As a child in Daytona Beach, Florida, Roland G. Fryer Jr. often visited his great-aunt and -uncle’s house, where pancakes were fried in the same pan in which the couple made crack out of water, baking soda and cocaine. Eight of his 10 closest childhood friends went to prison or died young, including a favorite cousin who was murdered.
A Harvard professor who studies race and education, Fryer has won what’s considered the “mini-Nobel” for young economists, reports the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.
“How do you create structures so that people don’t just beat the odds, but so that you change the damn odds?” he said. “It’s not, like, a ‘them’ thing, for me. This is my family, dude.”
Fryer’s most controversial research has found that black and Latino achievers lose popularity if their grades rise too high. African-Americans with grade-point averages of at least 3.5 (B+/A-) had fewer black friends than students with B’s or lower. For Latino students, the cut-off was lower: The more their GPA “exceeded 2.5 (C+/B-), the less popular they were.”
The “acting white” phenomenon occurs in racially mixed schools, he found. “Social pressures could go a long way toward explaining the large racial and ethnic gaps in SAT scores, the underperformance of minorities in suburban schools, and the lack of adequate representation of blacks and Hispanics in elite colleges and universities,” Fryer wrote in Education Next.
Some challenge the theory, notes the Post. In support, Frayer cited an
experiment at Los Angeles high schools. Students — most were Latino — were offered a free SAT preparation class. Those told their classmates would know if they participated were significantly less likely to sign up.
“I didn’t realize I grew up poor until I got to Harvard,” says Fryer. Now he’s raising his own child in a very different environment. “My 2-year-old starts Mandarin immersion in the fall.”