Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day, Old School Style

cross-posted from Dagblog

I spent most of Memorial Day weekend, all but the day itself, at my spouse's college reunion. It was a lovely weekend among pleasant people on a delightful campus. My spouse went to an extremely famous college very much like the one I went to. In fact, our old schools are traditional rivals, which means that they resemble each other so deeply and thoroughly that they need football to create the illusion that there's any difference.

Being with my spouse's classmates, in her old college town, is a through-the-looking glass experience for me: all of the details are strange but the place as a whole is uncannily familiar. And her classmates, as a group, are statistically identical to my own. All the same people, just not the same actual persons. (My spouse, of course, views my old school and my old classmates in much the same way.) So looking at her class becomes a way for me to see my own more clearly in certain ways. It's easier to look at them all together, to see them as part of our society at large, when I'm not distracted with my own personal relationships or memories about this individual or that one. In some ways, I know too much about who my own classmates once were to see clearly who they have become. My spouse's classmates appear to me as they are today, and seeing them helps me understand what my classmates and I actually look like.

Being on an old and beautiful campus, of course, means passing old and beautiful war memorials: long lists of fallen alumni who gave their lives serving the United States, from the Revolutionary War until today. But I did not see many recent names. Among the many fine old-school traditions that my spouse's classmates honored this weekend, there was not a moment of reflection for the classmates that they had lost to our recent wars. My own classmates do not pause to think about our classmates who have died in uniform, either. This is because none of us have died in Afghanistan or Iraq. Almost none of us have served. There are individual exceptions, here and there. My own graduating class includes at least one highly dedicated (and relatively prominent) professional soldier. But as a group, we didn't answer the call. I'm not even sure we were called, at least not by our nation's leaders.

Until after World War II, it was routine for the sons of privilege and wealth to join the military in times of war. It was, in fact, expected. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, about as privileged and self-indulgent an Ivy Leaguer as they ever came, actually had his rich father pull strings to get him into the Navy. (JFK had already flunked the easier Army physical, and had such serious health problems that he really should not have been let into the service.) Not serving was unthinkable; if JFK had not fought, he would have lost status to his peers who did.

Things are different, now. The wealthy and privileged do not lead our nation on the battlefield. The change has come for many reasons, good as well as bad. We now have a professional standing army during peacetime, and don't count on training an army of green volunteers at the start of every war. We don't hand out commissions (or, for that matter, admission to famous colleges) according to class status the way we used to. And the hereditary rich no longer consider it their charge to lead in every national endeavor. (No one these days would just make Teddy Roosevelt a colonel when he signed up.) The sons of the Ivy League aren't needed to serve as our country's wartime officer corps now; we have an officer corps that knows what it's doing.

But something is lost, too, when the class that takes the lead in business and politics and the arts has lost its connection to our military. We have become a country with a professional military, filled with career soldiers, and a country of military families who fight the home front all by themselves, without any help or much thought from the rest of us. Their sacrifices are seldom remembered and never shared by the lovely folks at my class reunion. We've had armies in the field now for ten and a half years. In that time, my classmates and I have not sacrificed and not been asked to sacrifice. When the country went to war, I stayed in the classroom, and my old classmates stayed in their law firms and hedge funds and Hollywood production offices. While our troops were in the field, many of us got very, very rich. Our leaders encouraged us to do exactly that. In fact, the richest of us were given a massive tax cut, so that we could grow richer still.

I don't say this to point fingers at my wife's lovely classmates, or my old friends from my own school. They can all say that someone else, someone better suited for the job than they, was already on the job. (I'll admit right now that I would make a pretty bad soldier.) I'm not blaming my friends, or myself, for not answering the call. The plain fact is, we were never called.

But it's also true that we were once a country whose ruling class fought personally in its wars, and put its own sons in harm's way. Those people might have felt an unattractive entitlement to lead, but at least sometimes balanced that with the idea that their privilege carried obligations. We have become a country where the ruling class no longer feels that its wealth and privilege obliges it to do anything but increase that privilege and wealth, where the sense of entitlement is absolute and pure. That, too, is worth remembering.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The End of College as We Know It (Not)

cross-posted from Dagblog

So, I started blogging about Thomas Friedman's rah-rah piece about how Online. Education. Is about! To Change!!! EVERYTHING!1!!! But I've been slowed down by designing an actual online class, and by various things that tend not to slow Tom Friedman down, such as complexity, plausibility, and actual knowledge of the topic. I don't think online education is a glorious revolution in the making, as Friedman does, and I don't think it's a hopeless case either. I can't tell you the simple, clear story that Friedman can, because I know too much to actually believe one.

But let me say this: when op-ed writers talk about college as we know it being totally transformed into something totally unlike universities as we've known them (and a surprising number of op-ed writers are fond of saying things like that), they don't actually mean what they're saying. They don't even want what they say they want. Traditional college education is not going away, and they don't want it to. What they mean is that they want college education to go away for some people.

Whatever changes in American education, the rich and famous universities are going to adapt, survive, and continue doing basically what they've been doing all along: educating hand-picked crops of promising students in a traditional residential setting, a few thousand at a time. People talk about American education being "broken" or about an "education bubble" about to burst, but the places like Harvard and Stanford and MIT are doing fine. By a lot of standards they're doing better than ever. If this is what "broken" looks like, don't wait up nights for it to get fixed.

And it should be noted that it tends to be these very places, like Stanford, Harvard, and MIT, who have recently made high-profile investments in free online education, such as the Massive Open On-Line Courses (MOOCs) that helped get Friedman so worked up about the Great Leap Forward. But you can be sure that Stanford, Harvard, and MIT don't see these big, tuition-free initiatives as any threat to their core enterprise of selective residential education in face-to-face classrooms. You can be sure of that because if they thought these new offerings would kill off their core business, they would not be offering them.  (Confidential to Thomas Friedman: Duh.)

Any big changes in American higher education will leave the big institutions pretty much alone. Nobody's going to make Harvard do anything that's not to its own benefit. When excitable pundits talk about abolishing college as we know it, they mean getting rid of the other colleges. You know, the not-so-elite ones. The ones that almost every college student in America actually goes to.

When people talk about radical changes to American education, they mean scrapping the public universities and some of the modestly-endowed private schools, "reforming" them by offering some less expensive alternative that's good enough for little people. You'll hear many of the same pundits saying that "college shouldn't be for everyone," and that they do mean. They don't want to abolish traditional colleges for themselves, or their children. They just want to abolish it for the rest of us.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Getting to No: Obama and the Republicans

cross-posted from Dagblog

I am delighted by Obama's statement on gay marriage. I'm proud to be an American today.

A great deal of focus is rightly on Obama himself today, on his decision-making process and on how he got here. But I'd like to take a second to think about the anti-gay-marriage movement and how it got here. This week should have been a triumph for them. Tuesday night they won their hard-line constitutional amendment in North Carolina, banning not only gay marriage (which was already illegal), but civil unions and anything that resembled a civil union. Wednesday should have been a day to celebrate their victory.

Instead, they had a sitting President of the United States taking a public stand against them on national television, in an election year. And it was actually worse than that: a famously cautious and accommodating politician caught up in a very tough re-election fight threw the full weight of his office behind a position that polls at barely better than 50/50 and that just got solidly voted down in a swing state. And by doing that, he put hope and energy back into a movement that should have been feeling defeated and demoralized. How did the anti-gay movement get to the point where the President would do that in an election year? How did they get to the point where this President did that in an election year?

I think this is the fruit of the right wing's general strategy of obstructing Obama. This is a President bent on compromise, facing an opposition party that refuses to take yes for an answer. The President offers a health-care-reform bill based on Republican ideas, and gets denounced as a diabolical socialist.  And the Republicans in Washington have adopted a bizarre negotiation strategy that I can only call "getting to no." In a normal, rational negotiation you respond to concessions from the other side by making a concession of your own and moving toward a middle ground that both parties can live with. The Republican strategy, if I can call it strategy, has been to respond to every concession by making more extreme demands. Ask for something, get offered half, and respond by tripling your original demand. This strategy can only work if the other party is in such a hopeless position that you don't actually need to negotiate with them anyway, or it can work for a short time simply because it's so strange that it takes the other side by surprise and you take advantage of their confusion. But sooner or later, the other party figures it out, and stops negotiating.

North Carolina's constitutional amendment is a classic getting-to-no move. Gay marriage is illegal? Let's make it more illegal! And outlaw civil unions! And outlaw gay couples using other legal means, such as estate planning, to get any protections for their joint property! Ha ha!

Well, yesterday they got their no. I suspect they actually wanted it, and I hope they're pleased.

It isn't clear to me whether this decision will help or hurt Obama in the election. But it's very clear to me that he's safe from any tide of outrage against him. Everyone who'd be angry with him over this is already outraged with him. He gets outrage when he tries to make nice with them. And the outrage machine is already set to eleven. That means there's really nothing else they can do to him.

Rush Limbaugh is saying that Barack Obama is waging war on the American way of life. You know what that makes this? Thursday. Obama gets accused of scheming against American freedoms when he does bipartisan back-bends for a week. He has shown a lot of deference to the Right on their core issues. So they attack him over peripheral issues, or make up phantom issues and fight for them as if they're making their principled last stand. What that means, in the long run, is that Obama pays no price for opposing the Right, because the price of opposing them is already built in. And it means that he's free to oppose the Right on the issues they care about most of all, because they don't have anything left in reserve to fight him with.

If you don't make any distinction between your major policy goals and your minor ones, then in the end you won't be able to protect the major ones. And if you never compromise, no one compromises with you. It's only reason. Here's your no. There are more where that came from.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Naomi Schaefer Riley and the Rules of Academia

cross-posted from Dagblog

So, Naomi Schaefer Riley has been fired from blogging at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Since I recently called the blog post that got her fired stupid and racist, I'm not sorry about her firing. I also pointed out that the kind of "anti-reverse-racism" racism that her post traffics in has become the refuge of losers and whiners making excuses for their failure.

Cue Riley's defenders on the right-wing (Abby W. Schachter, Rod Dreher, Katherine Lopez), who immediately put on a clinic in resentment studies. I would like to thank them for making my point for me; like so many right-wingers who pretend to be defending meritocracy from "reverse racism" or "political correctness," they shamelessly play the victim card to excuse the predictable failures of a mediocrity. In their narrative, Riley was "shouted down" after offering "polite and coherent criticism." Her only substantive flaw was allegedly "not reading the entirety of the dissertations" she trashed; in fact, Riley did not read a single word of those dissertations. And her firing is called, I kid you not, "tyranny."

Apparently, it is tyrannical to require that an opinion writer know anything whatsoever about what she is writing about. And the Chronicle of Higher Education apparently owes her a regular salary for writing blog posts without doing even basic research for them. Evidently that's somewhere in Burke.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, except for conservative pundits. They are the main victim of tyranny in our time.

Let me explain something about the way academia works. People like to say that academics have a left-wing bias. Maybe, maybe not; I don't have space to argue that here. But the real truth is that academics have much more powerful biases that aren't part of their politics but are just part of being an academic. These include some "unwritten rules" that aren't left "unwritten" to exclude outsiders but because they seem so intuitively obvious, so much a part of what college professors do every day, that they go completely unstated. But sometimes outsiders do need things explained.

So. Here are the two most important rules in the academic world:

1. Talk about things you know.
2. Don't talk about things you don't know.

That's it. There are a bunch of other rules that naturally arise from these two, but these are the fundamental ones. Talking about things you know and not about things you don't know is the basic ethos. If you break these rules at a college or university, you are a jerk. Period.

Riley not only broke those rules, but pointed out how badly she was breaking them, and scoffed at the silly people who would ever have a silly rule like that. If you're writing that in the Chronicle of Higher Education, it's not a firing offense. It's a resignation letter.

Scholars are not necessarily smarter than other people. But they do study more. That's what makes them scholars: the intense and sustained effort they put into knowing things. There's the basic mastery of their discipline, learning whatever it takes to become an anthropologist or a physicist. And then there's laborious research to find out something new that no one but you knows yet. Knowledge is what gives scholars their academic authority. It's the basic currency of our trade. Knowledge allows us to publish. Knowledge is our qualification to teach. (Teaching people things that they already know is pointless, and teaching them things that you don't know is impossible.) No matter how smart we might or might not be personally, we stand or fall by how much we know. And almost all of us became academics in the first place because we wanted to know things. Trust me, you don't spend as much time as I do thinking about 16th-century theater history because you're looking to make a few extra bucks. I actually want to know about it.

When Riley dumped on the idea that she would read even a page, even a paragraph, of a dissertation before publishing her condemnation of it and then condemning its entire field, she was dumping on the value of knowledge itself. Why should she read something before publishing her judgment of it? Why bother to know what she's talking about? Boasting about ignorance, being proud of not knowing, to an audience of scholars is like bragging about arson to an audience of firefighters. That Riley was being deliberately inflammatory didn't help. But what really did her in was that she was trashing her audience's most basic values. Why the surprise that they don't want to read more from her?

She was also breaking academic's biggest social taboo. University faculty can, alas, find all kinds of ways, subtle or crude, to express their personal sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, or homophobia, and always have. Expressing a nasty prejudice only requires the right choice of words and of listener. But talking about stuff you don't know is a universal academic taboo and brings embarrassment to anyone who breaks it. This behavior gets policed not by liberal or conservative orthodoxy, but by the sheer fact of being around other academics. If you talk about things you don't know at a bar, the bartender politely ignores your bullshit. If you talk about things you don't know in a university, you quickly ending up talking your weak bullshit to someone who has spent an adult lifetime amassing knowledge about the very subject you're trying to bluff them on. Two guesses how that goes.

Every academic is surrounded, every work day, by dozens of people who know vast amounts about things he or she does not personally know. The workplace has anthropologists and physicists, art historians and neurologists. But no one in the workplace is more than one of those things. I happen not to be any of them. If I try to bullshit my friends in the math department about algebraic topology, it is not going to go well. And if, by chance, someone decided to run their mouth about 16th-century theater history without anything to back them up, I would notice pretty quickly. Everybody in a university runs a constant risk of embarrassing themselves through their ignorance, and in the scholarly value system ignorance is the cardinal embarrassment. Which brings us back to the rule:
don't talk about things you don't know.

When Riley broke that rule and then, after the first round of criticism, flouted it, she was indulging the very behavior that every Chronicle of Higher Education reader instinctively cringes from, something we avoid so thoroughly that it's hard even to articulate what we're avoiding or why. She was also behaving in exactly the way that marks an academic among academics as an asshole. For us, talking about what you don't know about isn't just one sign of an asshole. It is the definition of being an asshole. A guy who's spouting off in a bar about string theory, which he doesn't remotely understand, is just a jerk. Now imagine that guy spouting off about string theory to Stephen Hawking. That's approximately how big a jerk you look like if you spout off about stuff you don't understand to other academics.

Now, I understand that everybody outside the academy doesn't see this the same way. It is very obvious that many opinion writers, at least on the conservative side of the aisle, feel quite comfortable talking about things they don't know. Some of Riley's defenders seem genuinely surprised that not reading the dissertations she was trashing was held against her. Her own defense of herself has the unreflective confidence of someone who believes the norms of her profession are on her side, and feels serenely confident that reading the things she was attacking was not required. Reading the New York Times Op-Ed page makes the cultural divide all too obvious. Paul Krugman, the academic turned pundit, tends to stick closely to economics and talk about things he knows; David Brooks blithely alludes to new research in cognitive studies or some other abstruse subject about which he knows very little and, too often, understands less. Ross Douthat recently wrote a book, Bad Religion, in which he dismisses the last several decades of research on early Christianity, basically lumping in scholars like Elaine Pagels with New Age figures like Deepak Chopra. To someone like me, formed by years in academia, that seems ludicrous. Pagels, and scholars like her, have built up an impressive body of knowledge about early Christian and Gnostic writings; their conclusions might be wrong, but I work from the premise that proving them wrong would require a great deal of very specific knowledge that Douthat doesn't have. (This isn't about academic credentials. One of the great 16th-century theater historians of my generation is an independent scholar without a degree in a relevant field, but he is enormously learned. Saying that Ross Douthat doesn't have a Ph.D. is merely snobbery. Saying that Ross Douthat can't read Biblical Greek or Aramaic is merely a fact.) Douthat has strong opinions about Pagels's scholarship. But to me, that's a statement much like "Ross Douthat has strong opinions about the nature of electromagnetism." What could it matter? But clearly, talking about things he doesn't know is perfectly comfortable for Douthat. Opinion writers typically defend themselves by saying that they're not scholars, and are only expressing their opinions. But to scholars, expressing opinions about things you don't know about seems pointless and embarrassing.

This basic difference in the way academics and pundits discuss things sometimes leads right-leaning pundits to accuse academics of lefty "political correctness" when we're simply behaving according to the normal logic of our profession. The downfall of Larry Summers as President of Harvard was widely denounced as the triumph of political correctness after Summers gave a speech that was widely (and all too plausibly) perceived as sexist. Harvard was yielding to political correctness! The President of the University was not allowed to express his opinion without being accused of bias. Summers, you see, had expressed the opinion that there might be hard-wired biological differences in male and female brains that led to a greater dispersion of mathematical talent among men then among women, with more men ending up in the ultra-high or ultra-low range. To pundits, Summers was expressing a perfectly reasonable position. To academics, Summers was spouting off about things he doesn't know. He is not a neurologist, not a cognitive scientist, not a biologist. Larry Summers is, in fact, an economist, and the research he was talking about was not his own. Researching the hypothesis that there's a different distribution of mathematical talent in the male and female populations is perfectly valid. That's not sexism, but science. Talking for some mysterious reason about some research someone else is doing outside your field, research whose quality Summers could not even evaluate for himself, is just talking out your ass, and that's how it was received. Summers began that fateful speech by saying that he could talk about the things that he, as President of the University, had been doing to recruit more women faculty in the sciences (i.e. talk about things he knew), but ... naahhh. It was more fun to talk about some research he had kind of heard about. He preferred to talk about things he didn't know. And for his fans in the conservative press, any objection to that could only be a sign of political bias.

I know that the way academics do things, sticking to topics they know something about, must seem very strange to people at the National Review Online or the Wall Street Journal editorial page. I know that our way of doing things seems bizarre and decadent to them. Naomi Schaefer Riley will happily tell you about how little intellectual integrity academics have. So let me boil down the rules for them in pithier form:

Knowledge talks. Bullshit walks.

But I understand that some have different values.

UPDATE: Destor pushes back against this post, reasonably, and I do my best to clarify.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Racism for Dummies: Naomi Schaefer Riley Edition

cross-posted from Dagblog

So, on Monday, the conservative journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley, who specializes in attacking academics, wrote a Chronicle of Higher Education blog post which she titled:

The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies: Just Read the Dissertations.

The kicker, of course, is that she herself did not read the dissertations. Or a chapter of each dissertation. Or an abstract of each dissertation. Of course not. (And no, she's not getting a link from me.)

Instead, she read a magazine article sidebar with brief descriptions of three (count them, three) dissertations. Having done that reading, Schaefer Riley feels entitled to 1) trash the content of the dissertations,  which she calls "left-wing victimization claptrap," 2) malign the intellect of the graduate students working on those dissertations, and 3) call for "eliminating the discipline" of black studies at all universities nationwide, on the basis of ... wait for it ... lack of rigorous intellectual standards.

Rigorous intellectual standards such as reading magazine sidebars, I suppose. I can't imagine what else would be required.

Riley has received a good deal of pushback; you can find excellent critiques, including a response from the students she maligned, here, here, here, and here. And there are excellent reasons for critique: her choice of targets who couldn't fight back, her claim that racism has not been a problem since 1963, and her attempt to blame "the problems that plague the black community" on "fundamental problems in black culture that cannot be blamed on white people," since of course, there has been no white-on-black racism in this country since 1963. Since Riley views all challenges faced by African-Americans since 1963 to come from African-Americans themselves, and condemns any implication to the contrary to be racist, then Riley must consider Martin Luther King, Jr. a suicide.

But the true racism here is in Riley's stupidity. Because that's what racism is: white people's entitlement to be dumb.

Racism means believing that anything you say, no matter how half-assed or ill-informed, is automatically smart and important because you're white. Racism means being able to mock people of other races as stupid and ignorant because they know things you don't. You can just assume that you know more than they do, because you're white and they're not. They've spent years doing primary research in a scholarly field. You have read a sidebar in a magazine. Obviously, you are the one who gets to judge their intellect.

Modern American racism masquerades as a defense of meritocracy. It is of course just the opposite. It is a defense of mediocrity and failure against genuine competition. Most racists who've been to college have learned how to be subtle about it. Riley is stupid and crude enough to give away the game. Racism promotes the presumption of intellectual and educational superiority, which means never having to prove your learning or intelligence. This is extremely convenient for white people who could not actually prove their intellectual superiority because they're barely intellectually superior to a cucumber.

In the kinder, gentler form of racism, blacks are considered intellectually inferior until they prove otherwise. In the purer, viler strain, which is much more common than it appears, proof doesn't matter: Barack Obama must be an intellectual fraud, African-Americans getting Ph.D.s don't count as "legitimate scholars." But even in the "nicer" form of racism, blacks only get grudgingly accepted as equals, and the white people have to concede that equality. Pat Buchanan gets to opine on whether Sonia Sotomayor is well-educated enough; who asked him? The idea that any given white person might not be as smart as a given black person, and that the white person doesn't get a vote on whether or not that's true, never enters the picture. This is a wonderful situation for the many, many, many white people who are not as smart as they want to think they are, including Naomi Schaefer Riley.

 (Riley's defenders will point out that she went to Harvard and graduated magna cum laude. This is true. But it doesn't mean Riley isn't a fool. Harvard isn't a credential I feel any need to bow down to. I have a  Harvard degree; it doesn't convey magical knowledge of things I haven't read. Going to a good college isn't the license to be an idiot for the rest of your life that some people take it as; a good education obliges you to continue educating yourself. "Magna cum laude" is not Latin for "don't bother reading anything else.")

Modern American racism makes a profound appeal to losers and mediocrities, people who have not achieved the success or respect they expected, counted on, and believed that they deserved. Some of these people do not look like failures from the outside, but fall very far short of their own vainglorious ambitions for themselves. Graduating from Harvard isn't a sign of failure, but if you think your magna cum laude from Harvard entitles you to either a billion dollars or Pulitzer before 30 (as many Harvard grads do seem to think), you're likely to be very disappointed. At that point, a hypothetical Harvard grad, whose ambitions were Not So Realistic, can either choose to look inside and accept being only Normally Smart, Really, or else look around for something or someone to blame. If you can't bear to abandon your unrealistic expectations of yourself, and can't face the truth that you're not making the cut, you begin to make excuses, which is when you join the ranks of the losers. And of course, there is a more than ample supply of losers and mediocrities who fall short of anyone's definition of success. Too many of those people are too happy to blame other people for their frustrations, and in America black people are always easy to blame.

If you generally believe yourself to be bright and well-qualified, you don't waste your time bitching about this or that petty advantage or disadvantage. Maybe affirmative action policies close this or that particular job to you at a specific moment, the same way someone's unforeseen decision about retirement might open or close a particular job at a particular time. Life is full of little variables like that, and affirmative action isn't an especially big one. If you're good enough, you have faith that it will all come out in the wash. You don't whine that you face tiny disadvantages. And you surely don't complain that your white race doesn't provide you advantage enough.

But racism, and especially the anti-affirmative-action "reverse racism" canard, allows endless excuses for one's own failures. Didn't get into medical school? Blame some black student rather than your MCAT scores. Didn't get into the college of your choice? Blame a black applicant. Never mind that the schools you didn't get into are still positively packed with white people, all of whom got in just fine. The only explanation for your failure can be racial bias! Political correctness has taken away your God-given right to be a marginally-qualified student! But back in the bad old days, marginal white applicants who missed the cut knew that they had missed the cut. Now every white applicant gets to imagine him or herself as someone who would have made it, if it weren't for those pesky non-white people (and to imagine those non-white applicants being incredibly underqualified). Every white kid who's ever gotten a B in something gets to be at least a bubble prospect! It is self-esteem gold.

Conservatives like to sneer at minority claims of "victimhood" and at "politically correct" emphasis on "self-esteem." But American racism, and most of all the form of American racism that poses as fighting against "reverse racism," is nothing but one long whine of victimhood in defense of wounded self-esteem. It is pathetic, like Riley's whining defense that she's only "a journalist" and therefore can't be expected to read "all of the dissertations" that she hasn't read at all. Racism is the enemy of meritocracy in our country. It is the defense of every white person's right to be a special snowflake, judged only by the standards they choose to set for themselves. It is white people's passionate demand not to have those test scores count against them. It is their plea for social promotion.

American racism is the badge of the loser and the crybaby. It is a mockery of every value to which its craven pleas appeal: merit, excellence, self-reliance, justice. It is the song of the whiner and the blame shifter. It is a refusal to take personal responsibility. It is a profound moral failure. But it is also a failure of character.