How the white effort to improve black intelligence devolves into white cargo cultism

The other day we discussed whether I had read too much into New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin’s (to me) groundbreakinig statement that black and Hispanic pupils “can’t or won’t” learn what the schools want to teach them, and therefore such efforts as No Child Left Behind need to be abandoned and replaced by vocational schools. I also made the point that as a result of the liberal belief that the cause of black incapacity is in society’s institutions, not in the blacks themselves, under No Child Left Behind the white teachers and the schools are punished for the failure of the black pupils to improve.

In that entry, Robert Weissberg, author of Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, now adds 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.

In other words, as a result of the failed but never-to-be-abandoned effort to raise black intellectual performance, the whites start to adopt the black view that it’s all up to the whites—that the whites can do anything for blacks, if only the whites have the will to do it. In short, the more desperately the whites seek to improve the blacks, the more the whites adopt the blacks’ own “cargo cult” mentality: “If we build a billion dollar charter school for the blacks, THAT will magically make them as intelligent as we.”

Here is the rest of Weissberg’s comment.

- end of initial entry -

Steve R. writes:

There is an aspect of this that is worse than one could imagine.

My tennis partner is a teacher in a L.A. inner city school—composition 80 percent Hispanic and 20 percent Black. His school is under the gun to improve test scores or “go out of business” under NCLB. The teachers are putting in an extreme number of overtime hours, struggling to get the test scores up.

Despite all the effort, the plan of many of the students is to throw the test with the intention of making the school fail.

He says that many of the students dislike the teachers and see this as an opportunity to take away their livelihood. He is a black teacher with Hispanic students that delight in expressing these thoughts to him. The middle school students are savvy enough to realize that if the school fails there will be no ill consequences for them personally. In particular, the eighth graders, the ones who are moving on, have no incentive to care whatsoever.

It simply never occurred to the designers of NCLB that incentive is not something that can be transferred from teacher to student. It reinforces my belief that liberalism is uniquely ignorant of the fact that people usually act in a manner that serves their own interests.

By the way, routinely on Fridays there are race riots during school hours. A couple of weeks ago, one went on for 90 minutes in which the police were needed to get the kids to go back to class. Of course, the L.A. Times has never mentioned a word about these routine occurrences in this school.

David B. writes:

I just read Robert Weissberg’s comment about the “Moon and the Ghetto.” I was in college in 1969 and saw this from blacks and white liberals constantly in news items and columns. They would say, “If we can send a man to the moon, we can rebuild our cities.” The idea was we should spend the amount of money used on space programs to benefit blacks. We should “reorder our priorities.”

LA to Robert Weissberg:
What do you think of my “white cargo cult” gloss on your idea, in which I suggested that whites themselves become cargo cultists, believing that the big school by itself can change blacks?

Mr. Weissberg replies:

I’m not sure I buy the white cargo cult. Instead I’d suggest the gambler’s fallacy: after countless failures whites come to believe (perhaps due to desperation) that the next reform will, finally, do the trick. The underlying premise is that black academic insufficiency is curable so there must be a solution. Each failure, then, becomes a necessary step toward an eventual solution. In an odd psychological process, failure only spurs greater effort, rather than the abandonment of a hopeless cause.

Perhaps even more important, repeated efforts to reverse nature eventually create a school reform industry and these “experts” become very skilled at seducing wealthy benefactors for the latest hare-brained scheme (this is well-known in foreign aid). School reform to help blacks overflows with great photo-ops for rich white people. Bwana Bill Gates, so to speak. The script is so easy that even a moron can do it—visit the classroom where lots of cute bright-eyed black kids perform their well-rehearsed tricks. Everybody, liberals and conservatives, just loves it.

June 5

Richard O. writes:

Primitives with the cargo cult mentality wished to receive benefits directly not for their neighbors to benefit. More importantly, they themselves went through the motions of imitating the behavior of the Western troops in order to obtain the old benefits. They built antennas out of wood and spoke into coconuts in the hope that rewards would descend from the sky again.

Resident African students in the LA system, for one, do not appear to being even doing that. There’s little evidence of sustained, hard effort on their part though I might buy that there is desultory effort or that there are pockets of ambition and discipline. In the ’80s the WSJ had a story of a heroically dedicated young black man who wished to qualify for an MIT summer program that he understood to be springboard out of the hell hole of a school he found himself in SE Washington, DC. It was a story of incredible effort on his part and unrelenting hostility toward him from all his other class mates who questioned his desire to “think white.”

For your idea of “whites as cargo cultists” there would have to be an example somewhere of black advancement that they hope to bring about locally through their own version of talking into a coconut. E.g., taking putative hunger or bad diet out of the equation of poor performance, building computer labs, designing mentor programs, exaggerating minor black achivement.

Vast swaths of American society might be said to be devotees of a cargo cult where they have seen politicians shower them and their parents and grandparents with freebies camouflaged as rights. They go out and repeat the same behavior they saw their ancestors engage in, namely, voting for Democrats and Republicans, and freebies have arrived and increased. However, these people are like New Guineans in 1943 who might have imitated the Westerner behaviors they saw before the Westerners left town. Post hoc ergo propter hoc worked like a charm for a while but was a disappointment after the planes stopped coming. If cargo cults were exclusively in evidence after the planes left, then scratch this last. But you see my point.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 04, 2011 10:19 AM | Send

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