The 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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