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

Andrew Sullivan on why we shouldn’t ban the teaching of CRT, but why it’s bad to teach it

June 19, 2021 • 1:00 pm

In this week’s installment of The Weekly Dish, Andrew Sullivan has a very good piece on Critical Race Theory (CRT; click on screenshot below, though you may have to be a subscriber to read it). I’d urge you to subscribe, as it’s only $50 a year—less than a dollar a week.

In the piece, Sullivan has a number of theses (direct quotes are indented):

1.) The media’s characterization of opposition to CRT (and laws against it) as a Republican plot to discredit Democrats is partly wrong. Yes, the “laws” being passed to ban the teaching of CRT are mostly a Republican initiative, but opposition to teaching CRT goes across the political spectrum, including many liberals.

I’m sure the MSM will continue to push this narrative indefinitely. They are still insisting, after all, that “white supremacy” is behind hateful attacks on Asian-Americans, and that soaring murder rates are purely a function of Covid19. And you can see why: this dismissive take is extremely helpful in avoiding what is actually happening. It diverts attention from the stories and leaks and documents that keep popping up all over the place about extraordinary indoctrination sessions that have become mandatory for children as early as kindergarten.

2.) CRT as taught in schools is not the academic version, but is injurious nevertheless, as it simply dumbs down the theses of “big time CRT” as presented by scholars like Crenshaw and Kendi. It is more than just shining a light on American racism.

And no, 6-year-olds are not being taught Derrick Bell — or forced to read Judith Butler, or God help them, Kimberlé Crenshaw. Of course they aren’t — and I don’t know anyone who says they are.

But they are being taught popularized terms, new words, and a whole new epistemology that is directly downstream of academic critical theory. Ibram X. Kendi even has an AntiRacist Baby Picture Book so you can indoctrinate your child into the evil of whiteness as soon as she or he can gurgle. It’s a little hard to argue that CRT is not interested in indoctrinating kids when its chief proponent in the US has a kiddy book on the market.

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.

Here’s the picture shown from Kendi’s AntiRacist Baby Book:

3.) There’s nothing wrong with beefing up school curricula to teach more about America’s odious history of racism.

The legacy of this country’s profound racism, the deep and abiding shame of its genocidal slavocracy, the atrocities, such as Tulsa, which have been white-washed, the appalling record of lynchings and beatings, the centrality of African-Americans to the story and success of this country: all this must be better explored and understood. There is nothing wrong and a huge amount right about black scholars taking the lead in shining light on what others might miss, building on past knowledge, helping us better account for it. White scholars, like the hundreds of thousands of white citizens who gave their lives to end slavery, have a crucial role to play as well.

4.) But there should not be laws either mandating or forbidding the teaching of CRT in the classroom. However, if taught, it should be presented as just one of several sociological theories. But mandating or banning its teaching is doing exactly what liberals don’t want: inhibiting free speech:

The question is: what can a liberal society do when almost all of its educational, media, business and cultural elites have adopted an ideology that believes that liberal society needs to be dismantled? And the answer is: not much. Liberalism assumes that bad and noxious ideas will eventually be driven out by better ones. Banning illiberal ideologies like CRT makes us indistinguishable from the woke — who would ban any speech they didn’t like if they could get rid of the First Amendment (just look at what “liberals” are doing in Canada or Britain, for example, where they lock people up for resisting this ideology). Replacing CRT with crude, jingoistic versions of history or society is no answer either.

Many of the bills attempting to ban CRT in public schools are well-intentioned and do not, in fact, ban CRT. But they contain wording to constrain the kind of teaching that is built on CRT that is far too vague, could constrain speech in countless unforeseen ways, and are pretty close to unenforceable. (When people are proposing body-cameras for teachers, you know they’ve gone off the edge.) Most of these bills, to make things worse, strike me as unconstitutional. And they cede the higher ground.

5.) CRT itself is bad for kids because it promotes authoritarianism rather than liberalism.

And it’s vital for the rest of us to understand that these kinds of lessons are directly downstream of an ideology that, according to an early Critical Race Theory text, “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism and neutral principles of Constitutional law.” For these reasons, CRT insists that what we have always understood as liberal education is, in fact, a lie, because liberalism assumes that we are all individuals, capable of reasoning with each other as equals, where, in fact, we are mere representatives of racial constructs which are part of a permanent struggle between the oppressors (white) and oppressed (non-white).

This is not teaching about critical race theory; it is teaching in critical race theory. And it is compulsory and often hidden from parents. It contradicts the core foundations of our liberal society; and is presented not as one truth to be contrasted with others, but as the truth, the basis on which all other truths are built. That’s why teaching based on CRT will make children see themselves racially from the get-go, why it will separate them into different racial groups, why it will compel white kids to internalize their complicity in evil, tell black kids that all their troubles are a function of white people, banish objective measurements of success to avoid stigmatizing failure, and treat children of different races differently in a classically racist hierarchy.

And this is why — crucially — it will suppress any other way of seeing the world — because any other way, by definition, is merely perpetuating oppression. As Kendi constantly reminds us, it is either/or. An antiracist cannot exist with a liberalism that perpetuates racism. And it’s always the liberalism that has to go.

6.) Rather than trying to pass Trumpian laws and dictates banning the teaching of CRT, Sullivan recommends that we must fight the theory because it defies liberalism, for CRT “is committed in its foundational texts to the overthrow of liberalism.”

It’s not just a culture war gambit. It’s a deep defense of our liberal inheritance. Once a generation grows up believing that there is no such thing as reason — just “white thinking” and “black thinking”; once it grows up believing that free speech is a device for oppression not liberation; once it sees our founding documents as cynical lies to perpetuate slavery and “white supremacy”; once it believes that no progress has ever been made in race relations, because the “systems” sustain unaltered “white supremacy” for ever, then we have detonated the foundations of a free society.

And we should remember that CRT is adhered to by only a minority of Americans: Sullivan quotes a YouGov poll showing that Americans oppose CRT by 58% to 38%, with 53% having a “very unfavorable view of it.”

Overall, this is a measured, well written, and convincing piece. We all know that CRT is far more than just a way to call attention to past and present racism, which is an admirable effort. Instead, it is a divisive ideology—John McWhorter would call it a theology—that tears America apart rather bringing it together, and is explicitly designed to be not only untestable, but also to stifle all discussion about it.

A post of mine on human genetics gets condemned and labeled “harmful” by a university

June 18, 2021 • 1:45 pm

On May 6 I posted a piece on racism and human genetics, making the point that while some early human geneticists promoted eugenics (this doesn’t happen any more), there were other geneticists who explicitly opposed it. I wrote it to counter an article by Lea Davis in Scientific American (of course), who claimed that white supremacy is baked into the structure of human genetics and that the field still carries the burden of white supremacy. Anyone actually studying human genetics in a university knows that Davis’s accusations are not true.

Here’s a short excerpt from my article that gives the tone of my piece, which is critical but not, I think, uncivil:

Beyond that, we have the multiple Kendi-an accusatons that all human geneticists are complicit in racism and white supremacy. A few samples [from Davis’s piece]:

How do we teach and talk about this incredibly problematic history? Despite the many scholarly texts available, there is rarely an open and frank acknowledgement that the very foundations of our field were rooted in the false and dangerous beliefs of biological race and human racial hierarchies. Today, there is an effort to distance modern genetics from the harms of eugenics. This shameful aspect of our shared history is often separated from the primary curriculum for human genetics trainees, relegated to classes in “ELSI” (ethical, legal and social issues), which are usually electives—or, worse, just one day of training. In large part, we are failing to disclose this startling racist legacy to young scientists entering the field; a sad irony for a discipline devoted to human inheritance. Our failure to acknowledge the racist origins of modern genetics also has repercussions in our (in)ability to attract and retain members of underrepresented communities in genetics and other STEM training programs. Thus, as time marches on, the knowledge of our harmful racist history is fading while the culture of whiteness continues to dominate.

No, there is an effort to teach people about the history of our field. But that should not include the accusation that STEM is racist, for every school I know of is trying to “diversify” STEM as hard as we can. The issue is a “pipeline problem”: few minority candidates have reached the Ph.D. stage. That itself reflects older racism, but not racism imbuing human genetics, for scientists are pretty much anti-racists.

Further, the “very foundations of our field were not rooted in racism”. Yes, some famous geneticists believed that, but by no means all. Was the monk Gregor Mendel a racist? Were the re-discoverers of Mendelism, Hugo DeVries, Carl Correns and Erich von Tschermak, determined to imbue the field with racism? Not that I know of. How about the popularizers of modern genetics: people like T. H. Morgan, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Alfred Sturtevant, Calvin Bridges, Sewall Wright, and J. B. S. Haldane? Nope. You can mention Ronald Fisher in support of racism, but his eugenics was based on poverty, not race, and at any rate never got purchase. No, our field is not founded on racism.

And I gave several articles by famous geneticists of the 20th century who opposed eugenics.

The article certainly provides an opportunity to debate Davis’s claims versus my own, but when someone tried to do that, a ruckus ensued. Here’s a comment that a reader made on my post this morning on “social constructs” (click on the screenshot to go to the comment):

I have been officially condemned! Well, I’m not going to defend myself here; you can read my piece for yourself and judge for yourself. I further deny that it could cause “harm” to anyone who didn’t already have psychological issues, and I assert that a robust debate on these issues is exactly what this benighted university (I don’t know which one) needs but is trying to prevent.

Shame on that department, and shame on that university! For their actions are inimical to the very purpose of the university: to say your piece, adduce what facts you have, and let students hash out the issues in class or even in their own brains.

Why the big increase in U.S. murders? Andrew Sullivan has a theory which is his.

June 12, 2021 • 12:45 pm

We know two things: that the murder and shooting rate in America has gone sky high, especially in big cities, and we know that, at the same time, many on the Left are trying to defund the police. Now police reform is one thing (I do approve of social workers going along on calls that require that kind of treatment), but deeply cutting police budgets right now is a recipe for disaster—disaster for both human lives and for the Democratic Party.

In Chicago, for instance, 289 people have already been killed this year, and the year is barely half over. But that’s already 16 more people killed than in all of 2020! If you extrapolate the present rate to the entire year, it would represent an increase of about 96% over 2020! In the article below, which reports similar increases elsewhere and tries to find a cause, Andrew Sullivan summarizes the data, drawing from the New York Times:

Here’s the NYT summary of the data, to start with:

Homicide rates in large cities were up more than 30 percent on average last year, and up another 24 percent for the beginning of this year, according to criminologists … Homicides in Portland, Ore., rose to 53 from 29, up more than 82 percent; in Minneapolis, they grew to 79 from 46, up almost 72 percent; and in Los Angeles the number increased to 351 from 258, a 36 percent climb … Homicides in Philadelphia are up almost 28 percent, with 170 through May 9, compared with 133 in the same period last year; in Tucson, Ariz., the number jumped to 30 from 17 through May 13, an increase of 76 percent.

By any measure, that’s a huge increase. Yes, we’re still in a relatively low crime environment. But the suddenness of the rise and its scale are striking.

Clearly, now is not the time to reduce policing, and clearly not the time to eliminate policing, which some “progressives” do indeed want. For another thing is certain: reducing policing will just raise the rate of crime, especially violent crime, and will cost more lives. The increase in homicides isn’t explained by a big increase in murders by white police, but, according to stats compiled in recent years, largely by black-on-black crime.  Increasing the murder rate by reducing policing (a “solution” that both Sullivan and I deplore) will simply lead to a disproportionate loss of black lives.

Click on the screenshot to read the article:

Here are the possible reasons for the increase in murders and shootings considered by Sullivan, and why he rejects some.

a.) The pandemic.  Doesn’t seem feasible to Sullivan because lockdowns tend to reduce rather than increase crime, a reduction that in fact was observed in much of the world.

b.) Poverty caused by the pandemic. Again, doesn’t seem feasible because crimes that enrich the perp, like burglary, larceny, and drug offenses, dropped from previous years. So did “food insecurity.”

c.) “The fentanyl crisis”.  Doesn’t seem plausible because opioid peddling isn’t connected with much crime.

d. Defunding the police.  Not likely, for not much defunding has yet taken place.

But what does seem likely to Sullivan is the next hypothesis:

e.) A wariness by police to do “proactive” or heavy law enforcement following the murder of George Floyd and its sequelae, which included increased demonization of police. 

There’s no doubt that there’s a temporal correlation between homicides, shootings and the murder of Floyd, but of course correlation isn’t causation. Here, though, is a plot Sullivan presents of shots fired over time during the Floyd “era” (Minneapolis, of course, is where Floyd was murdered):

The spike in shootings followed Floyd’s death almost immediately, and has risen to double its pre-murder rate since then. Sullivan thinks that, in this case, the correlation does represent causality:

Of course, that is not causation. But it’s one hell of a correlation — and no other event seems relevant. It’s as if the Floyd murder, and the subsequent urban chaos, sent a signal: the cops are on the defensive. Which means murderers can go on the offensive. And once lawlessness establishes itself, it tends to compound. A few gang murders can soon morph into tit-for-tat urban warfare.

Sullivan supports this thesis with other data as well, including the widespread opprobrium directed toward the police, which partly explains, I think, the attrition of police forces in many places. Why be a cop when everybody hates you (“all cops are bastards”) and your job may be insecure?

After this relentless assault, regular police officers noticed. Many quit:

In Chicago, 560 officers retired in 2020 in a police department that had about 13,100 sworn officers as of March, records show. That’s about 15% more cops retiring than during the previous year, when the number of retirements rose by nearly 30%. In New York City, 2,500 cops retired last year, nearly double the number in 2019, according to the New York Police Department, which has about 34,500 uniformed officers. In Minneapolis, about 40 officers retired last year, and another 120 took leaves of absence. That’s nearly 20% of a police department.

But manpower was not the most significant factor. What truly mattered, Cassell argues, is that the police pulled back from the kind of aggressive, pro-active policing that has been shown to be most helpful in reducing fatal civilian shootings — but also most likely to lead to fatal encounters with the police. In Minneapolis, for example, “police stops and officer-initiated calls dropped more than half, use-of-force incidents fell by two-thirds while traffic-related incidents and patrols became far less common.” Residents complained that the cops were slow to come, or were in the neighborhoods with their windows up.

Plainclothes police details have been cut sharply in some places. All this, says Sullivan has taken its toll on the cops, who now “refrain from the kind of pro-active policing that can lead to exactly the kind of incidents that can become viral–aggressive intervention against armed criminals before they kill.

Now Sullivan admits that this is just a guess, but it’s at least supported by independent data, unlike my own earlier hypothesis, which was that the pandemic just made people edgy and desperate, leading to more killings.

Sullivan’s “guess” may well be right, though he hastens to add that he’s not arguing against police reform or shifting some police activities to mental health professionals.

Being a cop is a job I wouldn’t want to have, though I can see its appeal to authoritarian personalities. But it also appeals to those who want to make the community safer, for I do not believe that all cops are evil. I even believe that many cops are on an even keel, not racist, and try to do an honorable job (remember, if nothing else, that many cops are black).  But Sullivan sees a big irony here, for “defunding the police” is an official part of the Black Lives Matter agenda. So Sullivan ends this way:

This is not an argument against police reform or even against shifting some core responsibilities — mental health incidents, for example — to other kinds of professionals. It is an argument that pro-active policing has been more important in restraining crime than many have acknowledged; that removing it, before reforming the entire system, is extremely dangerous; and that elite complacency in the face of lawlessness and destruction in the summer of 2020 helped ignite a cycle of murder that is very hard to unwind. When crimes are committed with impunity, more crimes will be committed. And the victims will not be at Yale.

So this scenario prompts a question of supreme irony: what if the final legacy of Black Lives Matter is that it actually succeeds in its core goal, and that in the future, far fewer African-Americans are shot by the cops. And what if the price of this symbolic victory is, in fact, a huge increase in the numbers of innocent black lives lost to civilian murder? That’s a trade-off worth discussing, before it becomes a new norm that’s very hard to undo.

McWhorter backs off a tad on language requirements for studying classics

June 10, 2021 • 1:30 pm

This week, linguist and writer John McWhorter had a piece in The Atlantic decrying Princeton’s new decision that Classics majors do not need to learn Greek or Latin. He gave some good reasons, too—mainly that the original-language texts contain nuances that can’t be grasped in an English translation.

In a piece on his website today, however, McWhorter backs off a bit, arguing that he’s not 100% opposed to eliminating those language requirements, but is opposed if it’s done to cater to African-American students. Click to read:

McWhorter first notes that he can make a case for translating the archaic words in Shakespeare into modern English. He adds that one loses out going to operas where there’s no simultaneous translation of Italian or German (many operas have electronic translations available).  So why not make the classics more accessible by translating them into English? Well, this will work for people like me who aren’t classics majors, but what about those who are?

Even for those, McWhorter can find exceptions:

Thus I am not entirely closed to the idea that a classics departments stop requiring majors to know Latin and Greek. A part of me has a hard time letting go of the idea that the challenge is a valuable one to the nurturing of a young brain. Yes, Princeton will continue teaching Latin and Greek to students who want to dip their feet in just “because.” But the ones who specialize in actual Latin and Greek texts, if required to get in up to their waists, are the students who will truly know the languages, using them to grapple with entire chunks of work and thought. The new situation will be one basically announcing “Nobody has to really learn Latin or Greek unless they’re a grammar nerd. What we want is for you to come give us your take on what these texts are about.”

Many wonder what’s so bad about that. And someone like me looks back at antique requirements that all students at a college take Latin and/or Greek and sees a peculiar quaintness. One could see Princeton’s decision as simply taking us even further from arbitrary tradition.

. . . except when this is done to cater to black students.  Like his colleague Glenn Loury, McWhorter doesn’t like relaxing requirements only to allow black students to gain “equity” in a field:

And yet, my irritation and discomfort remain. This is for a specific reason. I revile decisions like these when they are made with black people in mind. We can have a conversation about whether standardized tests are fair, about whether there might be other ways of fairly assessing students, about whether classical texts really need to be encountered in the languages they were written in. However, to have those conversations within the context of excusing black students from challenge is, in my view, impermissible and yes, in its way, racist.

The kid who doesn’t know he isn’t supposed to mention the emperor’s nakedness – and there is a little of that kid in most people – will always know, for example, that the reason for pulling the test from requirements at schools like Stuyvesant was “because black kids couldn’t handle the test.” No amount of sermonizing about “holistic” this and “welcoming” that will distract sensible people from this basic fact. And it won’t do. Exempting classics students from amoamasamat out of a misty-eyed commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (i.e. to black students) is the same thing.

The tacit idea is people guilty about their white privilege saying over a Zoom meeting “If we want to have more black students, we can’t be making people learn Greek and Latin anymore.” Ugh – see how that reads when exposed to the sunlight? Revise how those languages are taught. Advertise them differently. Or here’s a compromise – Greek’s harder than Latin; maybe pull it but not Latin? Anything but that patronizing condescension.

It is true that people see through these excuses (in the Atlantic piece, the classics chair justified eliminating language requirements because it would inject “vitality” into the field). Nobody doubts why the language requirements were eliminated. And nobody doubts why college after college is eliminating standardized tests, or even written essays. They might as well admit the truth: this is a form of affirmative action.

Whether you think this form of affirmative action is a good thing to do is up to you. (In some cases, though not these, I think it is good.) But at least give us a little honesty! Otherwise we’re living in a land of Orwellian doublespeak.

What is CRT? How to find out

June 8, 2021 • 12:45 pm

A lot of people ask me, “Jerry, what is Critical Race theory?” (Well, at least more than three people that I’ve seen in person.) My answer is aways to refer them to the Wikipedia article on CRT, though it’s too short to cover the major tenets of the theory, and leaves out some important stuff. Shortness is also a problem with the article on CRT at the New Discourses site of James Lindsay, who of course is an opponent of the “theory”—if it can be called a theory. (Some assertions of CRT are untestable and tautological, so I’m not sure what I’d call it.)

So if you want a short course on CRT, read the Wikipedia article but also the article below by Christopher Rufo, another opponent. To balance that, I’d recommend that you read—and you should do this for your own education—How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi. If you have the constitution, I’d also recommend White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Kendi’s book isn’t so much a coherent argument for CRT as it is his autobiography heavily larded with conclusions and assertions that partly reflect CRT.

I’m not going to summarize Rufo’s article except to show how it differs from other articles and to give a few of my reactions. Click on the screenshot to read:

It’s clear that CRT, while it might not be a theory in the empirical/scientific sense, is an ideology, a belief system that is not self-evidently true and that can be contested. Further, some of these contestable assertions cannot be refuted—not because there are data that can’t be brought to bear, but because the adherents of CRT, many of them mired in confirmation bias, will reject any disconfirming evidence. So, despite ample evidence that “implicit bias” tests are worthless, and that diversity training accomplishes little, these procedures continue to spread despite the evidence.

There’s also the CRT claim that racism has not lessened over the history of the U.S., a claim that I think is flatly wrong. Of course slavery is gone, and, more recently, the civil rights laws and the movement itself seems to me to have led to a reduction in racism, not, as Rufo says for CRT:

Critical race theorists believe that American institutions, such as the Constitution and legal system, preach freedom and equality, but are mere “camouflages” for naked racial domination. They believe that racism is a constant, universal condition: it simply becomes more subtle, sophisticated, and insidious over the course of history.

This, of course, is not only refutable but has been refuted. Black people can no longer be barred from public transportation or accommodation, are not required to cower before white people. They also have any number of legally enforceable rights they didn’t have 75 years ago. The same “can’t be refuted” quality holds for the claim that “all whites are racist, even if they don’t know it.” How can you rebut an assertion like that?

In general, Rufo’s article sets out the tenets of CRT as I’ve understood them, and emphasizes some that are neglected in other articles, tenets like “opposition to meritocracy”, “restriction of free speech”, and “neo-segregation” (e.g., “affinity housing” in college).  But some of these tenets are ones that puzzle me, like “abolition of whiteness”, meaning not just deep-sixing white social constructs, but actually “abolishing the white race”. If you think this kind of racism is nonexistent, Rufo provides quotes supporting each tenet, and at least one favors this kind of eliminativism.  The problem is that three or four selected quotes do not establish that a tenet of CRT is widespread. That also holds for “abolition of property.” But the use of quotes is a useful addition to Rufo’s piece.

Less useful is his section on semantics, which simply lists terms and mantras associated with CRT. There’s also a section of school fights about CRT, involving both schools mandating its teaching, often in offensive ways, and governments’ attempts (like Trump’s) to ban teaching CRT. I don’t favor government bans, as I’ve said before. What’s taught in schools should be determined by school boards.

So, read Kendi, Wikipedia, and Rufo to get a start in CRT. As this “theory” becomes more widely adopted, and becomes embedded in mainstream media, it behooves us to understand it so we can detect and understand how it appears.

Katie Herzog on metastasizing wokeness in medicine

June 4, 2021 • 11:30 am

Here’s another read for you, this time from Bari Weiss’s Substack column. Weiss seems to have been farming out the writing part of her site to others (Katie Herzog in this case) and concentrating on podcasting, a genre I don’t listen to.  Herzog’s piece, below, discusses the kind of wokeness in medicine that is either potentially injurious to people or makes doctors keep their mouths shut when they shouldn’t.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Herzog readily avers that there are inequities in medicine, many stemming from racism in the past that has led Hispanics and blacks to be unable to afford good medical care or to be shunted to ineffective adyts of the system. These have to be addressed.

But the object of the current fracas is what’s seen as “ongoing systemic racism” in medicine. This, claims Herzog, has led to doctors being reluctant to criticize others for being late, for criticizing wokeness and—in my view, the worst violation—”whole research areas being seen as off limits”. I’ll give two examples, one of which doesn’t show research as being off-limits, really, but showing criticism of presumably weak research being off limits. Herzog:

“Wokeness feels like an existential threat,” a doctor from the Northwest said. “In health care, innovation depends on open, objective inquiry into complex problems, but that’s now undermined by this simplistic and racialized worldview where racism is seen as the cause of all disparities, despite robust data showing it’s not that simple.”

“Whole research areas are off-limits,” he said, adding that some of what is being published in the nation’s top journals is “shoddy as hell.”

Here, he was referring in part to a study published last year in the Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. The study was covered all over the news, with headlines like “Black Newborns More Likely to Die When Looked After by White Doctors” (CNN), “The Lack of Black Doctors is Killing Black Babies” (Fortune), and “Black Babies More Likely to Survive when Cared for by Black Doctors” (The Guardian).

Despite these breathless headlines, the study was so methodologically flawed that, according to several of the doctors I spoke with, it’s impossible to extrapolate any conclusions about how the race of the treating doctor impacts patient outcomes at all. And yet very few people were willing to publicly criticize it. As Vinay Prasad, a clinician and a professor at the University of California San Francisco, put it on Twitter: “I am aware of dozens of people who agree with my assessment of this paper and are scared to comment.”

“It’s some of the most shoddy, methodologically flawed research we’ve ever seen published in these journals,” the doctor in the Zoom meeting said, “with sensational conclusions that seem totally unjustified from the results of the study.”

“It’s frustrating because we all know how hard it is to get good, sound research published,” he added. “So do those rules and quality standards no longer apply to this topic, or to these authors, or for a certain time period?”

At the same time that the bar appears to be lower for articles and studies that push an anti-racist agenda, the consequences for questioning or criticizing that agenda can be high.

The article below is the PNAS article at issue, and you can read it for free by clicking on the screenshot:

The popular summary from the article which, if true, is a pretty serious finding, and is apparently imputed to white doctors mistreating black newborns in a way that doubles their mortality!  Here’s the author’s popular precis:

Significance

A large body of work highlights disparities in survival rates across Black and White newborns during childbirth. We posit that these differences may be ameliorated by racial concordance between the physician and newborn patient. Findings suggest that when Black newborns are cared for by Black physicians, the mortality penalty they suffer, as compared with White infants, is halved. Strikingly, these effects appear to manifest more strongly in more complicated cases, and when hospitals deliver more Black newborns. No such concordance effect is found among birthing mothers.

As Herzog notes above, many people see this study as weak (confession: I haven’t yet read it). If you want a series of problems that Ethan Milne found in the paper, he has a critique of the paper on Medium, though he hastens to add:

Milne shows how grossly the popular press distorted the results of this paper.

So read the paper or, if it’s above your pay grade, look around the Web to find other takes on it.

I’ll cite just one more example: somebody losing their position and status for maintaining that medicine is hyperracialized and is not systemically racist:

In February, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released a podcast hosted by surgeon and then-deputy journal editor Edward Livingston, who questioned the value of the hyper focus on race in medicine as well as the idea that medicine is systemically racist.

“Personally, I think taking racism out of the conversation will help,” Livingston said at one point. “Many of us are offended by the concept that we are racist.”

It’s possible Livingston’s comments would have gone unnoticed but JAMA promoted the podcast on Twitter with the tone-deaf text: “No physician is racist, so how can there be structural racism in health care?”

Even more than in the case of Norman Wang, this tweet, and the podcast it promoted, led to a massive uproar. A number of researchers vowed to boycott the journal, and a petition condemning JAMA has received over 9,000 signatures. In response to the backlash, JAMA quickly deleted the episode, promised to investigate, and asked Livingston to resign from his job. He did.

If you try to access the podcast today, you find an apology in its place from JAMA editor-in-chief Howard Bauchner, who called Livingston’s statements, “inaccurate, offensive, hurtful and inconsistent with the standards of JAMA.” Bauchner was also suspended by JAMA pending an independent investigation. This Tuesday, JAMA announced that Bauchner officially stepped down. In a statement, he said he is “profoundly disappointed in myself for the lapses that led to the publishing of the tweet and podcast. Although I did not write or even see the tweet, or create the podcast, as editor in chief, I am ultimately responsible for them.”

Seriously, do you think that Livingston’s comments were inflammatory and odious enough to warrant this kind of “uproar,” much less forcing him to resign with the usual abject apology? I doubt it. And the JAMA’s promotion of the podcast was invidious and inflammatory enough to ignite this controversy.

There’s more in Herzog’s piece, including stuff about differential treatment of patients of different races. I will add that the study of infant mortality noted above has such serious implications that it, and studies like it analyzing disparate races of caregivers and care receivers, need to be repeated. We can’t just blow off the result, weak as the study may be, because people’s health and lives are at stake.

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.

McWhorter on “cultural language appropriation”

May 29, 2021 • 11:00 am

John McWhorter has two qualifications that make him able to judge whether it’s okay for white people to use black argot: he’s black and he’s a linguist. In his latest column on his Substack site (click on screenshot), Mcwhorter argues that it’s not only fine, but a form of flattery for members of one race to use the language of another, so long as it’s not used disparagingly. Click on the screenshot to read:

The “Elvis” simile comes from the claim, which may be justified, that Elvis used a black style of singing in his early music, but never gave credit to his influences. (McWhorter believes, as I do, that the black originators actually produced better music.) But he also argues that the comparison doesn’t hold water.

First, some of the language that white people are said to “steal” from blacks:

A little while ago, a Saturday Night Live skit depicted a multiracial group of teens communicating in what was depicted as “Gen Z slang,” with the doctor they were talking with having to “translate” his thoughts into it to communicate with them.

A lot of people didn’t like it, because the slang in question was mostly of Black English origin. The complaint is that the skit was denying the black roots of these terms, and instead ascribing them to Americans in general – i.e. (shudder) white persons. As in, yes – the problem was cultural appropriation.

. . . The SNL skit included, among others, yobestievibesfeels for feelings, salty for irritated, bro / bruh and no cap for “I’m not kidding” (as in, these are actual whole gold teeth, not golden caps on teeth).

McWhorter considers two arguments, and numerous sub-arguments, that terms like that should not be restricted to blacks.

1) Is there a historical precedent where people interact richly but keep their speech varieties completely separate?

He knows of no such cases.

2) Is there a case that even if this is the way it has been, that it would be a moral advancement if we tried to put a stop to it now?

McWhorter considers several arguments for the “moral cessation”, including the parallel with “music theft”, and says that the counterarguments are stronger, including the enrichment of art and language of every group by this kind of appropriation:

But overall, who among us wishes white people had never taken up ragtime, jazz, rhythm and blues, or rock and roll? I assume there are some who could really wish there had never been Benny Goodman, Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones, or Eminem and I mean that. But this would be a radical proposition held ever by only a sliver.

Black jazz, is, to my mind, still the best by far, but it was taken and changed into different forms by others, and some of those white artists, like Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman and Stan Getz, brought something new to the genre. As far as I know, they did no harm to blacks or black culture. Goodman, in fact, was the first major white bandleader to integrate his groups, taking on people like Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. “White” jazz is the most common form of cultural appropriation—a form of borrowing that does nobody any harm, but enriches everyone but the Pecksniffs.

McWhorter also points out that whites have been taking language from African Americans forever, even in the antebellum South, and, of course, this form of linguistic borrowing is good for everyone: it enriches our communication.

Take another oppressed group (well, at least they were once considered oppressed): the Jews. I know of no Jewish person who is insulted, including me, when we hear a non-Jewish person use Yiddish argot like “chutzpah”, “oy vey”, “schlemiel”, and “kvetch.” Indeed, I’m pleased and flattered to hear it! It means that those words were useful, and are considered not insulting but a tribute to the colorful language that is Yiddish. I can’t really see any difference between that kind of “cultural appropriation” and words like “bestie and “vibes” (in truth, I thought these were Millennial words!).

McWhorter thinks we should give up trying to police the racial borders of language for two reasons. First, it never works. Second, and most important, appropriating words and phrases from another culture is a form of flattery, and we all know this. Trying to keep the borders distinct is a futile exercise in tribalism. To quote the expert here:

In light of the above, I suggest we return to intuition here. Yes, even on race, sometimes intuition makes sense, and not just the intuition that white people are racist.

Namely, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Whites talk increasingly more like black people in America as a sign that whites and blacks are more comfortable together socially than they once were.

Yes, racism still exists. But getting past it will happen in increments. What is the progress in insisting that the increments, when they reveal themselves, don’t matter?

And whatever your other discomforts are with “Gen Z” using some black slang, your question must be whether it should be socially proscribed in light of what I have noted above as issues that cannot be waved away. Is the discomfort something you could honestly back with a confident pox on linguistic sharing amidst the broader context of what we are actually seeing?

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.