Education, Race

Last week, Kevin Drum wrote:

Mark Kleiman thinks there are a few little seedlings of evidence that people are growing up and talking more honestly about race these days — and John Kerry is one of them. I hope he’s right.

I wondered, what do Mark and Kevin mean by talking more honestly about race”? Do they mean confronting the rampant racism in our society? Or, do they mean blaming minorities for their own problems? As much as I respect Kevin’s views on issues of national security, I’m very disappointed to learn that he means the latter. It turns out that Mark was referring to this editorial by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.. Gates says that, in examining why blacks are do so poorly in education, we must look at their own decisions, not just structural” factors:

We can’t talk about the choices people have without talking about the choices people make.

Seems sensible enough, doesn’t it? Almost honest”… except, its not. Mark and Kevin would do well to read this article by Tim Wise:

The evidence, of course, for those who still care about such things, reveals the duplicity of these hucksters in their crusade to blame blacks for their own academic and economic condition.

First, high school graduation rates for blacks and whites are today roughly equal to one another. In fact, as sociologist Dalton Conley demonstrates in his 1999 book, Being Black, Living in the Red, once family economic background is controlled for, blacks are actually more likely to finish high school than whites, and equally likely to complete college. In other words, whatever differences exist in black and white educational attainment are completely the result of blacks, on average, coming from lower-income families. Comparing whites and blacks of truly similar class status reveals greater or equal educational attainment for blacks.

One study even found that middle class black parents are more likely than whites or asians to have made an extra effort to ensure that their children do well at school:

What Massey and his colleagues discovered is that the black students had parents who were more likely than white or Asian parents to have helped them with homework growing up, more likely than white or Asian parents to have met with their teachers, equally likely to have pushed them to do their best” in school, more likely than white parents to enroll their kids in educational camps, and equally or more likely to have participated in the PTA. Black students’ parents were also more likely than parents of any other race to regularly check to make sure their kids had completed their homework and to reward their kids for good grades, while Asian parents were the least likely to do either of these.

And yes, these are middle class parents, but that’s the point!

While many of these studies have focused on middle-class-and-above African-American families, and while it is certainly possible that lower-income and poor blacks may occasionally evince a negativity toward academics, this can hardly be considered a racial (as opposed to economic) response, since low-income whites often manifest the same attitudes.

So lets stop calling for an honest” discussion of race, and start having an honest discussion about the effects of poverty on education!