Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Overcoming the Ivy League Mystique

As I have been at pains to point out, the demonstrations roiling American campuses today have multiple causes.

The larger cause is President Obama’s failed presidency. Just as the Red Guards were mobilized to cover up the failure of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, so too are young campus radicals shifting the blame from blacks who are failing to the whites who have supposedly induced them to fail.

David Goldman believes that the black students are accusing white students of practicing witchcraft on them.

The more immediate cause involves racial preferences and the mania over diversity. Colleges have decided that they must have a certain number of minority students, regardless of whether they are qualified or can do the work. Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor have called this a mismatch.

This puts minority students in situations where they cannot compete and are considered to be inferior. In many cases they do not receive degrees. It other cases they are passed through the system. Since everyone knows that these students have been admitted to fulfill racial preferences, they are not respected on campus and never really feel that they belong.

Yesterday, David Goldman, aka Spengler provided further evidence of the costs of affirmative action. He points out that:

… black American college students, especially men, are failing at a catastrophic rate.

This chart says it all.

Unfortunately, no one has really suggested that students who fail might be responsible for their failure. If these students know that they are going to be admitted to college under a racial preference, they should apply to colleges where they can compete effectively. Just because you can get in to Harvard does not mean that you have to apply to Harvard or to go to Harvard.

One recalls the black student who was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools but who chose to go to the Honors College at the University of Alabama. Beyond the fact that he will graduate debt free, he will surely get an excellent education, one that is not marred by administrative meddling. He will be respected as one of the brightest students and will be able to root for a considerably better football team.

If a minority student goes to an Ivy League school, one where his SAT scores (on a 1600 scale) are roughly 400 points below those of Asian students, he should recognize that he will have to work harder and longer in order to compete.

The national conversation, of course, blames everyone but the colleges and the students. But, when you tell students that they have no personal responsibility for their failures, they are going to be less inclined to work hard and to achieve. If they were behind to begin with, the demonstrations double down on their handicap.

Many people have tried to explain the black failure rate. And naturally, they have tended to find ways to rationalize it and to blame white people. Spengler quotes the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education:

Clearly, the racial climate at some colleges and universities is more favorable toward African Americans than at other campuses. A nurturing environment for black students is almost certain to have a positive impact on black student retention and graduation rates. Brown University, for example, although often troubled by racial incidents, is famous for its efforts to make its campus a happy place for African Americans. In contrast, the University of California at Berkeley has had its share of racial turmoil in recent years. The small number of black students on campus as a result of the abolishment of race-sensitive admissions has made many African Americans on campus feel unwelcome. This probably contributes to the low black student graduation rate at Berkeley.

Now the college campus must be a “happy place” for students of color. Doesn’t this sound somewhat infantilizing? Strictly speaking the word “abolishment” exists, but one does better to use the normal word: abolition. As for the situation of black students at Berkeley, one suspects that the stigma imposed on them by affirmative action is alive and well… regrettably so. And one should note that Berkeley has one of the nation’s largest contingents of overachieving Asian students.

In any case the Journal blames it on the black family:

High dropout rates appear to be primarily caused by inferior K-12 preparation and an absence of a family college tradition, conditions that apply to a very large percentage of today’s college-bound African Americans.

Surely, there is truth to this analysis. Spengler adds that we need to take into account the high incidence of broken homes and out-of-wedlock births in the African-American community.

Moreover, there is the problem of multiculturalism. Today, young people are encouraged to affirm their own culture, to be proud of it, even if that culture does not prevail at Harvard or Yale.

One suspects that it is part of the problem. Young people are notoriously prone to join cliques. Ivy League students who went to the same prep school or who come from the same neighborhood are more likely to hang out together. Surely, Chinese students hang out with Chinese students and Indian students spend more time with Indian students.

Students from different cliques might socialize in class and in study groups—but that assumes they are taking the same classes. They have an equal opportunity to participate in class, to impress their peers or not, as the case may be. And students from different cliques live together in dorms, take their meals together and so on.

If the ambient culture encourages conformity—that is, uniformity of dress and grooming, uniformity of table manners and proper classroom decorum—it will be easier to feel that one belongs.

If a student chooses not to conform, perhaps because he insists on affirming the value of his own culture, people from different cultures will avoid him and make him feel like he is not one of the crowd.

The current discussion, if we should even call it that, presupposes that black students cannot take responsibility for their own achievements or lack of same. Of course, this is disempowering, a counsel of despair.

How can the problem be solved? The students and their guidance counselors should consider which schools are best for them, not which schools they can get into. And it should encourage them to work harder, spend more time in the library, spend more time learning to conform to the ambient culture and spend less time fulminating about injustices.


David Foster said...

The excessive reverence paid to the Ivy League is part of the broader trend toward out-of-control credentialism, and is very damaging to American society:


Sam L. said...

The Ivy League is rapidly tearing its reputation down, down, down...