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White Ressentiment, the Poster Child - Page 27

post #391 of 440
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kai View Post

A bit of both.

The letter from 1969 certainly was spot-on in predicting the situation at Columbia Law when I was there in the early 1990's.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Piobaire View Post

Interested to hear what folks think of this link: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/the-painful-truth-about-affirmative-action/263122/

It's true from my experience teaching that admitting minority students from poorer backgrounds (or, actually, just students from poorer backgrounds, or for that matter, wealthy international students from slightly different educational systems) can create problems. And schools need to commit more resources to alleviating those problems as best as they can, if they're committed not just to diversifying student populations but ultimately to promote success among poor/minority communities.

But the narrative that minority (black) students don't do as well and then they get resentful and then standards slip strikes me as a gross oversimplification. A oversimplification that, in 1969, was a projection aimed to spur certain action; and now an oversimplification of an existing situation. Three related things I would note:

1) Sometimes--maybe a lot of times--it's unclear the extent to which minority students struggle because they can't do the work and the extent to which they struggle because they don't fit in at all within academic subcultures. I'm sure people here will dismiss this as some sort of soft point. But it's not. Every discipline has a subculture, and belonging to that subculture requires a diffuse set of knowledge and behaviors. (I happen to have joined a particular academic subculture that my own immigrant background did not prepare me for--it was a long process of learning by osmosis in addition to learning.) All of this is important because the lines between essential academic content and cultural comportment gets blurry. It's not clear--again in some cases--whether students fail because they can't master the academic content or whether they can't (or don't want to) join a particular club. Insofar as the unspoken (or even spoken) protocols of that club have less to do with knowledge and more to do with social norms, then the failure to master those protocols shouldn't be deemed a failure.

Yes, it's absolutely true that it's easy to rationalize one sort of failure (to master knowledge) as the lesser sort of failure (to gain acceptance into a club). But that doesn't mean that doesn't mean the hard-line position (no! it's all just mastery of essential content and everything else is bellyaching!) is true.

2) I'm guessing underlying this discussion are the stories we keep hearing of students protesting. Many--not all--of those protests are over residential life (the perennial stupid frat party with ethnic caricature Halloween costumes) or over admin positions like the Dean of Students. Yes, these protestors are clamoring for a change in a college community. And we can debate the individual merits of those demands (sometimes the demands are completely risible--in any case, I personally have a lot to say about that stuff). But I think that's a related but also distinct discussion from the question of academic merit and capacities.

3) Differences in discipline are important in this discussion. There are disciplines with fairly codified markers of achievement. The article Piob links mentions rates of failing board exams after med school or law school. And obviously, there are hard disciplines like math where success vs. failure to master content is *relatively* clearer. But I'm guessing what we might really be talking about are those disciplines--in the humanities especially, but also the social sciences--that allow students to protest what counts as the essential content. In these fields, there's a much more negotiable sense of what success in a discipline is like; when students protest the reading list in the major poets course at Yale (a discussion that was blown way out of proportion when picked up by the ressentiment media), they're asking for a reconsideration of what is valued. And they might be right or wrong in individual selections or cases, but those kinds of demands don't reduce to wrongheaded resentment. Pro-tip: I'm saying this as a guy who researches & teaches Shakespeare and other famous white guys at the college level. There are historical/cultural/political reasons that Shakespeare keeps getting cited as the author of prestige assaults upon whom must not be tolerated. And in fields like mine, negotiations of what we should be teaching never and shouldn't stop.

tl;dr: the kinds of accommodations that we can afford underprepared students in an attempt to foster success in underprivileged communities is a complex question; in terms of genuine disciplinary content, there is little real wiggle room in some fields (pass the boards, or fail) and more wiggle room in others
post #392 of 440
Eric, very good post and thanks for taking the time to make it. Given your post I think you have to agree with my point way earlier in the thread that college admittance and freshman year in college is exactly the wrong time to be tossing kids to where they might not fit in (for whatever reason.)
post #393 of 440
Not gonna read that shit. There's one reason Clarence Thomas is on the Supreme Court. To pretend otherwise is stupid.
post #394 of 440
Quote:
Originally Posted by Piobaire View Post

Eric, very good post and thanks for taking the time to make it. Given your post I think you have to agree with my point way earlier in the thread that college admittance and freshman year in college is exactly the wrong time to be tossing kids to where they might not fit in (for whatever reason.)

Jews used not to fit, now they fit. Things aren't static.
post #395 of 440
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuuma View Post

Jews used not to fit, now they fit. Things aren't static.

Think you're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Did you read the Atlantic article and click through the links to the various supporting studies?
post #396 of 440
Quote:
Originally Posted by Piobaire View Post

Think you're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Did you read the Atlantic article and click through the links to the various supporting studies?

I merely took offense with your absurd blanket affirmation.Think of the consequences of what you said put in relation with what Eric was talking about. Basically the americans would have wasps at unis and that's it.
post #397 of 440
Interesting insights. I'm curious about what subject matter you teach.


My law school experience mirrored the predictions in Fleming's letter pretty closely. My second year, Columbia did an assessment of academic performance and ethnicity. It was supposed to be confidential, but the results got leaked. The study showed that black and Hispanic students were consistently at the bottom of their 1st year classes. One of the more striking findings was that during the years the study covered (can't remember how long it was, but it wasn't just a single year) not a single black student had obtained "honors" status based on 1st year grades.

As you might imagine, when the information was leaked, it created quite an uproar. Black students and their supporters immediately concluded that "institutional racism" was to blame. They had to claim "institutional" because grading is anonymous for 1st year classes, so actual racism was pretty much out of the question.

They held protests, with signs, chants, and disruptions, and took over the dean's office for several days. They demanded that grades be adjusted based on race, so that there would be "grade equity." Thankfully, the administration refused to introduce racial quotas in grading. This experience looks a lot like the predictions of Judge Fleming back in 1969.

The grade disparity for black students was not just an issue at Columbia. After law school, I was on the recruiting committee at my firm. To be considered for employment, a candidate generally needed to be from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, NYU, or Chicago, and have grades that put them in the top 15-20% of their class. The firm very much wanted to hire black attorneys, but we could not find any who were even close to these qualifications. Generally, their grades (especially 1st year grades) were dismal. There was a rather spirited debate at the firm about whether we needed to lower our hiring standards so that we could hire black attorneys. While I was there, the firm maintained its standards, and the attorney ethnic make-up remained lilly white. My guess is that they relaxed their standards at some point due to the strong social pressure to have black attorneys on staff.

In addition to placing students in an environment where they can't succeed, affirmative action dilutes the value of a degree for black and Hispanic students. As an employer, I look at a white or Asian graduate of a top 5 law school and their degree signals to me that they have pretty stellar undergraduate credentials and have scored in the top 1% on the LSAT, which is a good indicator of high general intelligence. Just the fact that the applicant was accepted to the school tells me a lot of positive things about that person. However, for a black student, admission to Columbia is more like a participation trophy rather than a sign of excellence. Affirmative action taints the accomplishments of minority students who could have achieved what they did without racial preferences.

I'd much rather just do away with racial preferences altogether. If that means that fewer black people get admitted to Yale, so be it. At least then, the ones who do get in would know that they did it on their own merits.

Quote:
Originally Posted by erictheobscure View Post

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It's true from my experience teaching that admitting minority students from poorer backgrounds (or, actually, just students from poorer backgrounds, or for that matter, wealthy international students from slightly different educational systems) can create problems. And schools need to commit more resources to alleviating those problems as best as they can, if they're committed not just to diversifying student populations but ultimately to promote success among poor/minority communities.

But the narrative that minority (black) students don't do as well and then they get resentful and then standards slip strikes me as a gross oversimplification. A oversimplification that, in 1969, was a projection aimed to spur certain action; and now an oversimplification of an existing situation. Three related things I would note:

1) Sometimes--maybe a lot of times--it's unclear the extent to which minority students struggle because they can't do the work and the extent to which they struggle because they don't fit in at all within academic subcultures. I'm sure people here will dismiss this as some sort of soft point. But it's not. Every discipline has a subculture, and belonging to that subculture requires a diffuse set of knowledge and behaviors. (I happen to have joined a particular academic subculture that my own immigrant background did not prepare me for--it was a long process of learning by osmosis in addition to learning.) All of this is important because the lines between essential academic content and cultural comportment gets blurry. It's not clear--again in some cases--whether students fail because they can't master the academic content or whether they can't (or don't want to) join a particular club. Insofar as the unspoken (or even spoken) protocols of that club have less to do with knowledge and more to do with social norms, then the failure to master those protocols shouldn't be deemed a failure.

Yes, it's absolutely true that it's easy to rationalize one sort of failure (to master knowledge) as the lesser sort of failure (to gain acceptance into a club). But that doesn't mean that doesn't mean the hard-line position (no! it's all just mastery of essential content and everything else is bellyaching!) is true.

2) I'm guessing underlying this discussion are the stories we keep hearing of students protesting. Many--not all--of those protests are over residential life (the perennial stupid frat party with ethnic caricature Halloween costumes) or over admin positions like the Dean of Students. Yes, these protestors are clamoring for a change in a college community. And we can debate the individual merits of those demands (sometimes the demands are completely risible--in any case, I personally have a lot to say about that stuff). But I think that's a related but also distinct discussion from the question of academic merit and capacities.

3) Differences in discipline are important in this discussion. There are disciplines with fairly codified markers of achievement. The article Piob links mentions rates of failing board exams after med school or law school. And obviously, there are hard disciplines like math where success vs. failure to master content is *relatively* clearer. But I'm guessing what we might really be talking about are those disciplines--in the humanities especially, but also the social sciences--that allow students to protest what counts as the essential content. In these fields, there's a much more negotiable sense of what success in a discipline is like; when students protest the reading list in the major poets course at Yale (a discussion that was blown way out of proportion when picked up by the ressentiment media), they're asking for a reconsideration of what is valued. And they might be right or wrong in individual selections or cases, but those kinds of demands don't reduce to wrongheaded resentment. Pro-tip: I'm saying this as a guy who researches & teaches Shakespeare and other famous white guys at the college level. There are historical/cultural/political reasons that Shakespeare keeps getting cited as the author of prestige assaults upon whom must not be tolerated. And in fields like mine, negotiations of what we should be teaching never and shouldn't stop.

tl;dr: the kinds of accommodations that we can afford underprepared students in an attempt to foster success in underprivileged communities is a complex question; in terms of genuine disciplinary content, there is little real wiggle room in some fields (pass the boards, or fail) and more wiggle room in others
post #398 of 440
Thread Starter 
Quote:
I'm saying this as a guy who researches & teaches Shakespeare and other famous white guys at the college level.

To be fair, my work has been much more focused on one of those other famous dead white assholes, but Shakespeare pays the bills.

The bigger point: my first gig was at a university system that had gone through a disastrous experiment with an open-admissions policy. Obviously, there's a balance of keeping academic standards up and promoting social good by allowing underrepresented students to get a shot at educational & career advancement. The foment in the late 60s that you describe might have been clamoring for excessive accommodations (I don't know-- I wasn't there and I haven't researched that particular matter). But the impulse behind the clamor should be patently obvious (the historical reasons why black and Latino students had not fared particularly well in law school admissions and then actually at law school).

So the constant question is balancing a commitment to merit/achievement with a commitment to expanded opportunities. (And not just a theoretical oh-we'll-just-let-anyone-who-can-succeed-in that conveniently ignores why only certain groups have a better time getting in historically.) If this useful case was useful for anything other than getting a satisfied chuckle out of a self-entitled kid with a 1180 SAT score (ROR), it's as a reminder that we need to keep balancing this shit.
post #399 of 440
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuuma View Post

I merely took offense with your absurd blanket affirmation.Think of the consequences of what you said put in relation with what Eric was talking about. Basically the americans would have wasps at unis and that's it.

No, many Americans would be fine with the Kennedys and Carnegies attending university too. (I called you out here on a blanket assertion quite well, just FYI.)
post #400 of 440
Many people don't appreciate just how severe the shortage of qualified black students is. For example, what percentage of black students taking the ACT in 2008 scored "college ready" in all four parts of the test?

For comparison purposes, it's 27% of whites and 33% of Asians.

If you answered Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
three percent
you win!

https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/2010015/tables/table_15_2c.asp
post #401 of 440
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kai View Post


I'd much rather just do away with racial preferences altogether. If that means that fewer black people get admitted to Yale, so be it. At least then, the ones who do get in would know that they did it on their own merits.

This is probably true with everybody but the issue is what to do with legacy kids that don't really make it on merit and get in through connections. The legacy kids skew almost all white.
post #402 of 440
Lol. White kids gonna white.
post #403 of 440
Quote:
Originally Posted by Piobaire View Post

No, many Americans would be fine with the Kennedys and Carnegies attending university too. (I called you out here on a blanket assertion quite well, just FYI.)

Wouldn't it depend on when the american university system coalesced in its immutable state (and which university we'd be discussing)? Not that it matters.
post #404 of 440
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuuma View Post

Wouldn't it depend on when the american university system coalesced in its immutable state (and which university we'd be discussing)? Not that it matters.

New variables to save the day?
post #405 of 440
Other issues aside, and there is plety of space for nuance, AA has gutted STEM achievement in the black community.

There is an entire population of black kids in the country who could handle these curricula if they were placed in classes on equal footing with their peers, in terms of aptitude. But what we have instead is blacks gaining acceptance to programs with 1-2 standard deviations below their class mean in terms of aptitude. Since these entry STEM classes are basically weed-out screens that grade on a curved distribution, either explicitly stated or implicitly acknowledged, of course these kids are going to flunk out and moved to soft majors. Some know the score before they even matriculate, and don't even bother signing up for the rigorous classes.

You couldn't design a better system for keeping blacks out of quantitative majors. Which is a shame, since it has been shown that (outside of elite colleges) rigor of major is a larger determinate of life success than prestige of institution.

If anyone wants to look up scholarly research to know I'm not talking out my ass, Google Scholar the word "mismatch."
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