No element of American culture is more axiomatic than the link between education and upward mobility. This relationship virtually defined the early civil rights movement but, as we shall see, not only has this link weakened, but the very opposite seems to be emerging —destroying education, especially public education, has, ostensibly, become the path to racial progress.
At least until the 1960s, the education and economic progress nexus was beyond dispute since the facts—blacks were shortchanged educationally and also lagged behind whites economically–were shockingly obvious. Civil rights organizations thus reasonably zeroed in on educational equality, and by the mid-1960s trillions were flowing into schools promoting racial uplift. There were free meals (“can’t learn on an empty stomach”) plus countless programs targeting “root causes” such as Head Start. A vast close-the-gap industry emerged, and every proposal seemed sure-fired. Recall the massively funded Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and President George Bush’s No Child Left Behind that mandated clear metrics for progress and incentives. Experts announced that black students could only learn from black teachers or that school textbooks needed more black faces and African American history. And on and on, endlessly but all had at least some reasonable relationship to boosting learning.
Now, over 60 years past initial efforts, it is clear that no elixir performs as advertised, regardless of ideological pedigree or how many trillions are “invested in the children” (the inflation adjusted spending on education since the 1960s has increased by 280%). Nor has the black/white gap in wealth narrowed since the late 1960s despite soaring educational spending. What is to be done? The answer: quackery, schemes that will only exacerbate an already troubling situation for black children. Putting the civil rights revolution into reverse, so to speak. This educational foolishness may well have been invented by the same egalitarian zealots who insist that the cure for black criminality requires abolishing the police. Let me offer just a sampling of this pernicious nonsense.
The most notorious of these misguided “leveling” policies is forcing schools to discipline students by racial quota—non-blacks are to be discipline at the same rates as blacks. This policy officially began in a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter from President Obama’s Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Enforcement claiming that school districts that disproportionately suspended, expelled of otherwise penalize blacks pupils were in violation of federal anti-discrimination law, and thus risked losing federal funding. The principle of even-handedness was to be replaced by disparate impact, i.e., uncovering discrimination by the numbers.
Though Obama’s letter was only “guidance” and thus lacked the full force of law, no savvy school administrator failed to get the message—unequal punishment invited federal scrutiny, and arguing was likely to be an expensive, unwinnable battle. Nor was this “guidance” an idle threat—under Obama some 350 school districts with 10 million children were investigated for unequal discipline. The only escape was to show that unequal treatment could be carefully justified on a case-by-case basis, which included keeping track of incidents involving all students, not just offending blacks, a near-impossible burden.
This policy of “kindness” undermined the discipline necessary for learning and certainly did not end the “schoolhouse to jailhouse” pipeline. Disaster ensued as black students quickly learned that they were free to act out, behave violently and otherwise make schools unmanageable. Given the burden of tedious paperwork necessary to escape the loss of federal funds, better just suffer the education-killing disorder.
A more recent quack reform has been calls to replace traditional learning with therapy laden grievance mongering centered on white racism, Consider the plan for helping black youngsters offered by Madeline St. Amour, a reporter for Inside Higher Education. She begins by noting that black children due to racial and housing discrimination disproportionately face “adverse childhood experiences” (ACE’s) that traumatizes them. ACE’s include losing a parent to incarceration or witnessing violence. Just the daily ritual of passing through school metal detectors may tax their mental bandwidth. The upshot of this trauma are increases in adrenaline and cortisol that trigger a fight or flight response, which in turn elevate blood pressure and heart rates, even diminished activity in the prefrontal cortex and, eventually, an impaired memory and decision-making ability. Left untreated, these conditions can cause multiple health problems including teenage pregnancy that impede progress toward higher education.
Fortunately, however, these mental health-related debilitations are treatable by such measures as explaining how American social policy, not personal behavior, is responsible for the students’ poverty. Lesson might include the history of how blacks were denied benefits under the GI Bill, redlining and suburbanization that would, it is assumed, lift the burden of enervating self-blame off the shoulders of these distressed youngsters. With proper instruction poverty becomes something to be overcome by collective, not personal, struggle. To this egalitarian end, high schools must also stop tacking students into courses that don’t prepare them for college while ending remedial instruction that delays graduation.
Such snake oil prescriptions are hardly limited to the academy. Consider, for example, the current push in Loudon, County, Virginia, one of America’s wealthiest areas, to teach all about institutional racism along with traditional K-5 school subjects. Relying on help from the Southern Poverty Law Center, county teachers will use history and social science classes (called “teaching tolerance”) to show how slavery has been fundamental to American society (which is called “diverse democracy”). Not said too loudly, is that the entire endeavor derives from critical race theory,
Now five-year olds will learn about “social justice” and have opportunities beginning in first grade to master “activism and action civics.” Moreover, the evils of slavery will hardly be sugar coated so the children will encounter material revealing scenes of rape and pedophilia together with the currently trendy topics of substance abuse, immigration and LGBTQ issues. This is in addition to classroom discussions on how ongoing injustices continue to disenfranchise and oppress today’s descendent of slaves. Predictably, many local parents are outraged by this racialization and have threatened to withdraw their children.
The prelogical value of this endeavor is debatable. Will five and six-year olds accurately grasp complex terms like “racism” or “oppression”? Even college students struggle with these topics and turn them into mindless slogans. More likely, given how children learn, historical narratives will be reduced to “good” and “bad” people, and make no mistake, whites will be viewed as the evildoers who unfairly oppressed people of color. Propaganda is thus inherent, all claims to the contrary aside.
Unfortunately, damage done to black kids by exposing them to this claptrap will be huge. Fleeing whites means less government funding and with reduced budgets, gone will be the programs such as intensive tutoring that might help those lagging behind (wealthier whites can afford these extras on the private market). There is also an instructional downside as schools blacken—more disorder, more crime and with these changes, top teachers will go elsewhere. That Loudon schools are already under pressure from egalitarians to diversify programs for the gifted and otherwise discriminate against smart whites and Asians, policies that will only further exacerbate this exodus.
Then there’s the opportunity costs of mixing woke ideology with the basics. An hour spend recounting how slaves really built America is an hour less for the three R’s unless everything is made woke—if John owned three slaves, and sold two into bondage….Thus, absent a longer school day or a lengthier school year, the burden of this policy will be felt disproportionately by black student who from the earliest ages academically lag behind white and Asian classmates. It is no accident that educators obsessed with the racial gap in academic achievement stress concentrating on the basics, and this Loudon scheme embodies the very opposite view. As they say, with friends like this, who needs enemies?
What could possibly explain these (and other) counter-productive proposals that disproportionately victimize African Americans? A hard-headed realist might simply aver that everything is just plain-Jane stupidity augmented by craven opportunism. In their ill-informed, convoluted thinking. these self-designated civil rights activists genuinely believe that racial mumbo-jumbo agitprop outshines instruction in reading. Further throw in the media attention lavished on any black crackpot hawking some attention-getting “solution.”
Alternatively, just follow the money—these putative remedies will drive non-black teachers and administrators out of public schools leaving behind jobs for blacks. Ironically, though hardly consistent with past educational logic, education does bring economic advancement via jobs for blacks though at a cost of miseducating millions of fellow blacks.
The ethnic cleansing strategy is sustainable provided one is willing to tolerate generations of mis-educated youngsters–those who pass through a system without learning the discipline necessary to mastering traditional subjects just replace their instructors. And, to the extent that this downward slide escapes “white” achievement benchmarks such as the NAEP, black schools will mutate into educational apartheid institutions comparable to dogma-driven orthodox religious schools stuck in the 12th century. Critical race theory will be taught as catechism. To be blunt, given the political turmoil associated with racial integration, whites officials might tolerate these modern carve-outs just as white Southerners once tolerated sub-standard black-run schools before the Brown (1954) decision, Perhaps this growing self-imposed self-debilitating nonsense helps explain why all the extra educational spending only seems to be widening race-related wealth gaps.
An extreme version of this economic-based argument is that undermining black education expands black welfare dependency, and his generates yet more black-dominated bureaucratic bloat. Think black-run cities that barely function yet provide handsome livelihoods for thousands.
Finally, these proposals may just reflect academic failure since quack-like nostrums would not have surfaced if blacks had successfully utilized the educational opportunities made available by the civil rights revolution. In a sense, the condemnation of “whiteness” by many prominent blacks is a tacit admission that being good at school is just for whites, not blacks. To employ a sports analogy, if you cannot play the game well according to the established rules, alter the rules to minimize the absence of necessary skills (as whites occasionally joke about creating a form of basketball that minimizes jumping and running skills). So, if one is unable to pass a math test, substitute a knack for regurgitating the party line on systemic racism. If students cannot heed traditional standards of classroom decorum, legally prevent principals from expelling them. Eventually the entire system of grades might be reconfigured to reflect “disadvantage” so those certified as “most disadvantaged” will receive the highest grades compared to those who are “privileged.” Better yet, abolish grades altogether to cushion self-esteem killing failure. All and all, a war on educational achievement no different than reducing black crime by eliminating law against crime.