The totemic power of Rich/White Kids

Over at Hit&Run, Joanne Jacobs explores a strange fetish among educrats:

Proximity is not destiny, educationally speaking. A generation of experience with racial integration has taught a clear lesson: Sitting black kids next to white kids in school is not a silver bullet that zaps unequal achievement.

However, the faith that proximity leads to equal achievement remains the cargo cult of education. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court barred school assignments based on race to increase racial diversity. So school leaders immediately began considering economic integration plans instead.

Sit poor kids next to middle-class kids. That should work!

Of course, it hasn't worked, as there arent actually magical success rays and penumbras emanating from white or rich/middle class students.

 All is not lost, though, if schools actually tailor their systems and methods to the underachieving; sayeth Joanne:

In my book, Our School, I describe the struggles and triumphs of a charter high school in San Jose, California, that recruits 'D' and 'F' students, works their butts off and sends all graduates to college. Downtown College Prep succeeds because it targets instruction to struggling students who come from low-income and working-class families; most are the children of poorly educated Mexican immigrant parents. Mixing in middle-class whites would dilute the focus.

Success may require explicit teaching of behaviors and skills that middle-class students don't need to be taught and extra counselors to deal with family problems and reach out to parents. It almost certainly requires a longer school day. What isn't essential is proximity to white or middle-class students.

Share this

I don't know much about

I don't know much about american schooling, I only did some graduate studies here, but we do have the kind of 'integration' you describe in France. It works this way: the state gets to choose which public school your children go to (based on where you live) (unless you choose to pay for private education). However unlike the arguments you describe of "magical success rays", when politicians debate the issue, the argument advanced in favor of such a system is not that it helps poor/unpriviledged/dumb kids... far from it.

The argument you hear on national television is that if we don't force integration, good students will gather in the same schools which might then provide better education... which is unfair to the other school. I swear this is not objectivist paranoia, you actually hear this argument put forward.

Recently the current government offered to allow parents to choose the (public) school their children will go to (yet to be implemented), however, it said it would do so because the current system based on location tended to gather rich kids in rich neighboorhoods. It will now create quotas (of what we don't know... IQ, skin color, income) so that the schools remain diverse.


Funnily enough, the market always tries to reclaim its rights in every way possible.

No matter how you look at it, tiered classes seems to be more efficient, but schools cannot legally create those. Yet, they are created de facto through options. In junior high, for example, students are required to pick a second language - generally either spanish or german. The best students will pick german (which is much harder to learn than spanish) and the other will pick spanish.

Since students practicing different second language are in separate groups, they will also have separate math, physics etc courses. The result is tiered classes.

There's nothing automatic in good students picking german, it's just a schelling point. Unfortunately there's a high cost to that, spanish is more useful than german and easier to learn for French, but it's the price to pay to get better biology lessons.

The same happens later on with different pathes, maths vs liberal arts... you end up with a generation of bright students who now math very well and speak fluent german although they were interested in the first place in spanish litterature.

The plural of anecdote is...

Having gone through public schools in the Boston area, I have a good deal of direct experiences in this subject area. None of the problems with bussing that I saw should come as a particular shock to readers of this web site.

Bussing doesn't eliminate individual choice, it just eliminates the choice of which public school to attend. The black children bussed in chose to hang out together to the exclusion of all else, and we chose to let them.

As to the Magical Success Rays, I befriended one of the black children and began teaching him to program computers. His friends let all the other children in his neighborhood know, and he began to receive death threats. He was "trying to act white". He made the logical choice, and stopped hanging out in the computer lab, returning to the basketball court. I learned that large-scale social problems are resistant to direct action.

I have heard of the "acting

I have heard of the "acting white" thing before, but I don't really know much about it. How is it different from the usual pressure high academic achievers often get, regardless of their ethnicity? (this is a genuine question not a rhetorical one)

As someone who would often go to a math book or a computer (instead of playing soccer) I received a similar (at least qualitatively) form of pressure from the other pupils. I was bullied, threatened, etc. To me the logical choice was to ignore pressure.

I am not saying ignoring the pressure is an easy thing to do, especially when it hits you in the face but I am wondering if all this is really "racially motivated" or simply a common phenomena. After all, in any group, intolerance against deviants is an evolutionnary stable trait.

Acting White

I have heard of the "acting white" thing before, but I don't really
know much about it. How is it different from the usual pressure high
academic achievers often get, regardless of their ethnicity?

To answer quickly and specifically, in the case that I mentioned, the people applying the social pressure were heavily armed and had already murdered one or more persons. This changes the math, by raising the stakes considerably.

Before answering more generally, I do not consider myself a rascist. The individual in question came from a failed community. Not all communities which contain black people fail, and not all failed communities fail quite this completely. Also, I Am Not A Social Anthroplogist.

Broadly, "Acting White" is more generally applicable. Academic achievement is, in theory, a virtue. The people who put pressure on me for achievement would first construct a premise; perhaps my achievement was interpreted as a slight, or perhaps some effort was put into balancing out my achievement in the context of my numerous faults and shortcomings. There is a form of emotional logic at work that has its own rules. Your achievement has made them feel small, has hurt them, and they will look for an excuse or context in which retaliation can be justified.

Acting white is different in two ways. First off, it interprets your achievement as a threat or insult to all black people. Within the context of emotional logic, it follows that every black person (who accepts that "acting white" is valid criticism) can feel insulted by the simple fact of your achievement, with no additional excuse or context necessary. You are literally construed as betraying your race.

The second difference has to do with the stakes. Of the various people I went to school with, the worst result of which I am aware is a man who now works at a gas station. He is gainfully employed, and has his hobies and distractions. Compared to a computer programmer, he has failed to take advantage of the education provided, but as failures go his is mild.

The difference between a computer programmer and the worst result in the failed community this individual came from is a great deal more stark. I don't have the citation handy, but there is a game theory involving a random distribution of money from the bank and a round (or two) of penalties, where players can bid some of their money to reduce the winnings of others. The study showed that the player allotted the most money used penalties the most, trying to preserve his relative wealth compared to the other players. The conclusion I drew was that individuals don't care as much about absolute wealth as with relative wealth. The sight of someone heading onward to a career that might earn ten or fifty times the income that you can expect to earn will be perceived as a much larger personal hurt. Emotional logic again, but the part of human nature that hates to see others succeed is most likely a great deal more engaged when the relative difference in success is larger. As it was in this case.

Nice comment Tim

Would you consider posting it on the community aggregator?  (Though I'd understand if you are reluctant given the subject matter.)

No worries

Sure. I didn't want to run for public office anyway.