and so on.

McWhorter’s book, to be published by Portfolio, will be out October 26; click on the screenshot to see the Amazon site.

Test for teacher literacy ditched in New York State

May 25, 2021 • 1:00 pm

UPDATE: As reader aburstein points out below (and gives another source), the article below is four years old.  So the news is dated, but the rationale and actions are still in line with the dismantling of meritocratic assessment that continues today.


Once again a standardized test—this time for certification as a New York State teacher—has been eliminated. The axed test involved mastering reading and writing abilities, and is known as the Academic Literary Skills test, one of four tests previously required to be a ceritified teacher. Now the requirement to pass that test has been ditched.

Officials give several reasons for eliminating the test, but none are really convincing, and I suspect that they’re getting rid of it because it reduces equity in the teaching profession—minority teachers don’t pass the test as often as white ones.  If this is the real reason, then we have again encountered the dismantling of the meritocracy to achieve equity (representation of groups in proportions equal to what obtains in the general population). While you may say that this is “lowering standards” for becoming a New York teacher, state officials deny that; and yet the article itself implies that this is a lowering of standards.

Click on the website at ny.chalkbeat.org below to read the article:

First, the opening statement of the article implies that removing the literacy test does represent a lowering of standards (my emphasis):

State officials voted to make it easier to become a New York state teacher on Monday by knocking off one of the state’s main teacher certification requirements.

. . .The literacy test, which became mandatory in 2014, was one of several requirements the state added to overhaul teacher preparation in 2009. Regents hoped that a slate of more rigorous exams would help better prepare teachers for the real-life demands of the job and make for a more qualified teaching force.

In total, teachers have had to clear four certification hurdles, including the literacy exam. The other exams ask teachers to demonstrate their teaching skills, content knowledge, and understanding of students with particular needs.

Now “making it easier” may simply mean that people save time by not taking the test, but further information in the article suggests that’s not what they mean:

Though the intent was to create a more qualified teaching workforce, officials argued Monday the overhaul did not work out as planned — providing an unnecessary roadblock for prospective teachers. The exam faced legal challenges after a low percentage of black and Hispanic students passed the test. Only 38 percent of aspiring black teachers and 46 percent of aspiring Hispanic teachers passed the test between September 2013 and June 2016, compared to 69 percent of their white peers, according to the state education department officials.

Judge Kimba Wood (remember her?) ruled the test legal because it tested job-related skills and thus wasn’t discriminatory, but the state ditched the test anyway. The reasons are suggested by the differential passing rates given above, which would lead to lower proportions of minority teachers, as well as the words “unnecessary roadblock” above, whose meaning isn’t clear:

One gets the impression that this differential passing rate was unanticipated, and thus decisions were made post facto that the test was both “flawed” and “unnecessary”:

“The issue is not that literacy is not important, literacy is everything,” said Regent Kathleen Cashin, who chairs the board’s committee on higher education. “It’s just that if you have a flawed test, does that raise standards or does that lower standards?”

But what evidence is there that the test is “flawed”? If it’s just the differential passing rate, that’s not evidence at all. What could be going on here is that the “flaw” is racism, and that would be based on Ibram Kendi’s assertion (now widely accepted) that if there are inequities in a system (in this case, the test), then there is structural racism in the system (the test). But there isn’t independent evidence for that.

And then there’s a flat dismissal that eliminating the test involves lowering standards:

Chancellor Betty Rosa gave a particularly strong defense of the changes, arguing that some of those who have been critical of this move have “no clue” and that dropping the test does not represent a lowering of standards.

“The theme song … has been ‘Oh you’re lowering the standards,” Rosa said. “No, ladies and gentlemen.”

To me, this doesn’t sound like a “strong defense.”

If they want to eliminate the test because minorities pass it at a disproportionately low rate, thus creating inequities in the teaching corps, then they should admit that. There’s no shame involved in saying that you are getting rid of the test as a form of affirmative action or academic reparations, for one can argue that we need minority teachers as role models. But then you shouldn’t pretend that the test is “flawed” if you don’t have independent evidence for that.

And yes, it does involve lowering standards for admission, as do all affirmative action methods. But remember that “lowering standards” may not be injurious if truly qualified people are being eliminated under the present system (Harvard, after all, would be just as good if they admitted not the top 4.6% of applicants but the next best 5%).

Also, one can argue that relaxing the standards must be balanced against the potential benefit of having teachers that serve not only as role models, but themselves are given a leg up in a profession that historically has discriminated against them. All I would like here is a little honesty on the part of those who ditched the test. But honesty is in short supply in these parlous days.

A teacher and educator argues for high (and similar) standards and expectations for all students

April 30, 2021 • 9:00 am

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, whose motto is “Advancing Educational Excellence” has the following as its mission statement:

High Expectations for All Schools

We believe that all schools that are supported with public funds—whether in the district, charter, or private school sector—should be held accountable for helping their students make academic progress from year to year. Under ESSA, most states have built accountability systems that are better than ever. Now the challenge is to make high expectations a reality at the classroom level.

They also say that charter schools and Catholic schools have been successful in giving good educations to children who have grown up in poverty. Wikipedia notes that “The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is an ideologically conservative American nonprofit education policy think tank, with offices in Washington, D.C., Columbus, Ohio, and Dayton, Ohio. The institute supports and publishes research on education policy in the United States.”

I say this because, although articles like the one highlighted here should be judged on their own, one should know the agenda of the venue that’s publishing them. What we have is a statement by Robert Pondiscio, who is described this way:

Robert Pondiscio is senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He writes and speaks extensively on education and education-reform issues, with an emphasis on literacy, curriculum, civic education, and classroom practice. His 2019 book, How the Other Half Learns, based on a year of observations at New York City’s Success Academy network of charter schools, was praised as “morally disturbing” and “unsparingly honest” by the New York Times. After twenty years in journalism, including senior positions at TIME and Business Week, Robert became a fifth-grade teacher at a struggling South Bronx public school in 2002. [JAC: He did that for five years.] He subsequently served as vice president for the Core Knowledge Foundation, and taught civics at Democracy Prep Public Schools, a network of high-performing charter schools based in Harlem, New York.

A commitment of five years in a South Bronx public school is not to be taken lightly, nor as a mere experiment. My own judgment is that the guy is truly committed to improving secondary-school education for all, and was trying to see if his principles worked in the classroom

While Pondiscio may have an agenda for promoting charter schools, he’s also one of many teachers who seems committed to helping all kids learn, and, in the article below, argues that Kendi-an style “antiracist” teaching is not the way. In fact, Pondiscio says that, while teaching in the South Bronx public school, he says he never taught a single child who was white. Note, too, that it was a public school, not a charter school.

Click on the screenshot to hear his plaint, which is that he thinks that all children should be taught to strive for excellence, with members of different races all held to the same high standards.

This guy hardly seems like a racist. Here are a few statements he makes:

The point is so obvious yet it cannot be said enough: We do not give families of color and those in poverty the same range of options and quality of education that White and affluent families often take for granted. It’s why I became a teacher, starting in 2002. I taught full-time for five years in a public school in the South Bronx, and intermittently since at a pair of Harlem charter schools. What drew me to this work and keeps me engaged in it is the manifest unfairness of American education to low-income, Black, and Brown children who comprise, without exception, every student I’ve ever taught.

For most of those twenty years, I’ve held a set of assumptions and ideals about what it means to be an effective teacher of children of color (and frankly, children of any race or background). It means holding every pupil to high standards and expectations for academics and classroom conduct; offering a rich and rigorous curriculum, taught as engagingly as possible; and fostering a school culture and climate that valorizes student achievement. Above all, it means holding firmly to the conviction that children do not fail. Rather adults fail children when schools do not deliver any or all of these ingredients.

Nor does he favor a “white curriculum” that sanitizes history or ignores contributions of different groups:

. . . . There can be no question that every child in an American K–12 school should have the opportunity to see their history, heritage, and culture reflected in their education. No part of me is interested in imposing a “Eurocentric” curriculum on children, venerating “dead White males,” or presenting anything less than a clear-eyed view of American history. But efforts to “decolonize” curriculum, “disrupt texts,” or other efforts to de-emphasize “Whiteness” in curriculum seems less likely to liberate Black and Brown students than to hold them further back. This is not parochialism, but a reflection of how language proficiency works. It rests on a large body of common background knowledge shared between readers, writers, speakers, and listeners. It is uncomfortable to acknowledge—yet we must—the degree to which this both reflects and grows organically from the knowledge, allusions, and idioms of the culture that dominates it. In a diverse and plural society, language is a vernacular engine, borrowing words and allusions at a dizzying pace, but that is not a process that can be dictated or controlled. A clear-eyed view of language proficiency obligates us to expose children to the full range of taken-for-granted knowledge that their fellow citizens possess. At present, that requires familiarity with a substantial (if perhaps declining) amount of Western thought, literature, history, science, and art. To pretend otherwise is to risk cementing disadvantage in place, or to embrace a separatist impulse, neither of which can be countenanced.

and this:

If the education reform movement has accomplished nothing else, it has made it unacceptable to evince any belief but the opposite one: The achievement gap is evidence of institutional failure, not a failure on the part of Black test-takers. Discrediting any reference to a racial achievement gap is counterproductive to the interests of students of color. The NAACP, the National Urban League, La Raza, and nine other civil right groups have denounced anti-testing efforts to “hide the achievement gap,” noting that test data “are critical for understanding whether and where there is equal opportunity.” Ian Rowe, a Black intellectual, Fordham trustee, and charter school founder, insists that antiracist policies and practices are becoming “the unintended, modern day version of the soft bigotry of low expectations.” I strongly agree. Does saying so render me unfit to teach Black and Brown children?

I wasn’t aware that organizations like the NAACP or the Urban League, as well as other civil rights groups (see the link), have denounced anti-testing efforts, though Ibram Kendi claims that these standardized tests are racist. But, as the groups say in their joint letter, “We cannot fix what we cannot measure.”

What Pondiscio objects to is differential treatment of students of different races, holding them to different expectations. Some of this comes from the view that different cultures (read “different races”) have different styles of learning. But as Pondiscio avers, “close reasoning, the written word, and objectivity” should not be seen as “white” practices that are irrelevant to minority children, as Kendi would argue (as Kendi says, “the only remedy to racist discriminiation is antiracist discrimination”). The constant division of students by race, and the instillation of a victimhood mentality in minority children and a “you are an oppressor” mentality in whites is, says Pondiscio, not only tribalistic, but damaging to children:

Attempts to create “safe spaces” where students never encounter upsetting words, images, or ideas strike many of us as misguided. Education inevitably includes confronting students with ideas, views, and information that they may find upsetting, but it never includes upsetting them because of who they are or what they look like. No element of ethical classroom practice should allow inflicting intentional harm or emotional distress on students—rich or poor, Black or White—or seek to make a virtue of it. It is immoral and educational malpractice. Neither should we encourage in children a sense of insurmountable oppression, victimhood, or grievance—the very opposite of the uplifting formation of mind and character that education should aspire to. Any pedagogy or curriculum that ascribes traits, motives, or mindsets to one particular race—oppressors versus oppressed; perfectionism, urgency, and individualism as “hallmarks of white supremacy culture,” etc.—cannot call itself “antiracist.” It is racist and unacceptable.

[Paul] Rossi speaks for many of us in the profession who share his concern that what is being done in the name of equity “reinforces the worst impulses we have as human beings: our tendency toward tribalism and sectarianism that a truly liberal education is meant to transcend.”

At the end, Pondiscio asks plaintively, after arguing that high standards and expectations should hold for all students, regardless of race, “Would you feel comfortable with me as your child’s teacher? Yes or no?”

Somehow I suspect that in secondary schools, most parents would say “yes,” but at colleges like Smith, Middlebury, and Haverford, the administration would say “no.”

And I wonder what kind of education Ibram Kendi would give to a mixed classroom of black and white students. If you asked me if I’d feel comfortable with him as anybody’s teacher, I’d have to say no, even though I don’t have children.

h/t: Luana