Friday, July 9, 2021

What Anti-Racism Hath Wrought

Here’s a view from the trenches. It was written pseudonymously by “Gregory Hansen” for the Australian site, Quillette. In it a man who taught English at community colleges explains what happened in his classrooms when the government decided to admit students regardless of their ability and their academic competence. The story dates to several decades ago. The author is now retired. Take it for what it’s worth.

If it happened several decades ago, that means, if I may, that today's brouhaha about anti-racism is the consequence of longstanding diversity programs and affirmative action programs.

First, Hansen explains that he, being a white teacher, was blamed when his minority students were getting low grades and were dropping out. Black students were not allowed to fail. White teachers were failing them.

So, Hansen writes of a meeting with a black educator:

A friend of the president, a “distinguished black educator,” flew in from Washington, DC to speak to us. We learned that we were failing our black students—that their disproportionately low grades and dropout rates were our fault.

By this time, after a decade of teaching students from minimally educated, working poor families, I was thoroughly familiar with the difficulty of bringing unprepared or unmotivated students of any color or background up to anything like a college level. Many students lacked even middle-school reading competence. Many could not write a complete sentence. Some skipped classes and failed to turn in assignments—or just dropped out. But the college mission was to educate everyone. We were an “open door” institution, with a high school diploma or GED sufficient for admission. We were here to give students the chance none in their families had ever had before, and we believed in our mission. Toward the end of the meeting I raised my hand and asked how, given reading and preparation levels, we could possibly increase grades and graduation rates without lowering standards. “What do you teach?” he asked. “English,” I offered. “You don’t teach English,” he corrected me. “You teach White Studies.”

One needs to mention that these students were the product of America's educational system, the one that is controlled by the teachers' unions and the Democratic politicians they own. These students were not being taught in charter schools, where academic performance and discipline are the order of the day.

So, the politicians had defined a mission. Minority children were suffering because some politicians and bureaucrats had decided that everyone should have a college education, regardless. Obviously, the casualty was eventually going to be, academic standards. It would be easier to give everyone an A than to be accused of being a racist.

As often happens today, educators learned that certain problems cannot be discussed, at all. 

My colleagues and I now found it risky to discuss the achievement problems of blacks openly. We found ourselves self-censoring, privately lamenting the arrival of implicit rules and taboos. The following year, the president left to assume the presidency of another college, where, according to newspaper accounts, racial conflict again swirled around him. His departure, never officially acknowledged as a removal, was handled, as the Chancellor himself later explained privately, “very delicately.”

And then, affirmative action became the guiding light when the college had to choose a new director of financial aid:

However, affirmative action had a direct bearing on a later search for a director of financial aid, and despite a theoretical demand for competence as well as color in a candidate, the result was a quiet acceptance of marginal qualifications. Within a few years, our new director’s career had been ended by a federal conviction and jail time. He’d persuaded black students, many of whom never attended class, to take out student loans and split the money with them. Eventually, the students were surprised by bills for repayment, didn’t pay, federal authorities were alerted, and the scam blew up.

Hansen continued on his own personal crusade, to educate students who had never learned how to study and who had been coddled through the school system. His tough love, Tiger Mom approach sometimes worked. Many times it did not. Dare we mention that the ambient national discourse makes it impossible today for a teacher to exercise authority in the classroom.

On one occasion, three young black men in Developmental, who routinely sat in the back talking as I attempted to teach, stalked out the door when I told them to pay attention. Furious, I chased them down the hall, shouting, “Get yourselves back in class or you’ve all just failed!” They kept walking.

No teacher today would dare commit such an outrage. The outcome would be a time-wasting round of meetings with administration and the victimized students focusing on implicit bias, creation of a hostile learning environment, and concerns about safety. It would be no surprise if the use of racial slurs were falsely alleged. The next day, one of the students returned to class and went on to pass. He had received exactly what he needed—a sting of authority that did not tolerate disruption. After class, two sisters from Hong Kong lingered (their father had sent them to America to develop English skills and perhaps gain citizenship before handover to the People’s Republic of China). “We just can’t believe how some American students treat the teachers,” said the eldest. “This could never happen in China.” “I believe it,” I said.

In time, students had all learned that poor grades meant that the teachers were racist. Thus were academic standards eliminated. But, at the same time, when it these same students went out into the business world, they discovered that their skills were clearly inadequate. Then they denounced the culture for being systemically racist:

I began encountering students who felt that receipt of a poor grade was simply evidence of my racism. The rules of Standard English were seen as an arbitrary white man’s game designed to hinder blacks, and three sheets of paper filled with rambling thoughts were thought to qualify as an essay. I read theme after theme where students had been neither prepared to think logically and sequentially nor spell and use complete sentences. They had been passed on in English as they moved through grades K-12. Why then, they wondered, was this particular white teacher choosing to roadblock them?

As we are seeing today, the anti-racism mania is being extended to scientific disciplines. The medical profession has now undertaken to lower standards for admission into the practice of medicine. In the old days, the first discipline to be undermined by anti-racism was nursing:

Race-related disputes eventually spilled over into scientific and technical curricula. A nursing colleague told me that administration was questioning her and her colleagues’ commitment to diversity—that is, more black students should graduate. Nursing had always been one of our most demanding majors, with students of all colors frequently dropping out. “What are we to do?” she lamented. “Erroneous medical charting? Misunderstanding a care plan? Misreading a decimal point? So dangerous!” At least, I thought to myself, no lives were at risk in White Studies.

Sadly, those who suffer most from this regime are minority students. They are being coddled by the educational establishment, mostly because teachers are living under the threat of losing their jobs or of being attacked physically for giving bad grades:

 It is difficult to convey the toll taken—semester after semester, year after year, decade after decade—by a teaching environment in which a single criticism or correction or incautious remark can produce an explosion and formal or informal disciplinary proceedings. For almost 50 years, I’ve had to be on the alert, recognizing that conflict with any student other than a heterosexual white male could cost me….

The supreme irony is that affirmative action, diversity, equity, and inclusion policies do silent damage to the very students in greatest need of help. Those in a favored demographic are assured that their struggles arise from the malign external forces of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and so on. They are offered a false choice: either accept their victimhood as persons without agency who must silently suffer injustice, or throw themselves into the abolition of patriarchal, heteronormative, colonialist whiteness. 

As I said, in community colleges this has been ongoing for decades. Given that it has failed, we have now decided that it be applied to the rest of America, regardless of the results.


urbane legend said...

What happens when one of these diversity doctors kills a President or member of Congress? Depends on the party of the deceased, of course.

When a diversity lawyer representing a member of the oppressed class loses a liability suit?

I could go on but you get the idea.

370H55V said...

The Z Man had a memorable quote on his blog yesterday. File for future reference.

"The custodial state is the sensibilities of women armed with the weapons and power created by men."

urbane legend said...

I can't accept that. I know far too many women with good sense, even down to under 40. But yes, I also know many without it.