Originally published at: Almost Four Decades After Its Birth, The Diversity Industry Thrives on Its Own Failures – Quillette
Campus diversity advocates have pulled off their greatest coup to date: They have declared “diversity” to be a freestanding academic discipline, thus injecting their bureaucracy-heavy apparatus into the very heart of the academic enterprise. As of this month, Bentley University, a business-oriented liberal arts school in Waltham, Mass., will offer a Bachelor of Arts and…
Originally published at: Almost Four Decades After Its Birth, The Diversity Industry Thrives on Its Own Failures – Quillette
In the early nineties, I attended a retail banking training session on diversity here in the UK. I was one of only two males in a group of twenty. The initial part of the 30 minute training session was all about the dearth of access to opportunity for ethnic minorities. To say that the claims were met with a degree of scepticism would be an understatement. Yet as soon as the subject switched to the unfairness experienced by women in the workplace, particularly in relation to older women who had taken short career breaks to raise kids, virtually every word which issued from the trainers lips was enthusiastically endorsed.
I bring up this story for the simple reason that we have had a great deal of success in understanding why men achieve superior outcomes in terms of career advancement compared to women. Simply put- it’s free choice at work. 20% of women become homemakers through choice, 20% pursue a career relentlessly, only taking the minimum amount of time off to have kids (if at all) and the remaining 60% opt for a far healthier work to life balance than their male counterparts.
The main complaint within this spectrum is amongst the middle group- many in this group express a desire to work shorter hours and spend more time at home with the kids, but are barred from doing so because of the economic necessity, with most households needing two incomes to make ends meet. Furthermore, if we assess that cultural equality of opportunity only really began to emerge onto the scene in the mid-nineties, then its easy to see why there are still disparities at the top. With comparative advantage conferring advancement on the talented few who work the hardest, ascension to the top requires a thirty to forty year commitment consistently working a 70 hour plus work week.
So why the persistent failure to close racial attainment gaps in the American system? In a phrase, it can all be put down to the American style of K-12. First, it’s not about money (although there may well be a case for such at the extremes)- States which use redistributive policies to focus resources in areas where gaps in attainment are most persistent achieve very little for their money. Second, much as we should value teachers for their commitment to public service, they are not worth their weight in gold. Studies show that the gap between an adequate and an excellent teacher can lead to educational outcomes which are 10% higher. More important is the gap between an adequate teacher and an inadequate one- with outcomes dropping by a precipitous 35%.
Roland Fryer is perhaps better known for his research on policing, both in terms of correcting inaccurate narratives involving police shootings, as well as proving that viral incidents involving police shootings are directly responsible for what has been termed the Ferguson effect. But just as important is previous research he performed on education in Texas. Don’t let the argument between charter and regular public schools fool you. What his research really proves is that the absence of inadequate or grossly inadequate teachers, paired with an aspirational environment and structured low-level discipline policies which set the standards high for behaviour can significantly raise academic performance. In these circumstances gaps performance with standardised tests effectively halved between underperforming minority groups and whites.
But this isn’t the only way in which the progressive model of education fails- not to be confused with progressive politics. Child-centred education in which the child ‘discovers’ knowledge rather than being taught it by a teacher in teacher-led more traditional education, may have some efficacy- but it hugely inefficient by comparison to the spoon-feeding of knowledge. The main reason why progressive teachers complain about teaching for tests in because their inefficient methodology automatically means that there class will fall behind with their curriculum, meaning they need to rush to complete the curriculum content as the semester for tests looms large.
Whole word has had a disastrous impact on education for the less well advantaged, when not taught alongside the simple innovation of phonics, or ‘sounding out’ words. To be sure, there is some utility in teaching whole word, for the simple reason that a child may have never encountered a word that appears in a text. But phonics is far better for everyone who is not dyslexic and for 90% to 95% of words a child will encounter when reading. The absence of phonics in many American schools leads to massive advantage to parents with better educational backgrounds, for the simple reason that when they listen to their children read, and begin to lay the foundations of literacy by taking teaching upon themselves, they naturally default to phonics they learned in their own childhood.
One of the most recent educational myths I’ve looked into is VARK- the idea that one can separate people by the way they prefer to learn- do you prefer to learn by visual, auditory, reading or kinetic (psychical) means. No doubt there was some hope that differences in learning preferences might be a potential source of disparity. Not so- although people do possess definable differences in the style of learning which they most prefer, a number of high quality studies have shown that learning-style preference has absolutely no impact of educational attainment or outcomes. You may prefer looking at diagrams and reading text to understand the workings of the internal combustion engine, but if forced to get your hands dirty and take an engine apart (and provided you are learning the same information), you will get exactly the same marks on your course.
We’ve known exactly how the human brain learns for decades. It’s called Cognitive Load Theory, and it explains many of the reasons why two people of equivalent mental ability might perform drastically differently if asked to perform slightly more complex mental maths. Simply put, working memory is puny and we rely upon long-term memory to perform any task beyond the most basic. If you are trying to multiply a two digit number by a two digit number in your head, it is not enough to be able to work out 6 x 9- you have to have the number 54 committed to memory, ingrained in your knowledge store. Otherwise you won’t be able to conveniently store this number to one side, whilst working out the rest of the mental maths problem.
This one simple observation has profound implication for the way we learn and the disparities we see. It effects your vocabulary, you ability to construct grammatically correct sentences. Crucially, it has a huge impact on the potential to enjoy reading for pleasure, because if you are constantly struggling with the basics of literacy it makes for a less enjoyable experience, and one in which the larger meaning of the text sails right over your head. But if the question is how much influence does such a profoundly clear understanding of how we learn have on the educational theories proposed by academics in the education field have- the answer is very little.
Here in the UK we have long since instituted Offsted, the inspectorate for schools- which despite its occasional infatuation with progressive educational fads has been extremely effective at remedying or removing inadequate or grossly inadequate teaching within the profession, In recent years, the championing of traditional and academy style education under the auspices of the then Education Secretary Michael Gove has seen PISA scores rise in England and Wales, whilst Scotland- pursuing a more progressive model has continued to see its once proud educational attainment fall. Perhaps the most significant benefit has been a closing of gap in terms of racial disparities in educational attainment, as well as a more specifically defined closing of the gap in terms of IQ- shown through psychometric tests administered to 12 year olds in 2011/2012.
But it’s not just schools. One of the most persistent and easily definable elements of true systemic racism, relates to the ability of white parents to exclude bad or disruptive influences in the school year and peer group of their children, both within education and socially. Disruptive influences are quickly expelled in a private school environment and this also holds true in pastoral public schools. Often the decision is crouched in the hand-wringing terms of considering that the horrible little monster is finally receiving the specialist help that they need, but ultimately the results are the same.
Meanwhile, Black kids in the worst parts of the public education system are routinely forced to go to school with other kids who have physically attacked teachers or sexually assaulted schools. Under the Obama Administration, evidence of disparity between Blacks and whites in terms of discipline and expulsion rates was seen as evidence of racism- when all the socio-economic and social evidence (as well as subsequent rates pf criminal offending) suggested that African Americans would indeed possess higher rates of discipline, suspension and expulsion requirements. This deliberate effort to cut rates of discipline and suspensions has meant an unfolding disaster for Black kids in predominantly African American schools. It only takes modest and continuing disruption in schools to deprive a child of two full years worth of education by the time they leave K-12.
Here in the UK, we take a different tack. We have pupil referral units which at their best involve one-to-one sports coaching with a boxing instructor. It isn’t always successful. Kids referred to pupil referral units in London are 200 times more likely to involved in a knife crime incident, either as a victim or offender. But it’s far more preferable in terms of life outcomes than the American system and really does work in a lot of individual cases, because the American system is likely to produce more young men incarcerated in prisons for violent crimes, not fewer- broadening the school-to-prison pipeline to an industrial scale- for the simple reason that mixing prosocial boys with antisocial boys creates more antisocial boys amongst the prosocial group- not the reverse.
So to recap- here in the UK we’ve eliminated bad teachers. We’ve removed the worst aspects of the progressive teaching model, or at least partially mitigated them with more traditional elements of education. We have found a more humane way of dealing with disruptive boys, which makes them far less likely to go on to commit crime. As a result most of the differences in educational outcomes and performance have largely evaporated. The Afro Caribbean British cohort lags behind somewhat, but this is because like Bangladeshi British and White Working Class demographics they were exposed to incredibly harmful post-WWII government policies, so similar to their African American counterparts. More recent African British schoolchildren outperform White British schoolchildren overall, and as a group account for the fact that average pay is equal between Blacks and Whites in the UK, for the 18 to 30 age group. What else? Well it’s worth mentioning the experience of Northern Irish Catholics relative to their Protestant counterparts.
If one were to travel back in time, one would find Catholics to be subject to all manner of discriminatory practices in employment. These were removed. But how does a people who generally enjoyed a poorer level of living standard by virtually every socio-economic measure overtake their once wealthier Protestant counterparts in terms of education, wealth and income? With stronger communities, a higher rate of enduring stable family formation and two parent families who have the options provided by the division of labour to invest time intensively in their child’s early childhood development.
It is worth noting that fathers have all manner of positive impacts, in terms of their children’s development. Crucially cognitive development is improved as are motor skills and genetic longevity caused by greater telomere length through epigenetic nurture. Fathers also have a huge benefit at a community level, reducing juvenile violence and increasing social mobility- in Dr Raj Chetty’s research on social mobility the rate of fathers in the community in which a child grows up is even more important than quality of education for upward social mobility.
In a recent podcast with Coleman Hughes, Charles Murray was adamant in his belief in persistent racial IQ gaps- but he did caveat by stating that if we were able to the culture of underperforming groups then the IQ gap would shrink substantially. I don’t think its culture in the way he means. It’s simply that poverty in the West quickly becomes two problems. One is the pure socio-economics of adversity and growing up in less advantageous conditions. The other is the corrosive effect that an intergenerational lack of economic opportunity has, paired with the poorly calibrated efforts of government to help. If the economic performance of desperately poor incoming migrants is anything to go by, then the latter is far more harmful than the former.
Like most of my comments this essay will shortly be available on my Substack, which is free to view and comment:
The time has never been riper to dump that second-millenium standard, colleges and their isolated campuses as learning institutions, into museums and mothballs. Better yet – all these buildings and greens will make very lovely (and pricey) condos with that (for now) unique cachet! Just make sure your HOA prevents squashing multiple new buildings into the quad…
And this is analogous to the crime rate problem here in US. It is only the protected classes who want to defund police.
Very enjoyable read.
I wonder how the UK distinguishes “inadequate” teachers. I recently had dinner with a friend who teaches advanced math part time at our local high school, classes that are predominantly white and Indian. He said that his control of the class was next to zero as every student comes in wearing earbuds and looking at his phone. Whether they choose to listen to the class lecture is purely voluntary. It’s also impossible to fail anyone, since there is no tenure for teachers and those who do fail a student are simply not re-engaged the following year.
He also stated that he thinks teachers are not the main sources of problems, although they tend to be vilified these days.
Colleges will always need another assistant dean for the Social Justice Snitch Squad. Or if it makes you feel better, the bias response team.
One more on colleges: why shouldn’t student aid be limited to COLA increases, like Social Security? There’s no reason for federal subsidies to increase faster than the rate of inflation.
Well, one also needs a great headteacher- it’s what enables consistent standard setting for behaviour. I come from a family of teachers, and my mother suffered under one particularly bad headteacher, before having the good fortune to end her career under an exceptional one. The bureaucracy also matters- the school needs to be free to pursue high standards of behaviour unimpeded- with structured low-level discipline like detention doled out for the slightest infractions.
One interesting aspect of this whole debate is that of the exceptional schools I’ve found in the UK- many serve poor high crime communities and most have minority headteachers. I imagine the Left is willing to tolerate high discipline in poor multi-ethnic schools provided they continue to produce a steady stream of high calibre candidates for Oxbridge.
As of this month, Bentley University, a business-oriented liberal arts school in Waltham, Mass., will offer a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Sciences degree in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). By all accounts, this is the first undergraduate major dedicated to churning out more diversity bureaucrats and consultants.
I think you know your empire is in decline when it has a factory process for creating palace eunuchs.
Also… the science of diversity? Really?
If you are a Yankee and you believe what Thomas Sowell has written about blacks post WWII, families were strong and most had a hard-working father onboard. They had strong values that came from religion, community pride and hard work.
So, in U.S. post WWII has to broken into two parts: pre-Johnson’s Great Society and post JGS. Pre-JGS, I covered above. Post JGS, the family started to disintegrate once it was realized that a single mother could do better with government handouts than if she remained married. Black people were herded into massive housing slums in order to “help” them because they needed this help, at least according to white elites.
Heather Mac Donald, bless you for your courage and willingness to speak the truth while using hard data.
I am getting cynical in my old age, but the more I see and read, the more that I think that so much of the reaction we are seeing by the government-diversity complex is a recognition that they have failed so miserably for so many years at so many programs that they are grasping at ethereal straws and the diversity industry is the big straw of the moment.
The failures are too numerous to list here, but here are some of the notable in the U.S:
The government-union-Democrat school complex that is failing our children miserably. Why? Because it is a government-union-Democrat system that is not responsive to parents or students. It responsive to maintaining the Democrat-union relationship and to a lesser degree, teachers. Students be damned.
The Great Society which has been running (ruining) lives for more than 50 years at a cost of more than $1 trillion with no measurable results.
FDRs political social security scheme is great politics but performs poorly for the people it is allegedly supposed to help. It is about to go broke and major cuts in benefits and higher taxes are coming soon.
A broken government-run medical insurance program(s) that is unwilling to try innovated payment systems because the government thinks it can do it better by price-fixing and rationing.
These grand, leftist programs were supposed to have solved so many problems, but have failed or are in the process of crashing and burning, the left decides that the best course of action is to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic as it sinks. The diversity industry is an example. Chairs will be rearranged. Chair rearrangement looks like someone is doing something.
Instead of fixing broken programs, especially public schools, politicians of all stripes won’t get anywhere near them and who suffers? Not the unions, not the politicians, the children suffer, but the politicians tell us schools need more money. Unions tell us teachers need more money, but the structural failures persist. The problem is nobody is addressing the structural issues except perhaps a few parents here and there standing up at school board meetings shouting at walls.
We also see the results of the self-same policies in the UK, for Afro Caribbean, Bangladeshi and the White Working Class British demographics. Anthony Daniels, otherwise known as Theodore Dalrymple has written extensively on the effects of these policies.