Race and Education: the arguments will have to change

I am so sick of the “test scores” arguments.  The basic argument, which I almost never see,  is:

The relevant test scores [math, sat, reading, etc] are determined by one’s genes.

They reliably reflect intelligence.

Group X’s test scores are much lower than those of white males.

Group X is inferior in intelligence.

Now we all know that these premises are all highly questionable and some are in the same box as creationism.  Or creationism’s version of Darwin.  But what I see – and I assume we all see – are applications of it.  For example, in a fairly recent discussion of Phi Beta Kappa I mention a black student of mine who is going to Caltech in mathematics.  (I can’t quite remember why this was relevant, but I can hardly believe it was for a welcome reason.)  Afterwards, someone who was a very vocal supporter of The Bell Curve** comes over to say that it will be a long time before we see many like that. 

Or, in a recent op ed for the NY Times we get a patriotic argument for not admitting (many?) blacks to the Naval Academy:

Another program that is placing strain on the [military] academies is an unofficial affirmative-action preference in admissions. While we can debate the merits of universities making diversity a priority in deciding which students to admit, how can one defend the use of race as a factor at taxpayer-financed academies — especially those whose purpose is to defend the Constitution? Yet, as I can confirm from the years I spent on the admissions board in 2002 and ’03 and from my conversations with more recent board members, if an applicant identifies himself or herself as non-white, the bar for qualification immediately drops.

Some in the administration have justified the admissions policies on the ground that it “takes all kinds” to be officers. But that’s not really what the academies recruit. They don’t give preference to accomplished cellists or people from religious minorities or cerebral Zen types.

O barf!  I am sick, sick, sick of this stuff.  And one huge problem one has is that there are all sorts of facts involved in these applications that one does not know.  Maybe one should just cut to the chase and say, “If you are suggesting that X’s are inferior in intelligence because of inherited traits…,” but that does about as much good as spitting, and only looks slightly more polite. 

But now the perfect response is becoming available.  I’m just going to say, “O, that’s so last century.  Now the people who are shown to be genetically inferior are poor white people.” 

Actually, that’s probably not right, since the discussion will swing immediately over onto poor “white trash” inbreeding in various dark areas of the continent, and that’s hardly an improvement.  Better leave it at “That’s so last century.”

So what has changed?  Well, it looks at though the gap among the races on test scores is greatly decreasing while the gap between rich and poor is rapidly increasing.  NOT good news in a way, but I bet we don’t hear much about test scores in the near future, except from people living in the last century.

You can see the full article here.

**The Bell Curve,  you may remember, was a statement of the basic argument above, though concentrated on IQ tests.  Written by Charles Murray, whom academic researchers found had massaged his data to get the racist conclusions.  Apprently he has a new book out, which is just as hopeless, but this time is targeting poor whites.

I should say that my judgment of hopelessness is based on the Times review, linked to above, and the facts it says are left out of consideration.

3 thoughts on “Race and Education: the arguments will have to change

  1. Does anyone reflect on the fact that the test results might be affected by the conditions under which the test are taken? For example if you have been driven to a familiar place in a nice car, or if you had to send an hour on a bus going to a strange building across town would that affect your score? Or if you has a good night’s sleep, versus having to work until 11:00 PM and then go home and do the laundry in the bathtub for your family and then get up to cook breakfast for your brothers and sisters? These tests don’t measure anything important except how well you fit in to the prevailing norms of society. The fact that a test might predict success in academic philosophy tells us more about the world of philosophy than it does about people.

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