Commenter Calls ‘Academic Excellence’ Article Racist

by Christopher Paslay

On July 28th I posted an article here on Chalk and Talk titled, “Obsession with Race is Killing Academic Excellence.”  The following day a commenter with the username philaken lambasted me for being a racist.  Here is philaken’s post (errors included):

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.

Here is my response to 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.

–Christopher Paslay

 

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