Fw: [Upstream] Shelby Steele in the WSJ - Again
- Subject: Fw: [Upstream] Shelby Steele in the WSJ - Again
- From: "Gerald W. Bracey" <gbracey@EROLS.COM>
- Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 10:46:41 -0400
- Comments: To: email@example.com
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
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I have no idea who Louis R. Andrews is. Upstream is a listserve dedicated
mostly to the proposition that racial differences in anything are genetic.
Still, the piece in WSJ is of interest.
----- Original Message -----
From: Louis R. Andrews <LRAnd@groupz.net>
Sent: Thursday, September 16, 1999 9:22 AM
Subject: [Upstream] Shelby Steele in the WSJ - Again
> Here is Shelby Steele's take on the "Strivers" issue from today's WSJ.
> While basically a good piece, it (as usual) ignored the reality of race
> differences in IQ and thus differences in potential "merit" performance.
> This is a major social problem and no amount of "hard work" is going to
> overcome it. Inequality must be accepted or blame will always continue.
> At least in this piece he doesn't defame those of us who accept such IQ
> differences as he did in his earlier piece (Jan. 18, 1999).
> The Wall Street Journal
> September 16, 1999
> We Shall Overcome-But Only Through Merit
> By Shelby Steele, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and
> author, most recently, of "A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of
> Black Freedom in America" (HarperCollins, 1998).
> The affirmative-action debate comes to us every season in a different
> guise. Last year-as if to illustrate the degree to which race has
> corrupted the practice of social science in America-Derek Bok and
> William Bowen used their Ivy League imprimatur (they are, respectively,
> the former presidents of Harvard and Princeton) to assert that "the
> data" showed preferential treatment for blacks and Hispanics in college
> admissions to be a great success. So, "the data" became accepted as fact
> until people like Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom showed that "the data"
> in this case constituted a mask. When, for example, a survey that found
> black students were happy with their college experience was used to
> dismiss the complex matter of blacks being stigmatized by racial
> preferences, it was clear that "the data" really meant, as T.S. Eliot
> said in another context, preparing "a face to meet the faces that you
> This season's affirmative-action debate seems to be shaping up as an
> argument over the meaning and relevance of merit. For decades racial
> preferences in college admissions have effectively preserved higher
> standards of merit for whites and Asians by lowering standards for
> blacks and Hispanics. Academic merit, as the quality most prized by
> universities, could go relatively undisturbed as long as it did not
> prevent schools from bringing in more blacks and Hispanics.
> But now that court decisions are making it clear that universities (and
> society in general) will have to move away from racial preferences, it
> is also clear that merit stands in the way of diversity. On average,
> black students from families earning $70,000 and up do worse on the SAT
> than whites from families in the lowest income bracket. Without a racial
> preference, blacks and Hispanics must compete unaided in an academic
> contest that can only be decided on merit.
> Thus, diversity suddenly requires a direct assault on merit. Merit must
> be weakened and relativized as a principle. Its decisiveness must be
> recast as unfairness.
> And, most of all, it must be smothered in sophistications. What is merit
> really? Isn't academic ability only "one kind" of merit? Should higher
> education "referee" opportunity? Today, the educational establishment
> finds itself devoted to an odd kind of innovation: schemes in which the
> mechanism of social inclusion is tolerance for academic mediocrity.
> One such scheme, the new "strivers" formula for the SAT developed by the
> Educational Testing Service, would effectively handicap students by race
> and social disadvantage. The more markers of disadvantage a student
> has-the number and kind of electrical appliances in the home is one such
> marker-the more points are deducted from a projected score. When a
> student scores 200 points over this obviously low concocted score, he is
> designated a "striver"-someone with more potential than his actual score
> If this formula errs by using dubious arithmetic to arrive at a judgment
> of human potential, its worse offense is to count being black, by
> itself, as a handicap. In fact, unless blackness is thrown into the
> calculation, this formula fails to bring in the desired number of
> Fortunately, the strivers proposal has met widespread criticism, most
> recently from the president of the College Board. But tolerance of
> mediocrity as the mechanism of inclusion is nonetheless fast becoming
> the norm. Thus, according to guidelines issued earlier this year by the
> U.S. Department of Education, if standardized tests have a "disparate
> impact" on minorities (that is, if minorities do poorly on them), then
> schools that use them may be in violation of civil-rights laws-as if
> laws designed to protect black freedom were also intended to protect
> black mediocrity. Similarly Texas and California have developed plans
> that make the top 10% or 4%, respectively, of every high school's
> graduating class eligible for admission to the state's most selective
> schools. Neither state considered such schemes until racial preferences
> were no longer available.
> All these ingenious assaults on merit suggest a loss of faith in a
> racial equality grounded in merit-in comparable levels of competence and
> skill between the races.
> They effectively sever racial equality from merit in order to engineer
> equality between unequals. But even more than faithlessness, there is a
> certain desperation in this. Where does it come from?
> It comes, I believe, from the mid-'60s victories of the civil-rights
> movement, which among other things caused American institutions to
> suffer a great loss of moral authority. Guilty of preserving white
> privilege for centuries, these institutions now had to prove they were
> not racist in order to function in a society profoundly shamed by its
> racism. This need to prove a negative on pain of being stigmatized as
> racist bred the desperation that, in turn, led to the two great themes
> of racial reform since the '60s: deference and license.
> To reclaim their lost moral authority, institutions had to offer
> policies to blacks (and other minorities) that deferred to their history
> of victimization and gave them a license not to meet the same standards
> and expectations as others. The result was a welfare system that asked
> nothing at all from its impoverished recipients-no work, no educational
> development, no family responsibility, nothing. Following quickly
> thereafter came deference and license for the black middle class in the
> form of racial preferences.
> The separation of racial equality from merit, the assault on merit in
> the name of black inclusion, the engineering of an "equality" between
> unequal groups-all this is the inevitable fallout of racial reform based
> on a trade of deference and license to blacks for moral authority to
> whites. But the civil-rights victories left black America with a very
> different goal than larger America. We did not need moral redemption
> from a racist past; we needed to develop the skills that would make us
> competitive with others, and to further embrace the value system that
> would help us do that. We needed to ask more of ourselves, not less.
> Only a rigorous and unbending adherence to the principle of merit would
> give us a shot at real equality.
> Instead, what we got from the great and powerful institutions around us
> was deference and license. This seduced us into a void where nothing
> much was expected and where failure brought few consequences save more
> government money-where all incentives pressed toward inertia.
> Single-parent homes, gangs in the neighborhood, poor schools-things that
> can be overcome when a nation-building ethic prevails-became immutable
> barriers that actually excused us from overcoming. We bought into a
> liberalism that subsidized our inertia as it sought to redeem the moral
> authority of American institutions.
> And now we get a "strivers" SAT formula and 10% and 4% plans that open
> up an avenue toward acceptable mediocrity. I can only hope that we are
> coming into an era-after so much failure-when moral authority goes to
> institutions only when they approach minorities in a spirit of
> expectation and consequences rather than deference and license. It is no
> coincidence that black excellence, even superiority, is so visible in
> those areas where we live by high expectations and enforced
> consequences-sports, music, entertainment, literature. The "inclusion"
> we most need now is in the realm of intellectual respect-which can be
> gained through merit alone.
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