Friday, January 06, 2006

Don't Give Up

Though sure to be controversial -- even offensive -- to some, McWhorter's views are worth considering seriously.
Clearly Mr. McWhorter is concerned less with public policy than with black America's psychological readiness to join the competitive mainstream. Like welfare, he argues, the outlook of the underclass requires reform. But such reform will not occur as long as a set of corrosive beliefs holds sway advising blacks that the system is rigged against them and encouraging in them "therapeutic alienation" -- an exaggerated sense of victimhood. There is consolation in such beliefs, Mr. McWhorter concedes, but they are no way to win the race.
Whether one agrees with McWhorter that a sense of victimization is a major contributor to what ails the black community in this country, there can be no doubt that victimization is perhaps the most debilatating mindset that a human can possibly have.
KIPP certainly understands this.  David Levin once said something that's in one sense so obvious, yet also profound -- even revolutionary: "We don't pity our students."  Let's be clear: many if not most KIPP students deserve our sympathy: virtually all are poor, most come from single-parent households, they often live in chaotic, dangerous families and/or neighborhoods, etc.  Yet KIPP doesn't pity them; instead, it says to students: whatever problems you might have, we'll help you deal with them, but we're not going to accept them as an excuse.  We WILL set high expectations for you, and you WILL show up to school every day at 7:30am, you WILL do all of your homework every day, you WILL behave in school and treat everyone around you with respect, you WILL achieve, you WILL go to college, you WILL make something of your life.
Those are immensely powerful messages that are the root of KIPP's success.  Lots of educators and policymakers could learn a great deal from what KIPP's doing...

Don't Give Up

January 5, 2006; Page D8

In the wake of last year's rioting in France -- centered in Muslim neighborhoods near Paris -- we Americans may feel tempted, understandably, to congratulate ourselves, noting our superior capacity to bring into the mainstream people of different nationalities, cultures and skin colors. But the self-congratulation should go only so far. Yes, various nonwhite immigrant groups continue to find a place in American society and to do well, but there remains, in more than a few instances, a wide gap -- in income and cultural identity -- between America's white and black citizens. Indeed, the U.S. is the only prosperous democracy to have a large, racially distinct underclass where unemployment, criminality and fatherless families are too often the norm.

Why this is so and what we are to do about it is the principal theme of John McWhorter's splendid "Winning the Race." In particular, Mr. McWhorter examines why the optimism that defined the years of the civil-rights movement has been replaced by defeatism and alienation in the black community -- even as America's racial attitudes and policies have changed so dramatically for the better.

[Winning the Race]
Why does racial inequality persist? Partly because of the fatalistic explanations for it.

Mr. McWhorter's answers are anything but orthodox, and little wonder: He is routinely classified -- and, in certain circles, dismissed -- as a "black conservative." But his views are not easily labeled. He advocates some drug decriminalization, for instance, and favors affirmative action for those in economic need (but not for middle-class children or the children of immigrants). He didn't even vote for George W. Bush. Still, he argues compellingly that the widely accepted ideas that try to explain the persistence of racial inequality -- leftist views, for the most part -- stand in the way of black progress.

Like others, Mr. McWhorter blames open-ended welfare and the fashions of the white counterculture -- especially its glorification of drug use -- for damaging precisely the generation of blacks that should have reaped the benefits of civil-rights change. But he also blames an academic establishment and intellectual elite that seem unwilling to judge the dynamics of black life by the standards that it applies to other groups.

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