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TinotopiaLog → School Performance, Poverty, and ‘Diversity’ (14 Oct 2003)
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Tuesday 14 October 2003

School Performance, Poverty, and ‘Diversity’

There’s a story in today’s Washington Post about the Montgomery County school system.

Montgomery County, Maryland, is a relatively wealthy jurisdiction just north of Washington, DC. It’s also quite ‘diverse’. ‘Diverse’ here is a code word for ‘non-white’. If your county is entirely black, it’s ‘diverse’. If it’s entirely white, it is, obviously, not.

As it happens, Montgomery County is actually diverse, when you’re talking about skin color, in a sane sense as well; which is to say that many different color of skin are represented there.

Montgomery County’s public school system is a good one, taken as a whole. But.

One-half of its schools, in a vast ring of communities from Chevy Chase up to Damascus and down through Olney, represent the historical image of Montgomery County’s student population: mostly white and relatively affluent.

The other half, a swath of communities from Takoma Park in the southeast up to Gaithersburg in the county center, educate the vast majority of Montgomery’s poor and immigrant children. “It is a racially, economically and language-identifiable geographic area,” [Montgomery County schools superintendent Jerry D.] Weast said, similar in size and makeup to some of the nation’s larger urban school districts. “If it was a stand-alone system, it would be called a failing system.”

This despite being part of a school system which demonstrably does not waste much of its money on bureaucracy and aggrandizement of its own honchos; the system has no trouble educating half of its students. The Montgomery County schools have even taken special steps to help students in the ‘red zone’:

Weast called attention to the dichotomy when he became the Montgomery superintendent in 1999. He named the affluent area the “green zone” and the more diverse area the “red zone,” and since then he and the school board have focused $20 million in extra resources on the latter — most notably, to reduce class sizes and introduce all-day kindergarten

It hasn’t worked, of course. Even within a good school system, and even with more resources being focused on the ‘red’ schools, the children of the poor still lag behind.

And the situation is not going to improve until it becomes socially acceptable to address the real problem: that, within the United States, there are cultures which tend to lead their members to success, and cultures which tend not to lead their members to success.

Many ‘minority’ American cultures are not ones that lead to success. I’m not going to go into this at length here.

Gasp! Shock horror! Can’t say that, it’s racist!

Well, no it isn’t, unless you think — as most of the Left does these days — that skin color is the major determinant of your character. Let’s leave skin color out of it, and examine the facts. Or, rather, the fact that seems to be universal in all the education hand-wringing: poor children do less well in school than wealthier children.

Children don’t work, of course, so poor children are the children of poor parents. Parents who are poor are people who have not figured out how to succeed — economically, at least — in our society.

Wealthier parents have, by definition, themselves been more successful in our society. They know how to play the game, and they teach this — often unconsciously — to their children.

So rather than saying black children don’t do well in school or Hispanic children don’t do well in school or even poor children don’t do well in school, we might say: children of unsuccessful parents tend to be unsuccessful in school.

There are exceptions, of course, just as some millionaire’s sons get expelled. But generally, it holds true. And it’s because poor parents are poor because they don’t have the skills to be successful. They’re not lazy; they’re not stupid; they’re not genetically inferior. Poor people — most of them — merely lack the knowledge necessary to not be poor.

As with the millionaire’s son, there are exceptions. Some people are poor because they are genuinely unable to acquire any valuable skills; there are a lot of smart poor people, but very few genuinely stupid and incapable wealthy people (except heirs). Some people are poor because of bad luck; certainly a lot of wealthy people have happened to be in the right place at the right time (like, dare I say it, heirs). Some people are poor because they’ve made a positive decision to live their lives in some way that’s not particularly remunerative.

Most poor people, though, are poor because they don’t know how not to be poor. They’d like to be more successful, but they don’t know how: they have some vague ideas about education, and working hard, and so on, but they don’t really have much of an idea of what ‘education’ means, other than ‘schooling’. They know about working hard, but they work hard at the wrong things. And their kids learn these things from them.

What’s needed isn’t No Child Left Behind, or federal breakfast programs, more money, or all-day kindergarten, or any of the other garbage that passes for Educational Reform. What’s needed is a public acknowledgment by mainstream society that certain behaviors and values tend to lead to success, and that certain behaviors and values don’t. And that the values and behaviors that tend to lead to success are those held and practiced by the ‘majority’ culture.

It’s possible to be a great success in the United States without being able to speak English, and it’s possible to get rich while remaining ‘true’ to some ghetto culture. It’s far more likely that you’ll get rich while wearing a tie, and while speaking the langauge of the majority. Once you’re rich, you can do pretty much whatever you like within the walls of your compound.

Is this what’s likely to happen, now that we’ve seen children within a single school system but from varying cultures have different rates of success? Of course not.

[Gary] Orfield [professor and co-director of Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project], who researched Montgomery County for his book “Dismantling Desegregation,” said policymakers should look at ways beyond the schools to maintain true diversity, in which populations — and therefore political power and family resources — are more evenly balanced.

Think about that: Policymakers should look at ways … to maintain true diversity, in which populations … are more evenly balanced.

Which seems to mean that where you’ll be allowed to live should depend on your skin color. If a neighborhood is too white, it’ll be ‘diversified’ by the addition of some ‘minorities’. If it’s too black… well, you’d think that with today’s emphasis on diversity ├╝ber alles, this would be good, but no, it’s ‘gentrification’ and it’s bad. So I’m not sure what would happen in that case. And I have to assume that mixed-race people would once again be classified as ‘quadroon’ and ‘octoroon’ and all manner of idiotic BS, and used to fine-tune ‘neighborhoods’ where only three-quarters (or three-fifths) of a white person needs to be balanced.

But in any case, ‘true’ diversity must be achieved at all costs, it seems. And note than while the problem is one of academic achievement (and, by my assessment, social skills and wealth as a proxy for those skills), the civil rights poobahs immediately turn it into one of race. Race, the topic that can’t be discussed in America.

White people living as black people do in America’s cities and cheaper suburbs would be told, in no uncertain terms, to stop living that way; that their poverty, unhappiness, and failure was the result of their lifestyle.

The race-hucksters, though, have managed to convince a large enough majority of the people that, somehow, living off the government dole, working miserable jobs, and going through life with a only a rudimentary education (if that) are authentically black, and that somehow being successful in the mainstream society means selling out to The Man. We hear people like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice called ‘sellouts’ and ‘house slaves’. People say that Tony Wililams, the mayor of Washington, DC, isn’t ‘black enough’; presumably, Marion Berry, the unbelievably inept and corrupt crack-head prior mayor, was ‘black enough’.

So the ambitious ‘minority’ person not only has to fight against a lack of social knowledge about how to succeed in our society, but he’s got to deal with jackasses who tell him that by following his ambitions, he’s somehow less authentically himself.

And so, even when the laboratory of Montgomery County has shown us how students from different cultures perform differently in the same school system, we can’t even publicly acknowledge that the problem might, just might be the culture that the unsuccessful kids come from. Ah, yes. Of course.

Until we can’t face the fact that the worship of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘diversity’ for diversity’s sake short-circuits cultural evolution, we will not be rid of these problems. Our society was poorer in the past for the suppression of the cultures of blacks and other ‘minorities’; it’s poorer now for the unexamined celebration of these cultures.

Posted by tino at 23:58 14.10.03
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This is one of your better pieces……insightful.

Posted by: Bryon at October 17, 2003 09:25 AM

Ooo, good stuff.

I linked to you and have some brief commentary in my LJ (including in comments) on the poverty aspect. I had never considered poverty quite like that before.

Just now I’ve been thinking about the success of minorities in this country. Asians are a notoriously successful minority group, and they have a culture that places huge emphasis on academic and professional success. But I wondered if their “honorary whiteness” (to use a puke-inducing term I heard in college) was a factor. Then I remembered that Indian immigrants are quite successful here, and they’re further along the melanin scale. So the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that it really is primarily a cultural issue, not a race one.

And finally, may I say that this particular quote nails what really bugs the hell out of me about the whole thing: “So the ambitious ‘minority’ person not only has to fight against the lack of social knowledge about how to succeed in our society, but he’s got to deal with jackasses who tell him that by following his ambitions, he’s somehow less authentically himself.” ARGH.

Posted by: Evelynne at October 24, 2003 01:29 PM

This is just such an excellent post I don’t even know where to begin praising. I will give ou my highest form of praise, by linking in my journal ;)

Posted by: Mark W at October 31, 2003 12:02 PM