Affirmative Action Reactions

Like Sandra Day O'Connor, I'm mushy on racial preferences in admissions. I want a little bit of consideration for blacks and Hispanics, but not so much that there's a noticeable preparation gap between white/Asian and black/Hispanic students. Who knew that a-little-but-not-too-much could be turned into a legal principle?

Sadly, I think the Supreme Court decision will be used to take the pressure off efforts to improve the academic qualifications of minority students. Blog of Xanadu makes a good point: The real inequalities start in kindergarten -- or earlier. If inner-city parents could choose their kids' schools, they'd have a chance to do better.

I'd disagree on one thing, however. It's not that minority kids aren't told to go to college. These days, nearly every student thinks he or she is college-bound: 70 percent plan to go to four-year colleges. The cheat is that nobody tells poor kids that just barely passing watered-down classes won't prepare them for college or anything else. Uneducated parents don't know what it takes, so students need honest feedback from their teachers and counselors.

With very similar grades, SATs and activities, Robert Tagorda and his high school girlfriend applied to the same universities. He's Filipino-American; she's Hispanic. Guess what happened.

Max Jacobs (not a relation) of Common Sense and Wonder dismembers Maureen Dowd's racist column accusing Clarence Thomas of ingratitude. Andrew Sullivan has a few thoughts too.

Basically, Dowd thinks Thomas has no right to oppose racial preferences because he “benefitted” from such preferences himself. But did he? I tried to check the claim that Thomas was admitted to Yale Law School because of racial preferences. I failed: His college grades and LSATs are not in the public record. However, Thomas was an honors graduate of Holy Cross, which regularly sends its best students to Yale Law. To assume Thomas needed a racial boost is . . . well, racist.

Professor John McWhorter is insulted by the Supreme Court's assumption that standards for blacks must be lowered. He quotes Zora Neale Hurston:

"It seems to me that if I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it."

No doubt Dowd would call Hurston an Aunt Jemima. Or a madwoman.

Back to Race

University of Texas President Larry Faulkner wants to return to using racial preferences in admissions, now that the U.S. Supreme Court says it's sort of OK for another generation.

After dropping racial criteria, UT had maintained black and Hispanic enrollment by admitting students in the top 10 percent of their high school class. With so many segregated schools, that produced the desired numbers. However, some of the 10 percenters -- the best students from bad schools -- are marginally qualified, while well-qualified students from high-performing schools are shut out. Faulkner wants to limit the number of 10 percenters to half the freshmen class; it's estimated they'll take up 90 percent of the class by 2005 if there's no cap.

With better recruiting, but without using racial or ethnic preferences, UT's law school managed nearly as much racial/ethnic diversity as under its old plan, the Houston Chronicle reports. Yet UT's professional schools will return to using race as a "factor," thereby putting an affirmative action asterisk on the records of minority students. Ask Clarence Thomas what that’s like.

White Like Me

"Whiteness studies" is now being taught at universities from Princeton to UCLA. Unlike black studies, whiteness courses don't celebrate the wonderful cultural contributions of whites: The idea is to make kids feel guilty.

Arlene Avakian, the chair of U-Mass women's studies department, sat on a wide desk, let her legs dangle and asked the class to discuss the ideas of racial privilege, environmental comfort and social control. . .

A white student raised her hand and said she and a friend had gone to a hall reserved for black student affairs, and the friend said she didn't feel comfortable.

Brandi-Ann Andrade, a 21-year-old junior who is black, rolled her eyes. "So what?" she asked. "I never feel comfortable here. I'm a student at a school where most people are white. The only time I feel comfortable is when I'm at home."

College is about feeling comfortable?

Naturally, the evils of whiteness must be inherently American, so Thomas Jefferson is blamed for inventing race in order to justify slavery. (Weren't whites justifying slavery by claiming black inferiority from the time the first slavers raided Africa?)

"Slavery and genocide coexist with democracy and freedom," (Avakian) said, and that's what whiteness studies teaches. "President Andrew Jackson presided during the mass murder of Indians. If we knew in detail how slavery existed alongside freedom, we would have to change the national narrative."

What's especially pernicious is that many college students don't know enough history to put all this in context.


Sarah Piccarello  of Kensington, Conn., writes:

Are you really that surprised that the latest generation of kids going to our public schools don't have basic reading and writing skills? We have a whole system dedicated to blaming poor grades on low socioeconomic status instead of realizing the problem starts at home. If parent(s) actually took the time to check homework and put emphasis on the importance of learning and knowledge, maybe the kids would be motivated enough to accomplish something.

Kids don't need a computer in every classroom to learn to read and write. Heck, for hundreds of years, kids learned to read from the family Bible. Kids used to have slate tablets and chalk for math and writing studies, and yet, amazingly, they did learn.

Kids need a reason to care to learn. Today, it seems that educators and parents are so concerned with the self esteem of the children that they are intimidated by the idea of failing a student and holding the kid accountable for the effort required to learn.

How many kids go home with a failed test and actually get punished for it? Probably none, because for some reason, it is never the kid's fault. The kids can't be told that they're lazy or not dedicated to their own education because that might make them feel bad. A trouble maker in class isn't a behavior problem that needs after school detention and heavier homework assignments anymore, they just need Ritalin. A kid that doesn't do his/her homework isn't lazy anymore, the kid just needs the school to give them a laptop computer because obviously the kid doesn't have the "tools" at home to accomplish learning. What utter garbage!

I really feel sorry for the kids today because they're so emotionally fragile that no one is allowed to tell them just how ignorant or lazy they are and make them take responsibility for their own effort because that would hurt their feelings. Well, I hate to break it to them, but only being qualified for a job at McDonald's after graduation is going to make them feel much worse about themselves than an educator's criticism ever would.

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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