In a previous Family Security Matters essay ("Subverting American Education One Lawsuit at a Time"), I described a death by a thousand cuts strategy to debilitate America. Well, and hardly surprising, the radical egalitarians are at work again and as before, their target is education. Here's the story.
The Coalition of the Silence (a local minority advocacy group) plus the NAACP have filed a 16 page long complaint with the US Department of Education alleging that the highly selective Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA discriminates against black, Latino and disabled students. In particular, Fairfax County (which administers the high school) fails to identify these minority students sufficiently early and thereby shuts them out in an admission process heavy on past academic accomplishment and test scores.
The admission percentages are unambiguous-blacks and Hispanics comprise 32% of the Country's population but only 2.16% of those admitted (only three African American students in a student body of 476). Forty six percent are Asian; 43% are white (Asians are 20% of the school district, whites 44%).
Fairfax educators have attempted to help black and Hispanics (the Young Scholars Program), but according to the lawsuit, efforts are insufficient. The suit demands a total overhaul of the school systems, commencing in kindergarten: more money to help minorities, programs to identify gifted black and Hispanic students early on plus enrolling more minority students in academically oriented middle schools.
To condense a long story, leveling will fail, many whites and Asians will leave these schools if the lawsuit is successful but rest assured, implementing a panacea will cost taxpayers a fortune while undermining public education in Fairfax County and elsewhere. What school district can afford the legal costs in today's economy?
Rather than dwell on past failures, let me instead outline the radical egalitarian playbook. These are quite alluring, sometimes seemingly harmless ideas disguised by lofty rhetoric. It will be a "controversial" tour but better to risk the unPC label than watch our schools go down the toilet.
Radical egalitarians always begin by asserting that all racial/ethnic groups are identical in academic ability so only wicked discrimination explains unequal representation in elite schools. Martina Hone, head of the Coalition of the Silence states this boldly: "Look at any study of giftedness. It is equally distributed across humanity. God did not change that rule when he got to Fairfax County." Now, I can't dispute God's power, but nearly all scientists reject Ms. Hone's assertion and this evidence is overwhelming. Experts only disagree on the source of these differences. There is no other way to put it: Ms. Hone and other egalitarians are either ignorant or lie.
Even if all groups were equal in innate intellectual ability, differences in culture and work habits can explain unequal admission. Asians (among others) venerate education; other groups favor entering the workforce early or playing sports versus hitting the books. Nor can group differences be explained by unequal school funding. Again, the research here is unequivocal and even massive infusion of funds to minority dominated schools has not produced equal outcomes. Moreover, fiscal equality has existed for decades and to give one contrary example, in 2009 Washington DC's schools spend an average of $29,409 per pupil compared to the national average of $12,500 and had dismal test scores and graduation rates. As before, egalitarians seem oblivious to facts.
What might Ms. Hone and the NAACP suggest to cure this inequality? After all, nearly a half century of programs and billions has failed, so what's their major bullet? More Head Start? Compulsory Sesame Street? Better nutrition? More after-school tutoring? More black and Hispanic teachers and principals? Everything, absolutely everything has failed, so what's next?
The next step in this playbook is to assert that any gap in achievement is a "problem requiring a solution" and that the newly identified problem requires government intervention. That group differences are ubiquitous, often rooted in biology impervious to government tinkering never seems to cross the minds of these egalitarians. What about group differences in sports, perhaps the most merit-driven institution in American?
The egalitarian argument then shifts to defining "gifted" so that even those who cannot academically compete with whites and Asians should be admitted to Thomas Jefferson since, it is claimed, they too are "gifted" though their talent has nothing to do with academics. The "hero" in this re-definition of "gifted" is the Harvard education professor Howard Gardner. For Gardner, being academically gifted is just one form of "gifted." Gardner posits eight "multiple intelligences"-linguistic, visuospatial, logical-mathematical, musical, interpersonal, intra-personal and bodily-kinesthetic (this list grows as Gardner discovers additional "intelligences"). Everything, moreover, it anchored in a particular culture so among the Navajo, a talented basket weaver is considered "intelligent."
Such linguistic gymnastics easily opens the door to admission by race/ethnic quotas. After all, everybody is gifted, not just Asians skilled at math, so the only way to be fair is to imposed strict proportionality. Yes, Asians will continue to excel at math, but blacks will now excel at bodily-kinesthetic activities like dancing and sports. Jefferson will thus remain an elite institution and one that, happily, mirrors the population of Fairfax Country but not in science and math.
This hardly exhausts the war on intellectual talent. Ironically, a major culprit here was President George W. Bush and his ill-fated No Child Left Behind. Under NCLB schools all across America were pressured into uplifting the bottom and attempted to "solve" the problem by abolishing (or sharply reducing funding) all gifted programs to release funds into de facto remedial education. Surveys of teachers reported that many re-directed their efforts away from smart kids to help strugglers since focusing on smart kids offered no professional benefits. Meanwhile, the federal Javits program that originally targeted helping bright kids was redirected to discover exceptional ability among blacks and Hispanics who otherwise lagged behind academically.
Our brief account only skims the surface but it should make clear that the attack on Thomas Jefferson HS is not an isolated event. Its aim is destroy merit and level America into intellectual mediocrity. Claims of fairness, inclusiveness and all the rest are just battle slogans.
That said, what can be done? Let me be unfashionably blunt: in today's politically correct climate, any opposition to any proposal to help blacks and Hispanics that draw their ire will be condemned as racists, if not hateful. But on the other hand, giving Martina Hone and her ilk a free pass undermines American education and, ultimately, America itself.
Fortunately, there is an escape from being tarred as a racist: just demand hard, scientific evidence. Where are the studies showing that early intervention can close racial/ ethnic gaps in academic achievement? What data demonstrate that all groups are equally academically bright versus just have various "talents" having zero to do with school? What makes a gap in professional sports acceptable while graduating with degrees in molecular biology in an unacceptable gap?
In other words, put the burden of proof on radical egalitarianism. How is asking for evidence "racist"? Admit that yes, it would be lovely to have an elite academic high school that perfectly mirrored Fairfax County, but absent eliminating all academic standards, how, exactly is this to be accomplished? Demanding proof from closed-minded ideologues may not be easy, but consider the alternative-a dumbed down nation where education only serves to inflate underserved self-esteem.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Robert Weissberg is emeritus professor of political science, University of Illinois-Urbana and currently an adjunct instructor at New York University Department of Politics (graduate). He has written many books, the most recent being: The Limits of Civic Activism, Pernicious Tolerance: How teaching to "accept differences" undermines civil society andBad Students, Not Bad Schools. Besides writing for professional journals, he has also written for magazines like the Weekly Standard and currently contributes to various blogs.
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