Scalia Wasn’t Being Racist (This Time)

gavelThe Supreme Court justice everyone loves to hate is in hot water (or at least a lot of memes) this week over a controversial statement about race quotas in American universities that has been homeopathically distilled to “black kids should go to slower track schools.”

What he really did was reference an amicus brief that relied on historic data. When 50th percentile blacks (or any demographic) are pitted against the rest of their 90th percentile Freshman class, the end results are discouraging, even painful. Half of Affirmative Action placements wind up in the lowest 20% of the class academically; they change in major and drop out at much higher rates than the rest of their class.

I empathize with these students from personal experience:

After Desert Storm I was trying to get back into school. The GI Bill and other programs paid most of my fees and even put some money in my pocket for books and pizza. I had been a “five point A” student in high school so I reckoned with my additional life experience I’d blow past these other kids. Ouch. All the professors were teaching to students who had taken a short summer break, not a multi-year overseas camping trip with adult fireworks.

I struggled. I really struggled. I promised, I bargained, I cried. I flunked my first math exam because I used calculator notion 6.23E20 instead of the standard 6.23 x 10^20. I couldn’t keep up with the new material, let alone complete assignments. Eventually I stopped going to class, got a temp job, and tried to regroup to try it all over again from scratch next semester.

I was once a fan of the theory of Affirmative Action in education. If we have systemic racism, systemic corrections must be required. But the reality of thrusting a low scoring student into these competitive environments can be devastating, demoralizing. I personally should have done a couple years at community college before trying to pick up an engineering degree.

If a young black man or lady has the chops to compete in this environment, more power to them. Fund them, support them, broadcast their successes. But tweaking college admission standards to pit academically weak students against a more advanced student body is recipe for disaster. The brief Scalia held up is not a racist screed, but an acknowledgement of the hardships on the ground for these kids and the resultant destruction of lives, versus encouraging students to choose an academic track and school appropriate for their talents and experience.

More info at this older article in The Atlantic.

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Jay is Editor In Chief of The Agonist, veteran and technologist.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I’m glad you added (This Time). 😀

      I had a similar experience returning to college after a 4-year hiatus in the USAF. Turned out that during my absence from academia, the teaching of mathematics went through a complete change. with ‘Set Theory’ being the preferred approach. I went from being a math whiz to being totally bewildered.

      On the other hand, my military training and experience with Russian put me far ahead of the younger students. That’s why I changed majors from math to linguistics.

  • It’s my understanding this case is not about Affirmative Action per se. The University of Texas has a program which allows the enrollment of students who do not meet its more stringent entrance requirements. When this privileged white student applied to this lesser program, UT had slots for 47 students. Of these 47 slots, 5 were given to black students and 42 were given to white students.

    Yes, some of the 47 had lower grades than the privileged white student, but the university also examined other criteria. The privileged white student felt she should have been part of the 47; the university, based upon examination of those ‘other criteria’, disagreed.

    The fact you and Scalia went on and on about the negatives of Affirmative Action (and the negatives of the college environment) when the actual issue referenced by the case is totally different, is a tell.

    • I wasn’t writing about the greater case, just trying to talk about what I saw as an overreaction on social media to a specific quote. I don’t expect to be drawn to defend Scalia again any time soon.

  • Your first two paragraphs absolutely deal with slams against ‘affirmative action’. Scalia absolutely dredges up slams against ‘affirmative action’. The case has nothing to do with ‘affirmative action’ and so it seems to me that neither you nor Scalia should have brought it up.

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