Did I overinterpret Goodwin?
(Update: see Paul K.’s comment, below, and my reply.)
In yesterday’s entry, “Mainstream columnist says blacks and Hispanics are failing in school because they don’t have the ability to do academic work,” was I reading more into Michael Goodwin’s column than was really there? Dean Ericson thinks so:
You may be so eager to catch the tiniest glimpse of daylight on this issue, Dr. Auster, that you’ve mistaken a stray spark for the coming dawn. To wit: Goodwin never comes right out and states that blacks and Hispanics are failing because they, as a race, have lower abilities, and will never, as a race, achieve at the same level as whites and Asians. Instead, he mush-mouths it:
“My friend argues for a return to vocational and commercial education for those with no academic interest or ability…. The students can’t or won’t learn what they’re being taught and the parents don’t help.”
Moreover, Goodwin puts these potentially dangerous words into the mouth of “a friend,” and hedges by identifying the failures simply as unspecified persons who happen to have no academic interest or ability—could be anyone—and the students can’t or won’t learn and their parents don’t help, but there’s plenty of white students like that too, so send them all to Vo-Tec school and that fixes that. Or maybe try some new program that can really motivate the students this time! Columnist Goodwin approaches the dangerous truth, but he knows if he were to clearly speak the forbidden truth, say it loudly, and insist on the point, and stand firm against the firestorm of rage sure to descend, he’d be toast.
I will reply later and show why I think I interpreted Goodwin’s core point correctly, notwithstanding my failure to show where I exactly found it in his article, surrounded as it was by his plethora of hedging language. At the same time, I can see Mr. Ericson’s point (made to me personally and not in the above comment) that because of Goodwin’s qualifying and mushy language most readers will not see Goodwin’s radical point about different racial abilities, and therefore his column will come to nothing.
Also, Jeremy G. makes a similar criticism here.
- end of initial entry -
Paul K. writes:
I have to agree with Dean Ericson that you somewhat exaggerated the contribution the Goodwin column makes to the discussion. Yes, he acknowledges that the schools with a majority Asian enrollment are at the top and those with a large black and Hispanic enrollment are at the bottom, but he attributes this to the fact that most of the latter “are from homes headed by single mothers, and the disorder in their lives often overwhelms the benefits of education.”
It would be more accurate to say that they don’t have the innate capacity to deal with the level of education that’s being thrust upon them. If it’s the disorder in their lives that’s the issue, how is putting them in a vocational school going to help?
At the same time, I entirely agree when Goodwin quotes his friend as saying that it would be better to try to teach these students basic useful skills rather than pretend we are preparing them for college. If we would just be that realistic, it would not be necessary to rub their noses in their shortcomings, of which they are no doubt aware. It is one of the myriad insanities of our society that we try to force-feed Algebra 2 to students with an IQ of 80; in fact, it is not merely insane but needlessly cruel to demand something of someone that they are not capable of achieving.
You missed the most important passage in Goodwin’s article, the passage that was the main basis for my applause:
“But that’s getting ahead of the story,” he adds. The first step is for city leaders “to recognize that they can’t do what they’re trying to do now. The students can’t or won’t learn what they’re being taught and the parents don’t help.” [Italics added]
“The students can’t … learn what they’re being taught.”
I agree. The mayor and Chancellor Dennis Walcott need to take a timeout, one where they face the ugly facts about student achievement.
That simple statement has never been made in any mainstream publication that I’m aware of.
Further, by calling this problem “the ugly facts about student achievement,” Goodwin is underscoring that this is not just some “cultural” problem that supposedly can be overcome, but an innate incapacity that CANNOT be made into a capacity. Therefore the entire project of trying to raise all black and Hispanic students to the same level of educational achievement as whites should be dropped.
In today’s ideological environment, that is nothing less than a revolutionary statement.
At the same time, as Mr. Ericson points out, the plethora of hedging language prevented most readers from seeing what Goodwin was saying. Indeed, as suggested by your own comment, I seem to have been, even at VFR, the only person to have noticed the revolutionary aspect of Goodwin’s column. So in that sense Dean’s criticism of me is correct. I made a big deal out of an article that, in practical terms, may very well make no difference in the debate.
Paul K. writes:
Since you know the truth and are always looking for signs of it amidst the lies, it jumps out at you when you see it. For that great number of people who studiously avoid the truth, I don’t think this will break through. When they read, “The students can’t or won’t learn what they’re being taught,” they automatically filter it. The students can’t learn? Of course they can’t learn, because they come from single-mother homes (Heather McDonald’s all-purpose explanation) and have disordered lives, not because they have inadequate intelligence.
What is remarkable to me is that this subject was broached more honestly 20 years ago. I have a Newsweek magazine from the early 1990s—back when people actually read Newsweek—with a cover story on racial differences in intelligence, which laid all the facts out. It seems to have made no lingering impression.
“Since you know the truth and are always looking for signs of it amidst the lies, it jumps out at you when you see it. For that great number of people who studiously avoid the truth, I don’t think this will break through.”
Dean Ericson made a similar point.
However, even if you are right that the column will not affect people’s thinking on the question of racial differences in intelligence, the fact remains that Goodwin says that a large portion of the black and Hispanic population can’t or won’t learn. Full stop. He’s saying that no ameloriative effort to “close the gap” can succeed, period. He’s saying we must give up the hope of equality of outcome and put blacks and Hispanics in vocational schools. And that is revolutionary.
Tell me the last time you saw a mainstream liberal or conservative saying that the effort to close the gap cannot succeed and recommending a return to non-academic, vocational schooling for a large part of the population.
Now, if no respectable types pick up on Goodwin’s column and start echoing his points, then his column, and our rather painstaking discussion about it (I would wager that nothing Michael Goodwin has written in his career has been subjected to such close analysis), will have come, in practical terms, to naught. But if respectable types do start picking up on it and echoing his points, that would represent a radical change in the discourse on this subject.
Also, while I haven’t read it yet, a reader sent me a Newsweek article the other day with this note:
Did I send you this already? How billionaires are finding their huge funding of public schools is not getting results.
Paul K. writes:
“Billionaires are finding their huge funding of public schools is not getting results.”
If they’re so rich, why ain’t they smart?
I find it encouraging that Goodwin wrote what he did. Perhaps a voice speaking the truth can be heard over a cacophony of lies.
In my off-line discussion with him yesterday, Dean Ericson said that the escape words, “or won’t,” in Goodwin’s phrase, “can’t or won’t learn,” meant that the problem may be not difference of ability but difference of motivation, and that lack of motivation can be changed through further programs, motivational efforts, etc., and we would still in the same trap of being expected to equalize that which cannot be equalized. However, in my above reply to Paul K., I show how the “can’t or won’t” phrase doesn’t really matter, because even if it’s “won’t,” rather than “can’t,” “won’t” means that the failing pupils refuse to do the things they need to do to improve. So Goodwin is saying that the gap-closing is not going to happen, and nothing can be done to make it happen. I wrote:
However, even if you are right that the column will not affect people’s thinking on the question of racial differences in intelligence, the fact remains that Goodwin says that a large portion of the black and Hispanic population can’t or won’t learn. Full stop. He’s saying that no ameliorative effort to “close the gap” can succeed, period. He’s saying we must give up the hope of equality of outcome and put blacks and Hispanics in vocational schools. And that is revolutionary.
Robert Weissberg writes:
Let me add that No Child Left Behind reflects “black thinking”—the powerful white government will get black kids to learn since blacks themselves are incapable of this task. So, if initial efforts fail, just turn up the heat on white teachers, principals, and others to “force” them to put knowledge in black brains. And no white will dare say that blacks themselves are responsible for education.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 02, 2011 07:55 PM | Send
And if whites do mention black family responsibility, it is always in the context of what can the (white) government do to help the black family.
This is all part of a larger public policy drift compatible with black thinking—people cannot be held responsible for their tribulations and only the federal (not local or state) government can do it. Needless to say, this is a recipe for socialism. Blacks, as usual, are the point of the spear in this march.
Years back this was called the “Moon and the Ghetto” mentality—if whitey could send a man to the moon, he could certainly fix the ghetto problems. It was mocked but it now has become official policy.