Obsession with Race is Killing Academic Excellence

by Christopher Paslay

Policies aimed at making all students the same are crippling achievement. 

The Handicapper General—AKA the current United States White House—has struck again.  President  Barack Obama recently signed an executive order to enact an educational initiative aimed at helping not all American children in public schools succeed but only those of certain races.  Called the “White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans,” the policy will dole out resources to children not based on merit or achievement, but by skin color.    

According to Education Week:

The new education initiative for African Americans joins similar White House efforts aimed at Hispanics, American Indian and Alaska Natives, and Asian-American and Pacific Islanders. President Obama, in 2010, set up a similar effort to bring attention to, and strengthen, the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs.

(Note: Current White House education policies designed specifically for white students, who are innocent of the crimes of their ancestors, do not exist.)  

The goals of the new White House education initiative are to close the racial achievement gap and give all children an equal opportunity at a quality education.  But it goes further than that.  The initiative also advocates for equal achievement.  Thus, if two groups of students are given the same educational opportunity and one group outperforms the other, such achievement must be equalized to ensure that everyone is the same (that there is no achievement gap).            

While these goals seem admirable on the surface, they are promoting a brand of educational socialism that is having a harmful overall effect on high achievers in American public schools.  Instead of pushing assimilation (encouraging struggling groups to adopt the culture and work habits of their more successful peers), initiatives like those enacted by the White House call for cultural pluralism (forcing the successful groups to compromise their culture and work habits to fit those of the struggling students).       

Take, for example, the White House’s goal of addressing the disproportionate use of suspensions and expulsions of African Americans in schools.  What this goal implies is that somehow black children are being unfairly expelled and suspended from school (civil rights organizations like to attribute this to racism and cultural insensitivity of white teachers), and that more needs to be done to keep such children in classrooms.  In other words, the perspective is that there is nothing inherently wrong with the behavior or actions of these children, but that the system is simply failing to accommodate their needs.  Put still another way, the children with discipline issues don’t need to change their behavior to suit the functionality of the group (assimilation), rather, the group as a whole must be compromised to accommodate the atypical behavior of the child (cultural pluralism).

Interestingly, with all the accusations of racism and discrimination being made by civil rights advocates and folks like Education Secretary Arne Duncan, actual documented cases of teachers discriminating against their students based on race are practically nonexistent.  However, the canard that black students are suspended and expelled at higher rates than their white peers primarily because of the cultural insensitivity of their white teachers (not because of genuine behavior issues that stem from environmental factors such as poverty or a high rate of out-of-wedlock-births) continues to be perpetuated.        

The result of this is that it is harder to suspend and expel violent and unruly students who happen to be African American; these dysfunctional children are forced to coexist with their functional hard working peers, and the integrity and quality of everyone’s education is compromised. 

In this system of cultural pluralism, it’s not that students are late for class, it’s just that being “on-time” is a matter of cultural perspective.  It’s not that students are violent or misbehaving, it’s just that they are frustrated with an oppressive dominant (white) establishment.  It’s not that certain students fail to do their work, it’s just that where these students come from, work ethic has a different definition.  It’s not that students can’t work independently and be responsible for their own grade, it’s just that these particular students come from a collectivist culture and must be allowed to work in a group and share answers. 

In this system of cultural pluralism, students are free to speak a broken, grammatically incorrect form of English known as Ebonics.  In this system, classes are no longer tracked by ability level but are rostered willy-nilly under the guise of having high expectations (but not expectations so high as to believe that these same students could acquire a government ID in order to vote).  In this system, dropouts—who consistently waste everybody’s time including their own—are renamed “pushouts.”  In this system, students are not required to respect the teacher, rather, teachers must respect the students. 

Those who refuse to admit cultural pluralism is harming American education need to understand that our obsession with skin color and closing achievement gaps—our obsession with making everyone the same—is taking a toll on America’s best and brightest. While the average achievement of students hasn’t changed significantly in the past 50 years, “the acquired verbal skills of gifted American students have declined dramatically, as illustrated by the trends in the SAT-Verbal test,” wrote noted education scholar Charles Murray.  “. . . this decline cannot be blamed on changes in the SAT pool.  It’s based on all seventeen-year-olds.  Some sort of failure to educate the gifted is to blame.”   

Scores on Advanced Placement tests have declined as well.  According to a 2010 article in USA Today:

The number of students taking Advanced Placement tests hit a record high last year, but the portion who fail the exams — particularly in the South — is rising as well.

…More than two in five students (41.5%) earned a failing score of 1 or 2, up from 36.5% in 1999. In the South, a Census-defined region that spans from Texas to Delaware, nearly half of all tests — 48.4% — earned a 1 or 2, a failure rate up 7 percentage points from a decade prior and a statistically significant difference from the rest of the country.

While the current White House complains that our education system is no longer producing leading engineers and scientists, this same administration enacts policies that serve to handicap high achievers, thus lowering the bar for all children in an effort to make everyone equal. 

Instead of pushing socialistic policies that prohibit America’s education system from being a genuine world leader, we must fight for freedom and true academic competition—a system based on merit and individual achievement and not on the suffocating basis of race.

6 thoughts on “Obsession with Race is Killing Academic Excellence

  1. What a racist article! Mr. Pasley, are you part of the right-wing campaign to institute a New Reconstruction to roll back the gains of the Civil Rights Movement? After the Civil War, Reconstruction instituted Jim Crow segregation which for some African-Americans was as bad as slavery and resulted in a hundred years of misery for several generations of African Americans. At no time in American history has there been social policies to ameliorate the consequences of centuries of slavery, quite the opposite.

    I agree with you that the Obama administrations “White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans” is wrong because it is based on identity politics. History shows, such as the current corruption scandals in some ethnically based charter schools, that this is a course fraught with abuse. There should be programs directed at all low income schools (regardless of ethnicity) to overcome the affects of poverty.

    However, the conclusions your draw can only be characterized as racist. Do you, Mr. Pasley, believe that people of African descent are intellectually and socially inferior to people of European descent? This is the implication all through your article. If you do not believe this than you must look to the social causes which lead to the deficit in achievement for many African-American students. This is not an excuse for low achievement, it is a diagnosis.

    I was taken aback by your article immediately previous to this one. In it you state, “If CNS truly wants to campaign for nonviolent schools, they should start by demanding that all the hooligans, bullies and thugs stop destroying the system, and fight to promote character and traditional core values among their own peers and classmates.” “hooligans, bullies and thugs”? Students are not born with social and emotional problems, they develop under specific social circumstances. This is the language meant to dehumanize and place individuals outside the human family. It is language that always precedes pogroms and genocide. Governor Corbett is onboard with this mentality. In last year’s budget he cut education funding by $1 billion (the largest cuts being made in low income districts), while increasing the prison budget by $700 million (including three new privately owned, for profit prisons).

    Everyone must be held accountable for their actions. However, to ignore the social context of actions, and oppose economic policies which address the gross inequality in our society, is to return to a form of barbarism akin to the serfdom of the Middle Ages.

    I urge you to view the program “Confronting the Contradictions of America’s Past” on Bill Moyers & Company to consider these issues at:

    • Philaken,

      First, I’d like to thank you for your lengthy six paragraph response. It is a classic example of an ad hominem logical fallacy, and I’m planning on using your comments along with my original post in my 11th grade English class this fall when I teach persuasive writing/propaganda techniques (I’ll be sure to give you full credit).

      The dead giveaway that your argument is an example of an ad hominem attack is your name calling in the opening line of your post when you say my article is “racist.” The first thing I teach my students is that name calling is a sure fire sign of a weak argument, and to stay away from employing such a technique in their writing; those who respect the open discussion of ideas are never reduced to calling people names just because they don’t agree with them.

      According to dictionary.com, ad hominem is “1.—appealing to one’s prejudices, emotions, or special interests rather than to one’s intellect or reason; 2—attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his argument.”

      I’ll refrain from calling you names and attacking your character as a sign of goodwill between us, and stick to the actual claims made in your argument. You ask me “are you part of the right-wing campaign to institute a New Reconstruction to roll back the gains of the Civil Rights Movement?” I’m not sure how calling for freedom and equality for all students, regardless of race or ethnic background, is rolling back the gains of the Civil Rights movement. I believe deeply in the principles contained in MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech, that people should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

      I advocate for colorblindness in our society, and I believe our country (as well as our education system) needs to focus more on the things that make everyone the same and stop dwelling on the differences and playing, as you say, “identity politics.”

      Next, your question: “Do you, Mr. Pasley, believe that people of African descent are intellectually and socially inferior to people of European descent? This is the implication all through your article.” I have a question for you: do YOU believe this? There is something quite telling in your question, and the way you chose to interpret my article. Where is the evidence that my article implies such a thing? (Or is this simply an issue you are wrestling with?)

      As for my use of the words “hooligans,” “bullies,” and “thugs”: I’ve been teaching in the Philadelphia School District for 15 years. I’ve mentored, coached, and tutored thousands of young people from every race and ethnic background under the sun. I’ve interacted with hundreds of parents. And when students misbehave and disrespect themselves and their peers, I will call them on it. When students steal, bully, assault, rape, or otherwise rob their hardworking classmates of their right to learn, I will address this situation head on. I will call them hooligans, bullies, and thugs, because that is the behavior they are displaying. You state, “Students are not born with social and emotional problems, they develop under specific social circumstances. This is the language meant to dehumanize and place individuals outside the human family. It is language that always precedes pogroms and genocide.”

      “Pogroms and genocide”? Spare me the hyperbole and hokey appeals to emotions (propaganda instance #2). I teach inner-city teenagers for a living, and I will do what I need to do to protect my students’ rights to an education.

      Again, I’m not sure how advocating for equal treatment for all students is Jim Crow. I’m not sure how suggesting that children in the 21st century should not be held accountable for the sins of their ancestors is “racist.” I’m not sure how highlighting that there is a difference between equal opportunity and equal achievement is an attack on civil rights.

      I believe that all students should be treated as students—regardless of race—and that they should be rewarded on the basis of individual merit. You seem to believe that certain children of certain races need special treatment to assure that they can hold their own in society and school. (Who believes children of African descent are inferior to children of European descent?)

      You state, “to ignore the social context of actions, and oppose economic policies which address the gross inequality in our society, is to return to a form of barbarism akin to the serfdom of the Middle Ages.”

      “Barbarism and serfdom”? I know, more of your hyperbole and cute appeals to emotion (propaganda instance #3). Again, I teach real children in a real urban school and am too involved in their lives and educations to manufacture such fantastic analogies.

      No student deserves to be bound by the past, and I will continue to fight for freedom and healthy academic competition. I urge you to listen to the views of Lieutenant Colonel Allen West, an African American who is now a US Rep. from Florida’s 22nd congressional district: http://allenwestrepublic.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/allen-west-to-obama-america-is-about-equal-opportunity-not-your-liberal-progressive-mantra-of-equal-achievement/

      Christopher Paslay

    • No, the original article is not “racist.” On the contrary, the writer is saying that each person should be judged on their own individual actions, and not based on their skin color.

      It is Obama who is being racist, because he thinks that people of all races should be disciplined at the same rate, instead of disciplining individuals for their own misbehavior.

      However people behave today, it has nothing to do with slavery, a policy which was abolished in this country more than 140 years ago.

      I live near a high school. When it lets out, some students are carrying huge backpacks full of heavy books, while others aren’t carrying any books at all. I’m pretty certain that those in the second group will have far higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and imprisonment than the first group, when they become adults. And is has nothing to do with race. Instead, it’s all about the choices that people make.

      Obama has zero faith in the public education system, which is why, while living in Chicago and in Washington D.C., he has always sent his own children to private schools. I urge all parents to do the same thing.

      Montessori schools are especially good at treating students as individuals, and encouraging each individual student to do as well as they can.

      • Dan,

        My 14 year old black sonwalks to and from the bus stop and no he isnt carrying 40lbs of books. Do you excerise, are you a parent? It is physically harmful for children to carry heavy textbook 5 days a week on their backs. That being said my son is in honors classes and just completed his first freshman trimester in a public school with a 4.0

        whi us

    • I went there too – I graduated in 1989. I don’t know how it’s doing now. My biggest complaint is that back in the 1980s, they built that ugly, boxy, windowless addition for the new gym, which prevents people on the sidewalk from seeing the beautiful architecture at the front of the building.

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