Teaching middle-class values

To educate poor black and Hispanic children, schools must teach middle-class values. In National Journal, Stuart Taylor Jr. praises No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom. In an earlier column, Taylor talked about what hasn’t worked to improve non-Asian minority achievement.

Critical to the success of North Star and a handful of other excellent inner-city charter schools the Thernstroms studied, they contend, is the teaching of traditional middle-class values, such as morals, manners, and responsibility, and strict rules requiring students to dress neatly, arrive on time, pay attention, be respectful, shun fighting and foul language, and finish their homework. In short, these schools “aim to transform the culture of their students—as it affects academic achievement,” because “black culture … has much to do with the racial gap in academic achievement.”

This book has the potential to change the debate, primarily because black leaders are fed up with failure.

About Joanne


  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    In other words, they are going back to traditional black family values.

  2. jeff wright says:

    This will be controversial, but it shouldn’t be. Also, the cynic in me says the book will be the classic “preaching to the choir,” i.e., those who read it don’t need it, and those who need it won’t read it.

  3. Bill Leonard says:

    Right on, Jeff!

    Joanne, you’re simply wrong.

    Black leaders may or may not be fed up with failure. But none of the demagogues (read: Jackson, Sharpton, Calypso Louie Farrakhan and a whole cohort of fellow wannabes) will ever get tired of the money pouring in or the public and media attention, which leads to more demagoging and more money pouring in. Most current black leaders are part of the problem; otherwise, there a.) likely wouldn’t be a problem, or b.) it wouldn’t be nearly so massive and overriding.

  4. I’m afraid Bill is right. There’s a lot of money to be made for a long time in complaining about a problem that doesn’t get solved. Jackson and his ilk serve as a balm for those blacks who aren’t as scucessful as they would like to be because they provide a reason that isn’t their fault – namely a racist white society. It is psychologically comforting to be able to blame your problems on someone else, but that sure doesn’t help you solve your problems.

  5. Bill and Geoff,
    I am afraid the two of you are correct, but I hope Joanne is. If blacks ever realize that it is OK to “get off the plantation” then it is possible that the Democrats would stop taking them for granted and will try to seriously address issues instead of just glazing over the problem by blaming everything on racism.

  6. I attended the Thernstroms’ talk about their new book at the American Enterprise Institute and as (good) luck would have it sat right next to Stuart Taylor as he took the notes that wound up in this article. Sitting on the other side of Stuart was the very distinguished attorney and former Secretary of HEW, William Coleman. Coleman, if I’m not mistaken, is a Board Member or some such at AEI. His reaction to the Thernstroms’ argument — borderline fury — indicates that it’s not simply the Jesse Jacksons and Louis Farrakhans who will resent and reject any suggestion that any part of the performance gap can be traced to anything to do with black culture.

  7. Is it really black culture to be disrespectful and to fight and not pay attention to their homework and teachers, or is it just bad behaviour on the part of some individuals?

    Of course if saying bad behaviour is “part of my culture” is likely to mean you don’t get punished, a lot of people are going to say that. That doesn’t mean they should be believed.

  8. jeff wright says:

    Tracy, been around an American school lately?

  9. Tom Leonard says:

    I work as a school security guard at a local high school just outside a major metropolitan city. Black students which comprise about 25% of the student population tend to stand out for all the wrong reasons. They come dressed like a resident from the worst part of the city. Hi-Hop clothing with the belt tied below the posterior and cuffs bunched around the ankles, they walk around all day holding up their pants. Tee-shirts hanging down below the knees or other shirts many times too large and a attitude to match. They wander the halls, talk back to anyone who corrects them or they just pretend they don’t hear you, and seem only interested in booty-call. The girls are loud mouth with that Queen Lattefa posturing. Many don’t even try to improve themselves. Gangsta-rap is all they respond to. This is a big school of 3700 students. They mostly come from single women households which proliferate courtesy of Section 8 housing. It is not the school, the programs or the teachers. It is them. They adhere to values that guarantee failure.

  10. Reminds me of an apt quote by Bell Hooks:

    “Oprah Winfrey is evidence black people get to the top and stay on top only by sucking the d**ks of white culture.”