This makes me want to vomit

Reader comment on: Thomas Sowell on Hunter College High School

Submitted by benjamin (United States), Aug 10, 2010 21:53

Where to start? So black students in New York make worse decisions because they are black? Where is the link between race and poor personal decision making. Is this a physiological condition caused by having dark skin? Called me old fashioned, but that sounds like racism to me (and yes, I know that Sowell is African-American himself). As the graduation student speaker said, one can either believe that blacks and latinos are naturally dumber than whites and Asians, or believe that the system is rigged against them. Perhaps the test is biased, perhaps the middle schools they went to were worse - there are innumerable factors that work together to explain this outcome. Also, as a middle school teacher, it is highly unfair and unrealistic to expect a 13 year old child to fully realize the consequences of their own actions. This is exactly what we are teaching them to grapple with. Blame the parents perhaps, but not the child.

Sowell himself is an example that proves my point. If we really lived in a meritocracy, and we accept that different racial groups have equal intellectual ability, why wouldn't blacks be equally represented in institutions? People do not make personal decisions in a vacuum. We are all products of our experiences, both positive and negative, with the world around us. Many people are born with a silver spoon in hand, go to an ivy league school and make millions, all the while believing it was their own personal ability and decision that led to this outcome. In fact, they were born on third base and society held their hand as they walked home to cross the plate. On the flip side, large numbers of minorities in this country have the deck stacked against them. Born into families with limited means, in failing schools, with poor diet etc. When a person like Sowell succeeds, it is a pleasant surprise, not a rhetorical cudgel to be used when arguing that "in America, anyone can succeed." Sure, there will always be people who defy expectations. The occasional product of New Canaan Ct will grow up and murder his family, and the occasional child of a broken home (disproportionately minority) will go on to greatness. We should strive for a society where there is as much social mobility as possible. In Hunter's case, their test was perpetuating the winner's and loser's in New York City. A scapegoat is something that wrongfully blamed. In this case, society is very much the problem.

What is the futureofcapitalism's opinion on this? Some of the most incendiary and hateful things that appear on this site go up without editorial comment. I would be curious to hear an opinion on this particularly hateful column.

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The Future of Capitalism replies:

I've got mixed feelings about the whole idea of test-based admissions for high schools, let alone earlier ages. I thought the point in Sowell's column that what matters is not born intelligence but the use one makes of it -- the point in the quote about the surgeon -- was a point that egalitarians such as you and I could agree with, as was his point that tests should measure achievement rather than inborn intelligence.

I went to a high school where standardized tests were not an important part of the admissions process but where at the higher levels there were honors classes that separated the higher achievers from the rest of the students, and I was a generally satisfied customer. At the college I went to standardized tests were an important part of the admissions process but they made exceptions for athletes and legacies and probably some blacks and Hispanics too, but not for Asians, who were adversely affected by the exceptions, because they did well on the standardized tests.

So my main view is that it's a newsworthy controversy and I think Sowell's voice is just an interesting one as part of the debate. One can focus on the advantages and the obstacles that people start out with or one can focus on the progress (or lack of it) that people make from their starting points and I just think Sowell is a good spokesman for focusing on the progress rather than the starting point.

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