Monday, June 26, 2006

Fair, In and Out of School

As a teacher I'm often told that something's not "fair". As a conservative I'm told that certain governmental policies aren't "fair". As a white I'm told that American society itself isn't "fair".

Just what is "fair"?

My post about the institutional racism displayed by a Seattle school district has been revisited recently by a commenter who wants to tell me about an "egalitarian progressive" utopia he hopes for. I told him that definition is the same as that of "communism", and we all know how that turned out--unless you're an ardent leftie, in which case you claim that true communism has never really been tried so we don't really know if it would bring about the worker's paradise or not. This commenter seems only to want to talk about color, race, prejudice, and racism. In it he describes what he doesn't see as "fair".

Let's talk about fair.

Here's a story about fairness that I probably got from an economics book:

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack makes $10,000 a year and pays 10%, or $1,000 a year, for the use of the well. Jill makes $100,000 a year (note the political correctness of having the woman make more than the man) and pays 5%, or $5,000 a year, for the use of the well. Is this fair? And if it's not fair, in whose favor is the benefit? Is there any charge that everyone would conclude is indisputedly fair?

Today I read over at Discriminations (see blogroll at left) a post John wrote about fairness as it applies to civil rights. Needless to say, I agree with John 100% in this case.

I have complained here a number of times (most recently earlier today) about “the transformation of ‘civil rights’ from its traditional concern with individual rights to the newer belief in group rights....” It should come as no surprise that at the core of the debate over the proper meaning of “civil rights” is a disagreement over what fairness requires.

At the heart of the traditional notion of civil rights is the belief that fairness requires judging all individuals by the same standards, without regard to race, creed, or color. The newer, “diversity”-based notion of civil rights, by contrast, requires “taking race into account” to ensure that all groups receive rewards in direct proportion to their numbers.

There's a related term in education circles--"equity", ensuring equal outcomes across the races.

This is one of the differences that I keep pointing out between the views of the American Left and American Right today--they see people only as members of groups, whereas we see people as individuals. Sometimes I'm (wrongly) accused of racism because I refuse to take people's race into account in my teaching, as if your skin color determines how you learn. There's a great quote from the movie Stand And Deliver, which I'll paraphrase here: "There are two types of racism, Mr. Escalante. Singling people out because of their race, and not singling people out because of their race." Promoting Thurgood Marshall's and Dr. King's dreams of a truly colorblind society--not one that ignores race, but one that doesn't allow race to separate people before the law--would alleviate both kinds of racism.


40 said...

It's all fair and good as to what your intent is. You want to measure people (as Dr. King said) through the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

However, I learned today that in the state of Texas there are 40.6% of the student that are hispanic. Of that population, 4% make up the Gifted and Talented programs in this state.

As a general rule (because being considered Gifted and talented has NOTHING to do with race) this should not be the case. Roughly the same percentage of people should be placed in those programs as the overall percentage in the population.

The reasoning is a failure in the testing and identification of Hispanic students. So, in this case, (and many others) I believe you do need to keep an eye on the equity of the situation. To ensure that everyone has equal access.

Sadly, our Supreme Court ruled that a guarrantee of one's education is not a right in America. Our legislature has also not passed laws to ensure an education is protected under The Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause.

Just some food for thought.

Anonymous said...

What I don't see nearly enough of is discussion of the ways in which admitting students to schools they couldn't get into if race weren't taken into account ultimately hurts those students.

Example: when I was in law school in New York City over 15 years ago, there were articles in the bar journal ever year about the dismal pass rates of minority students taking the bar exam. Some took it repeatedly and still couldn't pass.

A likely reason is that they had not been adequately prepared in high school and college for the demands of law school and beyond but had been admitted anyway.

Why does this hurt them? For one thing, it's not uncommon to graduate from law school with $50,000+ in educational loans, and it's hard to pay that back if you can't get a job in your field. But schools admit ill-prepared minority applicants anyway because it allows the schools to boast of their "diverse" student body. And after all, it's not going to be the responsibility of anyone in the admissions office to find jobs for those students or figure out how they'll pay off their loans.

I don't know this for a fact, but I assume that something similar happens to students who graduate from college lacking the skills necessary to compete in the job market with non-minority students - you know, the ones who were admitted based mostly on their academic performance.

What on earth is "fair" about setting people up for failure this way instead of demanding the same level of proven achievement for everyone?

Darren said...

40, racism is one explanation for the situation you described. Could culture be another explanation? Just food for thought.

As for anonymous, I've seen the topic you raised discussed on other blogs, particularly Discriminations (see my blogroll for a link). You're right--lowering the bar in school doesn't do a lot to help people in life.

R M. Gruber said...

I am the blogger you so poorly paraphrased, so allow me to correct you. You called us egalitarian -- I then used your term in an example. You - "Ours is among the most egalitarian societies on the planet, perhaps in the history of the planet, and I won't feel guilty because it wasn't always this way." Me - "...egalitarian society still seems to have racism and prejudice."

I am not interested in communism nor am I a leftist, nor do I much care for political perpectives and labels. I am liberal in some areas, conservative in others and in the middle of others.

All this really means nothing other than the need for clarification.

As far as intitutional racism...well, you know my thoughts and I believe your denial of it (prejudice, stereotypes, etc.) has a negative impact, because denial can be perceived as disinterest and intentional ignorance.

If you do not believe racism exists, all I ask is that you don't rely on me or even yourself for validation -- seek out those individuals that you care about (who are individuals of color) and ask them about their experiences and their story.

EllenK said...

But lowering the bar is exactly what ends up happening when students are judged with grades and the additional weight of ethnicity. Many universities are so intent on creating a falsely diverse microcosm, that they blindly admit kids who cannot function at the same level as the ones admitted solely on academics alone. On the one hand, these schools can congratulate themselves on being "fair", but on the other hand, if the students cannot succeed for whatever reason or excuse, the institution is either forced to admit failure OR they refuse to admit failure, created remedial programs and graduate someone who probably isn't as qualified for a job as a person who went through a degree plan without such aids. And the end game is that when hiring, if an employer looks only at creditials, the better student should be hired, but if that same company is one that tries to get government contracts, they are held to the requirements that a certain number of their workers must be minority. So does the employer hire the person who is most likely to do the job or the one that will give the company access to more lucrative contracts? What is "fair"?

In regards to Texas specifically, our large flagship state school has enacted a Top Ten Percent Rule, where any student that is in the Top Ten Percent of his or her graduating class is automatically admitted. The problem is, not all graduating classes are normal. On one end of the spectrum you could have a kid that makes a 1350 on the SAT with a 95.2 GPA who barely makes the Top Eleven Percent at one school and at another school the Top Ten Percent could include someone making 1200 on the SAT and a 90.3 GPA. So is it "fair" that kids who probably worked just as hard are not admitted because they went to a school with more focused students? Is it "fair" to admit those students and expecting them to achieve the same results? I think admissions need to be color blind. And as far as that goes, I think that things such as the school and Top Ten are bogus. All that matters are the courses taken and the grades given.

Mike in Texas said...

The federal govt., with its No Child Left Behind act, is the biggest purveyor of "equity" there is.

Darren said...

Please clarify what you mean by that, mike in texas. Because if you're saying that ensuring every child meets a minimum standard (as determined by each of the 50 states) is ensuring that each student or group of students performs the same, you're sadly mistaken.

Darren said...

Anonymous and EllenK, as fate would have it, Discriminations has a post just today on your suggestion that affirmative action in schools hurts people in the long run:

By now everyone here is probably familiar with UCLA law prof Richard Sander’s argument (supported by copious evidence) that preferential admissions actually reduces the number of black lawyers (by inducing them to attend highly competitive schools where they drop out in large numbers). If not, look here, here, here, and here for starters.

Quincy said...

R.M. -

While I'm not actually a minority, after a summer in the sun I'm quite often mistaken for a hispanic person, and I can tell you the points being made by Darren and EllenK about how those who "care" treat minorities. When every sensitive young teacher (and they were ALL just out of ed school) found out I was half white and half asian, he pushed me far harder than he did when he thought me to be Hispanic. It's an interesting experience to be treated differently when your skin color changes in someone's eye.

Jason said...

I don't necessarily believe in Affirmative Action as a good solution, but if nothing else it brings issues to the forefront. If you don't like it so much, then suggest something different, suggest a better way to keep people from being denied opportunities or treated differently based solely on their skin color, culture, age or some other factor. Nor be so naive as to assume that it doesn't happen in today's world. I don't care what a person looks like, the fact is that some other person out there is making judgements about them solely based on that.

Darren said...

I'm not quite sure what you're asking. What is it you want me to do, guarantee that no one will ever be judged? Sorry, but that's what humans do. What our government should strive for is that no citizen is *unjustly* judged based on their skin color or other attributes, just as our society has moved so far in that direction. To imply, as you do, that no solution except one that's 100% perfect is acceptable only perpetuates the problem.