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 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

Biden administration poised to impose CRT on American public schools

April 20, 2021 • 10:15 am

“CRT”, of course, is Critical Race Theory, which rests on a number of assumptions and assertions that are sometimes dubious (e.g., inequality of representation purely reflects current racism). When Biden got elected, I worried—and, I think, predicted—that he would be too woke for my taste. (I may not remember correctly.) And, sure enough, that’s exactly what is happening on a number of fronts. I hasten to add that Biden and Harris are infinitely better than Trump and Pence.  I support much of what he’s done, and I don’t much care if Biden hasn’t become the “unifier of Congress” that he promised. Given Republican intransigence, that would be impossible.

But the Biden administration isn’t perfect, and I’ll criticize it when I see fit—like now.

This article appeared in the conservative venue The National Review, and I was sent it by reader Bill who suspected, correctly, that it is “not one of my preferred news sources.” Indeed! But who else would publish something like this: a notice that the Biden administration has set out a proposal to get schools to teach Critical Race Theory in one of its more objectionable forms? Click on the screenshot to read the National Review piece, but be warned that a lot of it is right-wing kvetching:

The upshot of the report, leaving aside the kvetching about CRT and the criticism of Biden, is that his Department of Education has just put out a proposal for grants to secondary schools in the area of American History and Civics Education. You can see the pdf of the government proposal here, or click on the screenshot below:

The aims of these proposals are these, set out in the government document:

The purpose of the National Activities program is to promote new and existing evidence-based strategies to encourage innovative American history, civics and government, and geography instruction, learning strategies, and professional development activities and programs for teachers, principals, or other school leaders, particularly such instruction, strategies, activities, and programs that benefit low-income students and underserved populations.

Note the “evidence-based” slant. I have no quarrel with the aims, nor with the second area of funding that I won’t discuss (“Promoting Information Literacy Skills”). But the first part, “Projects That Incorporate Racially, Ethnically, Culturally, and Linguistically Diverse Perspectives into Teaching and Learning”, is objectionable and invidious.  I’ll let you read for yourself from these screenshots:


Note the exemplar module: the New York Times‘s “1619 Project”, which has been severely criticized for both ideological zealotry and historical inaccuracy. But this is exactly what the New York Times wanted—not journal, but an injection of the paper’s own ideology as propaganda in the public schools. Notice also the approbation for Kendi’s dubious claim that any racial inequities in any area, say in evolutionary biology, are the result of “racist policies.”  While that may be true of policies in the past, Kendi means it to reflect current racism. And he’s not always right about that; but this is what our kids are going to learn.

Again, I emphasize that some redress is needed in teaching American history for the decades of teaching that more or less erased the fates of oppressed minorities in this country. I have no problem with such redress. I do have a problem with redress via the methods of The 1619 Project and the views of Ibram X. Kendi.

When a school or school system writes a proposal to be funded under this aegis, this is what it must do:

I don’t have to dwell on the problem with this program: its divisiveness, its one-sidedness, its questionable claims about systemic marginalization (that is, marginalization built into form structures of governments, schools, and other organizations), and the laughable bit about “critical analysis”, for you know that no criticism of the program will be tolerated once it’s in the classroom. That is, this is an ideology to be foisted on students, and perhaps a violation of the First Amendment.

Now I don’t agree with state laws that have been enacted (Trump also ordered one) prohibiting the teaching of CRT in the classroom. The government should not be in the business of saying what students shouldn’t learn beyond forbidding violations of the First Amendment (e.g., you can’t teach creationism or Intelligent Design because they’re forms or religion) or the purveying of arrant lies, which should be handled by schools themselves.

But by giving money to schools in this one specific area, the Biden administration is ensuring that cash-strapped schools are going to board the CRT train. And once they do, that’s it. As Ignatius of Loyola might have said, “Give me the children until they are ten and I will give you the future, including politics, universities, and the liberal media.”

According to author Kurtz, this is only the beginning. I have no knowledge of this area, so I just present his claim:

The programs immediately targeted by Biden’s new priority criteria for American history and civics grants are small. Once in place, however, those criteria will undoubtedly influence the much larger and vastly more dangerous “Civics Secures Democracy Act.” That bill would appropriate $1 billion a year, for six years, for history and civic education. Support for leftist “action civics” is already written into the priority criteria of the bill itself. I have argued that additional anodyne-sounding priority criteria in the Civics Secures Democracy Act — criteria favoring grants targeted to “underserved” populations and the mitigation of various racial, ethnic, and linguistic achievement gaps — would be interpreted by the Biden administration as a green light to fund Critical Race Theory in the schools. The new draft federal rule for grant priority in American history and civics education makes it clear that this is indeed the Biden administration’s intent.

And Kurtz may well be right.

I’m not sure how Uncle Joe let his agenda be hijacked by the Woke, as it wasn’t clear that this would happen, but I can assume only that he has loud voices yelling in his ear to get this stuff done. We already know that the Woke are louder than the Rational. It’s up to us to fix that disparity.

Another educator risks his job by objecting to mandatory and ideologically narrow diversity training

April 13, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Bari Weiss has a guest writer on her Substack site Common Sense this week: high-school math and philosophy teacher Paul Rossi from Grace Church School in Manhattan, a coeducational private college-prep school that serves students from kindergarten through 12th grade. His topic is the antiracist training he’s required to take, but abhors as harmful, divisive, and above all stifling to students’ ability to think freely and explore ideas. Rossi, still employed at the school, recognizes that by writing this he’s “risking not only my current job but my career as an educator, since most schools, both public and private, are now captive to this backward ideology.” He’s the Jodi Shaw of Grace Church School, and I worry that he’ll suffer the same fate as Shaw: a resignation that’s more or less forced, or, alternatively, outright expulsion if he refuses to sign the school’s agreement that they cooked up for him.

Click on the screenshot to read.

Rossi says he’s more or less forced to “treat students differently on the basis of race” and to discuss their dissents not with other faculty, but with a special “Office of Community Engagement,” which always bats away his objections.  A longish excerpt (read more at Bari’s site) serves to show the problem:

Recently, I raised questions about this ideology at a mandatory, whites-only student and faculty Zoom meeting. (Such racially segregated sessions are now commonplace at my school.) It was a bait-and-switch “self-care” seminar that labelled “objectivity,” “individualism,” “fear of open conflict,” and even “a right to comfort” as characteristics of white supremacy. I doubted that these human attributes — many of them virtues reframed as vices — should be racialized in this way. In the Zoom chat, I also questioned whether one must define oneself in terms of a racial identity at all. My goal was to model for students that they should feel safe to question ideological assertions if they felt moved to do so.

It seemed like my questions broke the ice. Students and even a few teachers offered a broad range of questions and observations. Many students said it was a more productive and substantive discussion than they expected.

However, when my questions were shared outside this forum, violating the school norm of confidentiality, I was informed by the head of the high school that my philosophical challenges had caused “harm” to students, given that these topics were “life and death matters, about people’s flesh and blood and bone.” I was reprimanded for “acting like an independent agent of a set of principles or ideas or beliefs.” And I was told that by doing so, I failed to serve the “greater good and the higher truth.”

He further informed me that I had created “dissonance for vulnerable and unformed thinkers” and “neurological disturbance in students’ beings and systems.” The school’s director of studies added that my remarks could even constitute harassment.

A few days later, the head of school ordered all high school advisors to read a public reprimand of my conduct out loud to every student in the school. It was a surreal experience, walking the halls alone and hearing the words emitting from each classroom: “Events from last week compel us to underscore some aspects of our mission and share some thoughts about our community,” the statement began. “At independent schools, with their history of predominantly white populations, racism colludes with other forms of bias (sexism, classism, ableism and so much more) to undermine our stated ideals, and we must work hard to undo this history.”

Students from low-income families experience culture shock at our school. Racist incidents happen. And bias can influence relationships. All true. But addressing such problems with a call to “undo history” lacks any kind of limiting principle and pairs any allegation of bigotry with a priori guilt. My own contract for next year requires me to “participate in restorative practices designed by the Office of Community Engagement” in order to “heal my relationship with the students of color and other students in my classes.” The details of these practices remain unspecified until I agree to sign.

Can you believe that oath he has to swear to? What is this—the Cultural Revolution? Well, yes, a form of it. Rossi also notes that many students have told him that they’re frustrated at the school’s “indoctrination” but are afraid to speak up against it. They’re never allowed to challenge the tenets of Critical Race Theory in class.

What this does, of course, is to stifle discussion and also to force—nay, brainwash—students into a narrow ideological mindset from which departure is heretical. As a private school in Manhattan, Grace is undoubtedly very expensive and has a lot of smart students. Yet their inquisitiveness and their dissent is being squashed flat.

I’ll add one more excerpt which shows how a “Cultural Revolution” is overtaking this school, as it is with many others:

Every student at the school must also sign a “Student Life Agreement,” which requires them to aver that “the world as we understand it can be hard and extremely biased,” that they commit to “recognize and acknowledge their biases when we come to school, and interrupt those biases,” and accept that they will be “held accountable should they fall short of the agreement.” A recent faculty email chain received enthusiastic support for recommending that we “‘officially’ flag students” who appear “resistant” to the “culture we are trying to establish.”

I expect that soon students will be waving copies of “White Fragility” as they denounce their teachers, who will be forced to wear paper dunce hats and signs around they’re necks—if they’re not fired. Rossi describes his suggestion that Glenn Loury be included among his students’ reading assignments, but that the administration nixed it on the grounds that “the moment were are in institutionally and culturally, does not lend itself to dispassionate discussion and debate.” Apparently, discussing Loury would “confuse and enflame students.”

Can you believe that? The students are denied the chance to learn that black thinkers don’t all agree with each other. But again, that’s the Cultural Revolution, Jake.

You’ll be familiar with Rossi’s description of what is happening, as it’s what’s happening in Smith College, the Dalton School in NYC, and almost every other school where mandatory “diversity training” is instituted.  Pushing back can cost you your job, as Jodi Smith and others have learned. But it’s heartening that people are willing to risk this because they’re committed to a kind of liberalism that unites rather than divides.

Oh hell, I want to reproduce Rossi’s ending as well:

One current student paid me a visit a few weeks ago. He tapped faintly on my office door, anxiously looking both ways before entering. He said he had come to offer me words of support for speaking up at the meeting.

I thanked him for his comments, but asked him why he seemed so nervous. He told me he was worried that a particular teacher might notice this visit and “it would mean that I would get in trouble.” He reported to me that this teacher once gave him a lengthy “talking to” for voicing a conservative opinion in class. He then remembered with a sigh of relief that this teacher was absent that day. I looked him in the eyes. I told him he was a brave young man for coming to see me, and that he should be proud of that.

Then I sent him on his way. And I resolved to write this piece.

At the end of this post, Bari gives an email address where you can write to Rossi expressing support, advice, or commiserating with him if you’re in a similar situation:


h/t: Luana

Unwarranted privilege: America’s elite college-prep schools

March 18, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Caitlin Flanagan, who writes about various aspects of education and culture for The Atlantic (check out her article “Meghan Markle Didn’t Do the Work“), used to teach at a ritzy private school in L.A.: the Harvard-Westlake School. (Have a look at their “notable alumni“!) She draws on her experiences there for her latest article, whose title doesn’t pull any punches. Click on the screenshot to read.

The private schools she’s writing about are “college prep” schools, and not just any college prep school, but those who try to provide students with a moving walkway to elite colleges like Harvard and Princeton—and beyond. Her point is that these schools are obscene in just about every way: in their bloated tuition, in their incessant demands for money beyond tuition, in the cowering of the administration to rich parents and donors, to the arrogance and racism of their students, and to the obsessive concentration on getting into the right school and getting the right grades to do that. (An A-minus on an assignment is apparently enough to bring angry parents bulling their way into the teacher’s office.)  And talk about privilege! Attending one of these places (tuition runs abut $50,000 per year, the same as an Ivy League college), puts you on the fast track:

These schools surround kids who have every possible advantage with a literal embarrassment of riches—and then their graduates hoover up spots in the best colleges. Less than 2 percent of the nation’s students attend so-called independent schools. But 24 percent of Yale’s class of 2024 attended an independent school. At Princeton, that figure is 25 percent. At Brown and Dartmouth, it is higher still: 29 percent.

The numbers are even more astonishing when you consider that they’re not distributed evenly across the country’s more than 1,600 independent schools but are concentrated in the most exclusive ones—and these are our focus here. In the past five years, Dalton has sent about a third of its graduates to the Ivy League. Ditto the Spence School. Harvard-Westlake, in Los Angeles, sent 45 kids to Harvard alone. Noble and Greenough School, in Massachusetts, did even better: 50 kids went on to Harvard.

. . . By the time their kids get to the upper grades, parents want teachers, coaches, and counselors entirely focused on helping them create a transcript that Harvard can’t resist. “This kind of parent has an idea of the outcome they want; in their work life they can get it,” Evans told me. “They’re surrounded by employees; they can delegate things to their staff.” In their eyes, teachers are staff. But the teachers don’t work for them.

And if you go to these places, you have an advantage that persists will beyond college admission:

All of this preparation doesn’t just help private-school kids get into elite colleges; it allows them to dominate once they get there. Over the past decade, O’Connor reported, two-thirds of Princeton’s Rhodes Scholars (excluding international students) came from private schools. So did two-thirds of the winners of the prestigious Sachs Scholarship, which provides two graduating students the opportunity to work, study, or travel abroad. Forty-seven percent of the winners of “class legacy prizes”—academic awards given to students in each class—attended private schools. This is why wealthy parents think it’s life-and-death to get their kids into the right prep school—because they know that the winners keep winning.

Flanagan recounts some horrific stories of parents badgering teachers, lying in wait for them outside their offices, calling them on the phone repeatedly, and so on.  I suppose they see the massive tuition as an entitlement to ensure that their kids get into the right schools. And if you donate money to the schools (“campaigns” for more bucks are incessant), you get better treatment as a parent, and—the worst part—your kid gets treated better as well. As Flanagan says, “Its not unreasonable for a big donor to expect preferential treatment for his or her child. And it’s not unusual for him to get it.”

Flanagan reviews the situation at a few other elite schools, like the toxic meltdown at The Dalton School in New York City that I’ve described before. She also describes convincing evidence of racism directed at the few black students, examples that make these schools even more obscene.

What’s the cure? Well, you could say “get rid of these schools”, but that would mean getting rid of private schools in general. While that’s an ideal, it’s not gonna fly—not so long as parents have money, local schools are crummy, and parents want their children educated in a religious school. But drastic improvements in public schools would help, for many parents send their kids to these schools because public-school education is not a viable alternative:

We have become a country with vanishingly few paths out of poverty, or even out of the working class. We’ve allowed the majority of our public schools to founder, while expensive private schools play an outsize role in determining who gets to claim a coveted spot in the winners’ circle. Many schools for the richest American kids have gates and security guards; the message is you are precious to us. Many schools for the poorest kids have metal detectors and police officers; the message is you are a threat to us.

Public-school education—the specific force that has helped generations of Americans transcend the circumstances of their birth—is profoundly, perhaps irreparably, broken. In my own state of California, only half of public-school students are at grade level in reading, and even fewer are in math. When a crisis goes on long enough, it no longer seems like a crisis. It is merely a fact.

Shouldn’t the schools that serve poor children be the very best schools we have?

You betcha!

Although a reader extolled the article as being very well written, I found it so-so. It’s a bit discursive, leaping from topic to topic, and there some attempts to inject flippancy or breeziness into the text that don’t work. Still, if you want an idea how elite (i.e., rich) Americans are educated, this is a good place to start.

Bernie’s mittens: a sign of white privilege

February 2, 2021 • 9:00 am

The racialization of everything continues apace, helped along by an op-ed whose publication has no obvious justification. But this was inevitable. If yogurt, pilates, and pumpkin lattes can be seen as signs of white privilege, why not mittens?

Yes, Bernie in mittens is supposed to symbolize white privilege, at least according to Ingrid Seyer-Ochi writing in the San Francisco Chronicle (click on screenshot below). What makes this pathetic attempt at virtue signaling even scarier is that Seyer-Ochi is a teacher, described by the Chronicle as “a former UC Berkeley and Mills College professor, ex-Oakland Unified School District principal and current San Francisco Unified School District high school teacher.”

Indeed, she describes the “lessons she gives her students” in the piece below.

A few excerpts will suffice.

Three weeks ago I processed the Capitol insurrection with my high school students. Rallying our inquiry skills, we analyzed the images of that historic day, images of white men storming through the Capitol, fearless and with no forces to stop them. “This,” I said, “is white supremacy, this is white privilege. It can be hard to pinpoint, but when we see, it, we know it.”

Well, I won’t fault her for the white supremacy stuff, but she really shouldn’t be inculcating the notion of “white privilege” into high-school students. That’s not education, but the instillation of guilt on top of propaganda.

But it gets worse when she applies “white privilege” to Bernie Sanders, who we know came to the inauguration wearing a winter coat (not a “puffy” down jacket, as Seyer-Ochi implies) and, of course, the famous mittens. This disdain for the more formal attire of others, of course, is seen as another instantiation of white privilege, and that’s the lesson conveyed by Seyer-Ochi to her students:

Fast-forward two weeks as we analyzed images from the inauguration, asking again, “What do we see?” We saw diversity, creativity and humanity, and a nation embracing all of this and more. On the day of the inauguration, Bernie Sanders was barely on our radar. The next day, he was everywhere.

“What do we see?” I asked again. We’ve been studying diversity and discrimination in the United States; my students were ready. What did they see? They saw a white man in a puffy jacket and huge mittens, distant not only in his social distancing, but in his demeanor and attire.

We took in the meaning of the day, the vulnerability of democracy, the power of ritual, traditions and the peaceful transition of power.

We talked about gender and the possible meanings of the attire chosen by Vice President Kamala Harris, Dr. Jill Biden, the Biden grandchildren, Michelle Obama, Amanda Gorman and others. We referenced the female warriors inspiring these women, the colors of their educational degrees and their monochromatic ensembles of pure power.

And there, across all of our news and social media feeds, was Bernie: Bernie memes, Bernie sweatshirts, endless love for Bernie. I puzzled and fumed as an individual as I strove to be my best possible teacher. What did I see? What did I think my students should see? A wealthy, incredibly well-educated and -privileged white man, showing up for perhaps the most important ritual of the decade, in a puffy jacket and huge mittens.

And it’s not just white privilege that Bernie was radiating. There were other types too (see below). He’s a veritable gemisch of every type of privilege in America.

Here we have a teacher propagandizing her students with her own interpretation of sociology, so upsetting that she puzzled and fumed. But no, she was not trying to be the best possible teacher—unless she thinks that inculcating her students with wokeness is the right thing to do.

I mean in no way to overstate the parallels. Sen. Sanders is no white supremacist insurrectionist. But he manifests privilege, white privilege, male privilege and class privilege, in ways that my students could see and feel.

“When you see privilege, you know it,” I’d told them weeks before. Yet, when they saw Sen. Bernie Sanders manifesting privilege, when seemingly no one else did, I struggled to explain that disparity. I am beyond puzzled as to why so many are loving the images of Bernie and his gloves. Sweet, yes, the gloves, knit by an educator. So “Bernie.”

Not so sweet? The blindness I see, of so many (Bernie included), to the privileges Bernie represents. I don’t know many poor, or working class, or female, or struggling-to-be-taken-seriously folk who would show up at the inauguration of our 46th president dressed like Bernie. Unless those same folk had privilege. Which they don’t.

This woman is a blithering idiot. First, she doesn’t realize that Bernie is an eccentric, and dresses the way he’d dress in Vermont. He wasn’t exerting some kind of “privilege”.  Was his failure to wear fancy clothes some kind of proclamation about his freedom from “white convention”, then?  If you dress up, you’re showing white privilege, and if you flout that, you are as well.

What Bernie is being faulted for here is not what he wore, but the color of his skin. For Bernie is a progressive, located on a part of the political spectrum beloved by the Woke, and so should be celebrated by a teacher of this stripe (and remember, I voted for Bernie in the primary). But he’s also white, and being of Jewish ancestry apparently is no mitigation.

But does Bernie really have white privilege and class privilege and male privilege? In fact he had a hardscrabble upbringing, as described by Wikipedia, and he’s fought for racial justice his whole adult life.  One thing I learned is that the Bern went to the University of Chicago!

Sanders later described his time in Chicago as “the major period of intellectual ferment in my life.” While there, he joined the Young People’s Socialist League (the youth affiliate of the Socialist Party of America) and was active in the civil rights movement as a student for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Under his chairmanship, the university chapter of CORE merged with the university chapter of the SNCC. In January 1962, he went to a rally at the University of Chicago administration building to protest university president George Wells Beadle’s segregated campus housing policy. At the protest, Sanders said, “We feel it is an intolerable situation when Negro and white students of the university cannot live together in university-owned apartments”. He and 32 other students then entered the building and camped outside the president’s office. After weeks of sit-ins, Beadle and the university formed a commission to investigate discrimination. After further protests, the University of Chicago ended racial segregation in private university housing in the summer of 1963.

Joan Mahoney, a member of the University of Chicago CORE chapter at the time and a fellow participant in the sit-ins, described Sanders in a 2016 interview as “a swell guy, a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn, but he wasn’t terribly charismatic. One of his strengths, though, was his ability to work with a wide group of people, even those he didn’t agree with.” He once spent a day putting up fliers protesting police brutality, only to notice later that Chicago police had shadowed him and taken them all down. He attended the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave the “I Have a Dream” speech. That summer, Sanders was fined $25 (equivalent to $209 in 2019) for resisting arrest during a demonstration in Englewood against segregation in Chicago’s public schools.

Nooo, but that’s not enough for Ms. Seyer-Ochi, because Bernie is white and wore mittens.

What I find most reprehensible about this woman is that she’s a high school teacher, and the “education” she gives her students apparently involves pouring woke garbage into their brains, filling them with guilt and instilling them with ideas of racial identity and division. She shouldn’t be a teacher, and were I a parent of one of her students, I’d try to find another school or teacher.

As far as I can see, Seyer-Ochi taught an education course at UC Berkeley, presumably as an adjunct, and some of the students complained of the same ideological agenda at Rate My Professors (to be fair, she has some good ratings, too). There’s no way this isn’t the same woman:

The Daily Fail has a photo of this teacher, and it shows another example of white privilege: tattoos.  Doesn’t she know that it’s hard to see tattoos on black skin?

Perhaps the worst part of all this is that the San Francisco School District probably wants teachers like this. She’d be perfect to teach the new ethnic-studies course.

Oh, and until I saw the tweet below I had forgotten that Bernie put the mittens meme on all sorts of merchandise on his site, with the money being used for charity. According to the AP, Bernie’s White Privilege Mittens raised a ton of dosh!:

About those wooly mittens that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders wore to the presidential inauguration, sparking endless quirky memes across social media? They’ve helped to raise $1.8 million in the last five days for charitable organizations in Sanders’ home state of Vermont, the independent senator announced Wednesday.

The sum comes from the sale of merchandise with the Jan. 20 image of him sitting with his arms and legs crossed, clad in his brown parka and recycled wool mittens.

Sanders put the first of the so-called “Chairman Sanders” merchandise, including T-shirts, sweatshirts and stickers, on his campaign website Thursday night and the first run sold out in less than 30 minutes, he said. More merchandise was added over the weekend and sold out by Monday morning, he said.

. . .The groups that will benefit from the proceeds of the “Chairman Sanders” items include Area Agencies on Aging to fund Meals on Wheels throughout Vermont, Vermont community action agencies, Feeding Chittenden, Chill Foundation, senior centers in Vermont and Bi-State Primary Care for dental care improvements in the state, Sanders’ office said.

Sanders’ attire has also sparked other charitable endeavors. A crocheted doll of Sanders in his garb was auctioned off online and Burton Snowboards donated 50 jackets to the Burlington Department for Children and Families in Sanders’ name, his office said.

Another blow at the meritocracy: California to eliminate all standardized tests for college admissions

January 14, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Part of the Woke Program is dispelling meritocracy, as demonstrations of “merit” are often seen as byproducts of “privilege”, while lower assessments of merit, especially when instantiated by minority groups, are seen as instantiations of bigotry. It’s well known, for example, that the standard ACT and SAT tests show dramatically different average scores among racial groups. Below is a table of 2018 scores from the National Center for Education Statistics, with data drawn from the U.S. Department of Education. The standard deviations in the U.S. overall are about 200; this figure would be lower for separate groups because that estimate comes from combined data of groups having different means.

As is well known, there are big differences between groups—on the order of half to a full standard deviation, with Asians at the top followed by whites, mixed-race students, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders and then Native Americans and blacks nearly tied on the lowest rung.

The ordering is seen as reflecting racism, and that may well be true if you take “racism” as meaning “the historical oppression of minority groups which had created at present an impoverished cultural environment with bad schools.” And that would be my own explanation for the differences. A culture of pushing for achievement and high grades would then account for Asians getting the highest scores on average.

Some people, however, attribute racism more directly, arguing that the questions themselves are racially biased, favoring white and Asian “knowledge” over the knowledge held by other groups.  I don’t think such an explanation holds much water, especially for math; and the SAT company has made efforts to examine the possibility of bias and eliminate those questions that smack of it.

Because of the racial disparities, people have argued successfully to eliminate SATs and ACTs (another standardized test) as requirements for college admission. I can’t see a good reason for that. SATs, in particular, are just as correlated with success in college as are high-school grade point averages, but the latter are specific to schools. Why would you not want to put all students on the same scale, evaluated by the same test, when you’re judging students? The best thing to do, as I’ve argued, is use a multivariate index, combining grades and standardized-test scores.

The reason schools are eliminating tests, of course, is largely because racial disparities in scores don’t look good on their face (I’d argue that they highlight a problem of inequality), and, if used as one criterion for college admission, would reduce the chances of minorities like blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans getting into selective colleges, exacerbating inequities (inequality of representation). But there’s a solution: colleges wanting more racial balance can use various legal affirmative-action strategies, strategies that, in general, I approve of. Also, there’s a benefit for minorities taking standardized tests: it enables colleges to pick out those students who are likely to do well (remember the correlation between SAT scores and college success) but didn’t have high grade-point averages, perhaps because they were bored or not turned on by the curriculum.

But you can only push affirmative action so far before unequal admissions treatment starts getting people upset. That’s why a group of Asian students sued Harvard (and lost, at least for the time being), claiming that Harvard deliberately downgraded their assessments to avoid having too many Asians on campus. If you have standardized-test numbers to attach to different groups, the disparities are glaring and not only can incite resentment, but can lead to lawsuits arguing that schools are using a “quota system,” a strategy ruled out in the Bakke case.

Recently, the University of California decided to eliminate tests like SATs as requirements for in-state applicants, making them optional for the next two years. Then, in 2023, students will not be allowed to even submit those scores. This happened despite the recommendation of both its own Chancellor and a panel convened by the University system itself, both of which recommended that SAT-like tests be retained as mandatory for applicants. The only reason that the University could possibly have for overriding its own panel’s recommendation is that test scores highlight racial disparities and could exacerbate at the U of C if considered in a largely meritocratic admissions system.

For reasons I can’t fathom, the University of California, after ditching the SATs and ACTs, recommended that the system devise its own standardized test, to be implemented in 2025. But according to this article from the Los Angeles Times (click on screenshot, and inquire for a copy if paywalled), they’ve decided they can’t do that in a timely fashion, and so the U of C is likely to ditch all standardized tests—for good.  This has already happened in over 1,000 other colleges and universities (roughly a quarter of higher-education institutions in the U.S.), a wholesale dismantling of the meritocracy. (n.b.: I don’t think that test-scores or grades should be the sole criterion for college admissions, as there are other criteria of achievement that aren’t measured by these statistics.)

See if you can open this, and ask if you can’t:

Because the proposed UC-specific test isn’t practicable, they’ve explored another alternative:

The UC Board of Regents unanimously voted last year to eliminate the SAT and ACT — as more than 1,000 other colleges and universities have done — amid decades of research showing test performance is heavily influenced by race, income and parent education levels.

But the regents accepted a faculty recommendation to explore whether a new UC test without those biases could be developed, saying it would have to be ready in time for fall 2025 applicants.

The UC panels, in their reports released Monday, said it was not feasible for UC to develop its own test because it would take too long and recommended that the university instead explore using a modified version of the state’s high school assessment — but only as an optional “data point” in comprehensive applicant reviews.

The new replacement:

The group of UC faculty, admissions directors, testing experts and other educational and community representatives focused on whether Smarter Balanced, the California assessment given annually to 11th graders, could be retooled for UC use. Any use of a modified state test, however, should be optional and limited so as not to create the inequities and high-stakes pressures associated with the SAT and ACT, according to the recommendation to UC President Michael V. Drake from a second panel.

This is just replacing one standardized test with another, and one that can’t be used to compare in-state applicants with out-of-state applicants who don’t take “Smarter Balanced.” Note the concern with “inequities and high-stakes pressures”.  Well, you’re still going to get those, because Smarter Balanced testing produces the same disparities as does the SAT:

But members from both groups also expressed concerns about racial and ethnic disparities in state test results. For instance, about 70% of students classified as Asian meet or exceed the 11th-grade standard for math compared with 45% of whites and 20% of Black and Latino students, the work group said.

So you’ve still got those substantial inequities in exactly the same direction. Proponents of the California-specific test, however, argue that it has a few advantages over SATs. For one thing, it’s free, while I believe it costs a lot to take the standardized SAT and ACT tests. Also, proponents argue that a California-specific test will somehow “better align [the University of California] with the K-12 system, leading to better educational preparation for university work.”

But do you really want California-wide uniformity of educational desiderata, especially when assessed with a test not available to those outside California? It all sounds too cumbersome to me. 

And, in the end, the committees assessing this issue decided that, for the time being, the University system should not use Smarter Balanced as an admission criterion, instead using the test scores “for related purposes, such as validating GPA [JAC: that is a criterion by the way], providing context about the school’s educational environment or helping determine placement in freshman courses and summer preparation programs.”

In the end, I think that a mandatory standardized test for all applicants, including those from outside the state, is useful, and I can’t see any good arguments against it save the cost, which can be obviated. As I wrote last year, concurring with Scott Aaronson that standardized tests have real value in singling out smart kids who didn’t get good grades (Aaronson was one of those):

If you want greater racial equity, though, it seems to me best not to eliminate test scores, but to calculate a multivariate index of “academic achievement,” and then use other criteria, like “diversity points” to increase racial balance. This is, in effect, what is being done now by schools like Harvard. The reason, as I’ve said before, is as a form of reparations for those held back by their sociopolitical history in America.

You can have greater equity and some meritocratic criteria at the same time. What you cannot have is greater equity and purely meritocratic admissions, assuming that you base the merit on grades, test scores, and criteria like achievements not measured by grades and scores. (I don’t recommend using Harvard’s “personality index”!) Eventually, when equality of opportunity is achieved for all groups—and that is the real goal, but one that will take decades to achieve—there will be no good arguments against using standardized tests as criteria for college admission.

h/t: Luana

Why are old white men so much worse than young white men?

November 13, 2020 • 9:30 am

When I open the latest issue of our student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, I often get similar feelings as when I read HuffPost: “This rag is way too woke.” It’s especially depressing here because of the big gap between the students’ wokeness and the University’s ideals, which are to promulgate nearly complete free speech and to refrain from the University making any official statement about politics, morality, or ideology beyond those necessary to ensure that the University functions as an equal-opportunity venue for learning and exploring ideas. (See our list of “Foundational Principles”.) Both of these principles are meant to promote free discussion, in hopes that the clash of ideas brings knowledge, awareness, and learning how to learn.

Here’s an example from the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Protest and Dissent:

In our view, dissent and protest are integral to the life of the University. Dissent and protest should be affirmatively welcomed, not merely tolerated, by the University. Especially in a university community, the absence of dissent and protest—not its presence—is a cause for concern. The passionate expression of non-conforming ideas is 2 both a cause and an effect of the intellectual climate that defines this University in particular. In addition, dissent and protest—and public demonstrations by groups and individuals—play a role in the University’s educational mission: being a member of an educational community that values dissent and protest is, in part, how people develop as citizens of a democracy.

In contrast, many (but by no means all) of our students want repression of “hate speech”, deplatforming of speakers, the right to avoid punishment for disrupting speech, and, of course, defunding and eliminating the campus police. A major editorial in the new Maroon, for instance, bemoans the possibility that after our current President—Robert Zimmer—steps down at the end of this academic year, the committee chosen to select his replacement consists of uniformly wealthy and overwhelmingly white males. (That isn’t true: there are two women, one Hispanic man, and one black man on the committee of 12, in addition to Zimmer himself). The students are afraid that Zimmer’s replacement will be just like him, and want “faculty, staff, students, and community members” to be on the search committee lest the policies of Zimmer (including retaining the campus cops) be continued.  With a committee like that, we’d wind up getting somebody like George “Can I Pee Now?” Bridges, the invertebrate president of The Evergreen State College. In fact, the committee should strive to get someone like Zimmer, as he’s fought hard to keep the University of Chicago a bastion of free speech and unrestricted inquiry (he’s also been hugely successful in the President’s other job: raising money for the University).

It’s not the disparity of age, sex, and color between students and trustees or President that worries me (our Provost, by the way, is an Asian woman)—it’s the disparity between these two groups in what they think a university is for and how it should be run. The students want the purpose of our University to be social engineering, and preparing students to be social engineers; the faculty and administration want the students to learn and learn how to think; to bathe in and ponder rarified ideas. We don’t see the university as a way to inculcate students with certain societal values, but as a way to get them to think about and arrive at their own values.

Contrast the Founding Principles above, for example, with a booklet produced by our Leftier students, the Dis-Orientation Guide for 2020: 59 pages of wokeness that begins by repudiating our principles of free speech as inconsistently applied (they’re not) and rejecting the Kalven Report’s admonition for the University to avoid taking official political stands. In my view, if our President is replaced by pliable, woke, and invertebrate Presidents like those of Evergreen State, Yale, and Smith, the unique aspects of the University of Chicago will be gone. Every class would begin with a land acknowledgment, and the faculty would have to “get in the canoe”. (Do watch that video for a horrifying dose of faculty and administrative self-abasement.)

Zimmer and some of the trustees are, of course Old White Males, a trope that appears in the same issue with an editorial with the customary critique of “core curricula” everywhere:

Placing readings in relation to current world events would not only deepen students’ understanding of content, but it would widen the context under which we could apply it later on. Untangling the pages of dense theory written in the 17th century generally does not do wonders for student engagement—it is when what we read is made relatable that it becomes interesting to us, and it is then that we become motivated to push our reading further.

The solution could be as easy as including more authors of different races and backgrounds: namely, less [sic] old white men.

I’d have some sympathy with this—after all, diverse voices emit diverse ideas and viewpoints—if the core hadn’t already been revamped to be diverse in many ways. Check out some of the courses offered, and I’ve put part of a pdf below.  You can explore more sample courses and sample texts by starting here (the “general education requirement” of 15 courses that constitutes the Core), and clicking around. Check out “Civilization Studies” for a panoply of courses that will appeal to those who want more ethnic and gender diversity. The Core is superb, and is one reason many students come here.

So I absolutely reject the idea that the core, which comprises considerable and diverse courses, is heavily conditioned with too many “old white males.” Of course if you’re interested in Western Civ or Western Literature, you’re going to find it OWM-heavy, for Western civilization developed at a time when women and minorities were shoved to the margin. Come back in 200 years.

But what I don’t understand is why the denigration of OLD white males? Are YOUNG white males better? Shakespeare had already produced some of his finest work by age 40, and I could name many pillars of literature and art, who, even though white, made their contributions when young.  Is the underlying idea that old white males are more conservative than young ones? Well, maybe now, but if you go back a few hundred years, even young white males would be seen through modern eyes as not only conservative, but often bigoted.

What we have here is again a conflict between two ideals of liberalism: diversity and anti-ageism. If it’s racist and sexist to denigrate authors because they’re white and male, then it’s triply pernicious by being ageist and adding that they’re bad because they’re old.

And to those who dismiss white men because they’re old, I have two words in response: Bernie Sanders.