Soul of a black/Latino teacher

José Luis Vilson, a middle-school math teacher in New York City (and a blogger), writes about race, class, and education in This Is Not A Test.

“The heart of education lies in the relationship between teacher and student,” writes Leo Casey in a review in Dissent. “This Is Not A Test bears witness to the enduring vitality of that relationship.”

Vilson grew up in a poor “drug-tainted” neighborhood in the city, earned a computer science degree and became a math teacher for black and brown students.

He faces the challenges of his students’ poverty, troubled families and violent neighborhoods. He also copes with incompetent administrators. At one point, a supervisor “threatened him with an unsatisfactory evaluation not because of his teaching, but because she disliked the aesthetics of his classroom bulletin board.”

College debate: Is logic white?

African-American college students are transforming debate tournaments, writes Jessica Carew Kraft in The Atlantic. Traditional debate — based on logic and evidence — is tainted by “white privilege,” they argue. Instead “alternative” debaters rely on personal experience — and ignore the topic they’re supposed to be debating.

On March 24, 2014 at the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) Championships at Indiana University, two Towson University students, Ameena Ruffin and Korey Johnson, became the first African-American women to win a national college debate tournament, for which the resolution asked whether the U.S. president’s war powers should be restricted. Rather than address the resolution straight on, Ruffin and Johnson, along with other teams of African-Americans, attacked its premise. The more pressing issue, they argued, is how the U.S. government is at war with poor black communities.

In the final round, Ruffin and Johnson squared off against Rashid Campbell and George Lee from the University of Oklahoma, two highly accomplished African-American debaters with distinctive dreadlocks and dashikis. Over four hours, the two teams engaged in a heated discussion of concepts like “nigga authenticity” and performed hip-hop and spoken-word poetry in the traditional timed format. At one point during Lee’s rebuttal, the clock ran out but he refused to yield the floor. “Fuck the time!” he yelled.

In the 2013 championship, Emporia State students Ryan Walsh and Elijah Smith used a similar style to win two tournaments. “Many of their arguments, based on personal memoir and rap music, completely ignored the stated resolution, and instead asserted that the framework of collegiate debate has historically privileged straight, white, middle-class students.”

Arguments “can come from lived experience,” says Joe Leeson Schatz, Director of Speech and Debate at Binghamton University.

Others say “alternative debate” doesn’t require students to research evidence or develop “the intellectual acuity required for arguing both sides of a resolution.”  

Some colleges may form a new group devoted to “policy debate.”

It’s all part of the war on standards, writes former debater John Hinderaker, now a lawyer, on PowerBlog. The value of debate is “now being lost, as standards have disappeared, logic is out the window, and bullshit about race is replacing actual argumentation.”

Co-blogger Paul Mirengoff, also a lawyer and a former debater, adds:

College debating, it seems, has been radically transformed in ways that make it easier for African-Americans to succeed at it.

As for the notion of “privilege,” it is now clear that the debaters of our era were privileged in a limited but important sense. We were required to take the activity seriously and to meet high standards in order to succeed.

. . . We were also privileged to be judged by adults who held us to knowable standards, and we were privileged to debate serious opponents.

Defining logical argument as a “white thing” does not do blacks any favors, in my opinion.

Joe Miller’s Cross-X, about a low-performing Kansas City high school’s winning debate team — questions the fairness of traditional debate. He profiles black students who win a national tournament, earn college debate scholarships but find they’re not prepared for college-level work.

Behavior explains discipline disparity


Angel Rojas, shot to death on a New York City bus, is mourned by his wife and children. A Dominican immigrant, Rojas worked two jobs to support his family. — New York Daily News

Kahton Anderson, 14, charged with opening fire on a Brooklyn bus and killing a 39-year-old man, shows what’s wrong with the racism meme, writes Heather Mac Donald in National Review.

The day before Anderson shot at a rival “crew” member and killed a passenger, the Obama department released data showing that black students are suspended at three times the rate of white students. “The civil-rights industry predictably greeted this information as yet more proof that schools are biased against black students,” writes Mac Donald.

But “behavioral differences, not racism, drive the disparity between black and white student suspensions,” she argues.

Anderson was “frequently in trouble” in school, reports the New York Times.

Sometimes it was for violating the school’s uniform code or disrespectful chatter in class. . . . Sometimes it was worse: He had a sealed arrest from 2011, and often, high-school-age members of a crew students knew as “R&B” or “RB’z” — the initials stand for “Rich Boys” — loitered outside the school, waiting to fight him.

About three weeks after he got into a fight near school last year, he was transferred to Elijah Stroud Middle School in Crown Heights. . . .

But he seemed to do no better at Elijah Stroud, where he had been suspended from the early fall until very recently.

“The lack of impulse control that results in such mindless violence on the streets unavoidably shows up in the classroom as well,” writes Mac Donald. “It defies common sense that a group with such high rates of lawlessness outside school would display model behavior inside school.”

The Obama administration’s anti-suspension campaign will undermine school safety, argues Hans Bader, a former attorney in the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. He cites a study by University of Cincinnati criminologist John Paul Wright, which found racial disparities in suspensions and discipline are caused by disparities in student behavior.

What colleges ask new students to read

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Politically-themed books published since 1990 dominate summer “common reading” lists for incoming college students, according to Beach Books 2012-2013, the National Association of Scholars’ annual report.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – about scientific research using a black cancer victim’s cells — was the most popular book by far for the second year in a row.

Reading the same book is supposed to build a sense of community among new students and provide something to discuss in orientation. But “so-called ‘common reading’ programs have become a tool for orienting students to progressive causes,” said NAS president Peter Wood.

The dominant themes in these books are race, gender, class, the evils of capitalism, and the ubiquity of oppression.

. . The popularity of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, for example, is based on its depiction of the American medical establishment as racist.”

Very few science books are chosen for common reading, the report finds. That suggests that “The Immortal Life owes its popularity not to being a book about science but to being a book about science whose subjects—the Lacks family—happen to be black and poor and furnished with a victimhood narrative.”

I think that’s an accurate description of the book, which would have been better if it had been a lot shorter.

Social justice, sustainability, diversity and economic justice are four major themes in common-reading books.

NAS lists 50 recommended books for common reading programs including Flatland, Camus’ The Plague and Augustine’s Confessions. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, about the denizens of Brook Farm, and Conrad’s Under Western Eyes look good to me.

 

 

‘Holistic’ admissions at Berkeley

When California voters barred the use of racial or ethnic preferences in college admissions, the University of California vowed to use a “holistic” process that considers socioeconomic disadvantages, leadership and motivation, as well as grades and test scores. As a reader of applications for Berkeley’s engineering department, Ruth Starkman saw the holistic process at work, she writes in the New York Times.

A highly qualified student, with a 3.95 unweighted grade point average and 2300 on the SAT, was not among the top-ranked engineering applicants to the University of California, Berkeley. He had perfect 800s on his subject tests in math and chemistry, a score of 5 on five Advanced Placement exams, musical talent and, in one of two personal statements, had written a loving tribute to his parents, who had emigrated from India.

The applicant was a 2 on a 1-to-5 scale (1 being highest) because he didn’t have enough extracurricular activities and engineering awards, she learned in training.

Now consider a second engineering applicant, a Mexican-American student with a moving, well-written essay but a 3.4 G.P.A. and SATs below 1800. His school offered no A.P. He competed in track when not at his after-school job, working the fields with his parents. His score? 2.5.

Readers were told to told to ignore minority background, but could consider whether a student came from a non-English-speaking household if it was a “stressor” that justified a special read looking for socioeconomic disadvantages.

To better understand stressors, I was trained to look for the “helpful” personal statement that elevates a candidate. Here I encountered through-the-looking-glass moments: an inspiring account of achievements may be less “helpful” than a report of the hardships that prevented the student from achieving better grades, test scores and honors.

Readers are supposed to look for “leadership,” a major criterion in the holistic process. That usually meant extracurricular activities. (Volunteer trips to exotic places were taken as a sign of  “privilege.”)

In my application pile, many students from immigrant households had excellent grades and test scores but few activities. I commented in my notes: “Good student, but not many interests or activities? Why? Busy working parents? And/or not able to afford, or get to, activities?”

Many essays “lucidly expressed a sense of self and character,” Starkman writes.  Others “betrayed the handiwork of pricey application packagers, whose cloying, pompous style was instantly detectable.”

She read innumerable hard-luck stories, not all of them credible. Kids figure out what sells.

Favoring “stressors” over academic success has costs:  92 percent of whites and Asians at Berkeley graduate within six years, compared with 81 percent of Hispanics and 71 percent of blacks. In the UC system, 17 percent of Hispanic and black students who express interest in the sciences graduate with a science degree within five years, compared with 31 percent of white students.

It’s ironic that colleges claim to be looking for  “leadership” potential, writes Walt K in the comments.

. . . their entire process is designed to select compliant followers: people who have bought into the whole game, and are happy to play along.

People who do well on tests. People who do well in class. People who follow instructions. People who join clubs. People who follow the conventional wisdom People who teachers like. People who do what they are told. People who do all the ‘right’ things.

. . .  leaders are the ones who say, ‘To heck with this, I’m picking myself.’ Which may often mean bailing out on college to actually DO something instead of sucking up.

I think Walt K has a point.

Many elite colleges enroll few low- and moderate-income students, reports the New York Times. Berkeley is much higher than the average, due affirmative action for disadvantaged students.

Teaching Trayvon

Common Core standards drafters want inner-city students to reach high standards, but don’t want teachers to “link literature to our students’ strengths,” writes John Thompson in the Huffington Post. That doesn’t show respect for students, he believes.

If he was back in the classroom, Thompson would be playing Bruce Springsteen’s American Skin:

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says now on these streets Charles
You got to understand the rules
Promise me if an officer stops you’ll always be polite
Never ever run away and promise mama you’ll keep your hands in sight

The song always sparked discussion, Thompson writes.

In the first verse, Springsteen wrote from the perspective of the white New York City cops who shot a Nigerian immigrant, Amadou Diallo, 41 times thinking he had a gun, even though it was his wallet. “Forty-one shots, and we’ll take this ride, cross the bloody river, to the other side.”

The second verse was from the perspective of a black mother warning her son in case he was racially profiled. The third verse was from a universal perspective as we are “baptized in each others’ blood,” and a crucial change is made in the chorus, “Is it a gun? Is it a knife? Is it in your heart? Is it in your sight?”

Asked the source of Springsteen’s image of “the river,” a girl replied, “Langston Hughes!”

“Great,” I answered, throwing a copy of Hughes’ poems to her, “Support your answer.”

Kesha read, “I’ve known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers….”

When “curriculum alignment became the district’s gospel,” Thompson played the song during orientation to illustrate issues that would be studied in Government and help English teachers teach “repetition, point of view and metaphor.” A high level administrator objected. “Our kids don’t have time for Bruce Springsteen.”

Race-based admissions faces ‘strict scrutiny’

The U.S. Supreme Court didn’t reject the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions plan outright, as many had expected. However, justices voted 7 to 1 to send the Fisher ase back to a lower court for “strict scrutiny” of whether the plan is justified.

“A university must make a showing that its plan is narrowly tailored to achieve the only interest that this Court has approved in this context: the benefits of a student body diversity that ‘encompasses a . . . broad array of qualifications and characteristics of which racial or ethnic origin is but a single though important element,’ ” wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

In 2003, a divided court in Grutter v. Bollinger approved a limited use of race by the University of Michigan Law School to achieve a “critical mass” of diversity, notes the Washington Post.

The University of Texas at Austin . . . admits about 75 percent of its freshmen based on their graduation rankings from Texas high schools. Since many of the state’s high schools are dominated by one race or ethnicity, this has created a diverse applicant pool.

For the remaining slots, it uses a “holistic” evaluation of applicants that includes race as one of many factors.

The case is named for Abigail Fisher, a white student who didn’t qualify for automatic admission. She argued “the attempts to boost the number of African American and Hispanic students cost her a spot in the freshman class of 2008.” She went instead to Louisiana State University (no doubt paying higher out-of-state tuition) and earned a bachelor’s degree.

Strict scrutiny just got a lot stricter, writes Kirk Kolbo, who argued against UM’s race-conscious affirmative action plan in Grutter, on Powerline.

. . . the Court’s opinion in Fisher goes into painstaking detail (more than five pages are devoted to the issue) about how the Fifth Circuit should go about applying strict scrutiny after the remand.

. . . Strict scrutiny requires both a “compelling interest” justifying the use of race as a factor in decision-making, and means of implementing that interest that are “narrowly tailored” to achieving it.

. . .  Fisher states that a university “receives no deference” on the question of whether the “means chosen . . . to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to that goal.”

. . . Perhaps the strongest point in Fisher is the statement that “[t]he reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” (emphasis added).

It will be much harder for racial preferences to pass muster, Kolbo predicts.

76% oppose use of race in college admissions

Seventy-six percent of adults oppose “allowing universities to consider applicants’ race as a factor in deciding which students to admit,” according to a Washington Post/ABC poll.

That includes 79 percent of whites, 78 percent of blacks and 68 percent of Hispanics. Sixty-four percent of liberal Democrats oppose race-based affirmative action in college admissions.

Race at Roxbury CC

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick named Gerald Chertavian, who founded a job training program, to chair the board of troubled Roxbury Community College, which has been plagued by mismanagement and scandal. A Boston “activist” claims only blacks should run a majority-black college. (Only 48 percent of students say they’re black, but there seems to be a lot of decline-to-state students.)

An Iowa community college has paid nearly $14,000 to settle a free-speech lawsuit by a student who was barred from handing out flyers criticizing college funding for a conference on gay youth.

Universities don’t seek socioeconomic diversity

Focused on race-based affirmative action, many public universities aren’t eager to recruit low-income students, reports the New York Times.

“It’s expensive,” said Donald E. Heller, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University. “You have to go out and identify them, recruit them and get them to apply, and then it’s really expensive once they enroll because they need more financial aid.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will rule soon on race-based admissions at the University of Texas at Austin. Many think affirmative action linked to race and ethnicity will be struck down.

Polls show that while most Americans oppose racial or ethnic preferences in college admissions, they also think colleges should give extra help to the poor.

Some states have already banned affirmative action, including California, Florida, Michigan and Washington, and in each of them, the selective public universities stepped up their efforts to recruit disadvantaged students, hoping to enroll more black, Hispanic and American Indian students in the process.

Even in states that have rejected racial preferences, flagship universities “vary widely in how hard they work to identify high-achieving, disadvantaged students and prepare them for college, how heavily they weight disadvantage in admissions, and how generous they are with financial aid,” reports the Times.

More than 40 percent of University of California students qualify for Pell Grants, which go to low- and moderate-income students. That includes 34 percent at Berkeley and 36 percent at UCLA.

At the University of Michigan, also highly selective and banned from considering race, only 16 percent of undergraduates received Pell Grants.

The private sector is less committed to affirmative action in hiring, adds the Times in another story.

“Tens of thousands of qualified low-income students, 30 percent of them racial minorities” don’t apply to elite colleges, according to research by Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby and Harvard’s Christopher Avery.  Colleges should recruit low-income high achievers, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in a Bloomberg commentary.

In a follow-up study, Hoxby and a colleague sent college information packets to a random selection of low-income high-achievers. Students who got the information were 80 percent more likely to apply to and gain admission to a selective college than similar students who didn’t get the packet. The mailings cost $6 per student.