"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thernstrom's Anti-Racism Racism

Harvard University’s Winthrop Research Professor of History, Stephan Thernstrom has his underwear in a wad, as they say down South, over the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s spending of $75 million in a national anti-racist campaign called "America Healing Initiative." The Foundation seems to have serious intentions to make amends for the Kellogg family’s documented history as backers of the eugenics movement in the early  20th Century.  For example, Dr. J. H. Kellogg, brother of W. K., was instrumental in founding the Race Betterment Foundation.

Here are a few of the projects currently being funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation:

      People’s Grocery, a community organization building a local food system in West Oakland, Calif., will use the America Healing grant to support the new Community Hands program, which recruits local “ambassadors” to organize healthy food demonstrations and communicate the needs of the local residents.
      The Foundation for the Mid-South, which works to improve the quality of life for people in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, will involve residents of 30 small towns in promoting citizens’ health, especially related to obesity and related diseases. The project, Reducing Health Disparities in Small Southern Towns, will reach out to those not involved in making decisions and who don’t have access to the resources that support a healthy lifestyle.
      The Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center, a Chicago-based non-profit arts organization serving neighborhoods on the South Side, will focus America Healing funds on its “Collateral Damage: Creating Legacies of Boundless Peace” project. Participants, including Chicago Public School students, will explore the lives of young people lost because of gun violence in the city and learn research skills with which to document the issues of violence and discrimination in their communities.
      Lifelink’s Beyond Cultural “Competency” project is an effort to develop culturally appropriate approaches to serving the mental and behavioral health needs of the Native American youth and families in McKinley County, New Mexico. The initiative is a response to a 2008 research report indicating that many young people and their families are not receiving the help they need because of their mistrust of western behavioral health services and providers.

While it may be hard for most people to argue with these worthwhile demonstrations of societal uplift, Prof. Thernstrom remains, nonetheless, skeptical and even dismissive in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed:
It is difficult to tell exactly what many of the grantees will be doing. Alongside language about building "inter- and intra-ethnic trust" their purpose statements tend to echo the grantor's vague language about healing and the like. Not many appear to have been as explicit in their aims as the applicant that proposed working "to achieve policy change in the grocery industry in low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles."
It becomes clear pretty quickly that the good professor’s skepticism goes even deeper:
The foundation sees minorities as constantly victimized by pervasive racism. "Cultural, policy, and institutional forms of racism" are ubiquitous in our society, doing immense damage to innocent youths, its "Fact Sheet" asserts.
Appalling—if true. But what evidence convinced Kellogg that racism is such a clear-and-present danger to the children of America today? Foundation officials point to racial and ethnic disparities: Hispanics and blacks, for example, have much higher poverty rates than whites, and are far less likely to have completed college.
Prof. Thernstrom is quick to point out that if so many poorly educated Latinos weren’t coming to the U. S., then there wouldn’t be so many poor, uneducated Latinos.  Simple. As for the economic deprivation of so many African-Americans, Prof. Thernstrom has this to say:
One obvious cause of the sharp disparities is the overwhelming preponderance of black single-parent families, a pattern that would not magically disappear if every scintilla of remaining racism vanished overnight.

You see, Prof. Thernstrom does not want to draw attention to racism and poverty; he wants to draw attention away from racism and poverty by shifting the focus to "educational attainment," which is not, according to the illustrious Harvard historian, a racism or poverty issue, but rather a cultural one.  For the good professor and his wife, Abigail, are the proud authors of 2003 bible of new blame-the-victims penal pedagogy, No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning.  For the Thernstroms and their disciples, to fix the education problem means to fix the defective minority cultures responsible for single-parent households, which are at the heart of the race problem and at the nub of the education solution:

The process of connecting black students to the world of academic achievement isn’t easy in the best of educational settings—and such settings are today few and far between.  But that only means that in order to “counter and transform” African-American “cultural patterns,” . . . fundamental change in American education will be necessary—change much more radical than that contemplated by the most visionary of today’s public school officials.  Recognizing the problem is the first step down that long and difficult road (p. 147).

Radical, yes.  This “difficult road” is being forged by the psychological manipulation of impoverished children to behave like the modern day white middle class view of what black middle class children should be, i. e., obsequious, contented, obedient, hard-working, and compliant in every way.  Work hard, be nice.  A couple of paragraphs from a book, out later this year:
The Thernstroms and the other white (and black) privileged “no excuses” fans view race as defined by culture, which they claim exerts twice as much influence on academic achievement than family income, accumulated wealth, and skin color. Culture defines race, then, for good or bad, in much the same way that genetic inheritance was believed to defined race by eugenicists at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Cultural characteristics, according to the “no excuses” creed, are racial characteristics, and they can be separated out from economic or class characteristics.  The Thernstroms preach that two-thirds of the achievement gap between black and white children is attributable, then, to culture, whereas one-third is shaped largely by poverty, parental education, and the environment (p.147).
Richard Rothstein’s research, however, clearly demonstrates how social class functions as the primary contributor to achievement differences, with family income, accumulated wealth, skin color, and culture comprising the elements that make up social class.  Rothstein concludes in Class and Schools . . . “the debate about whether the low achievement of black students is rooted in culture or economics is largely fruitless because socioeconomic status and culture cannot be separated” (p. 51). According to Rothstein, then, the neat separation of elements that is achieved by the Thernstroms (2003), with the larger chunk of achievement influence reserved for the role of culture, misses the larger point that culture, too, cannot escape the systemic influence of poverty, or lack thereof, in the formation and activity of culture.
        In the KIPP schools and the charter school knockoffs that continue to be inspired by KIPP, this forced separation between culture and socioeconomic class is required in order to draw attention away from the effects of poverty, which, in turn, exacerbates the kinds of callous cruelty by KIPP personnel acting with little oversight, while under unrelenting pressure to achieve the higher test scores that are the KIPP brand’s signature accomplishment. The “no excuses” ideology, then, not only ignores the documented and substantive effects of poverty on the poor, but it becomes the all-pervasive, blinding excuse for justifying dangerous, damaging, and morally-repugnant acts that, otherwise, would not be entertained in a society grounded by humane values and ethical rules of conduct.
In a journal article by Dennis Durst that traces the links between evangelism and the early eugenics movement, he has this:
In Dr. Kellogg's remarks to the second Race Betterment Conference in 1915, the emphasis in human procreation had become the efficiency of the animal breeder. Critics of the efforts of eugenicists to arrange marriage unions according to eugenic criteria had argued that such endeavors omitted love from the equation. In a sharp rejoinder, Kellogg reveled in his role as defender of scientific efficiency: "One newspaper said Dr. Kellogg and Dr. Burbank were trying to make the United States into a great stock farm, by breeding for human efficiency. I wish," Kellogg retorted, "we had the power to do that very thing. It would not be such a bad idea," he continued, "it certainly would be a great deal better than to have the United States a great stock farm, breeding mongrels-which is what we are doing now.13 Human uniqueness, once enshrined in the treasured biblical doctrine of the imago Dei, took second place to the greater good of society, as defined by Anglo-Saxon elites such as John Harvey Kellogg. Anyone who did not measure up to his physiological or moral ideal was not fit for the kingdom, or, more precisely, for the forward march of a scientifically efficient and modern civilization.
So in calling for a cultural purging among poor minority children through the process of schoolhouse KIPP-notizing, Dr. Thernstrom continues the perverted legacy of the early Kellogg Foundation work, for which the modern day Kelloggs would like to make amends. In fact, Thernstrom calls on the Kellogg Foundation to forsake their funding of programs like the ones noted above, which are aimed at racial healing, and to pitch their millions in with the hundreds of millions collected from other corporate foundations to fund more “no excuses” charter chain gangs:

It [the Kellogg Foundation] could have supported the further expansion of charter school networks that have proven results—KIPP and Uncommon Schools, among them.

If Kellogg wants to do something constructive for disadvantaged children, it should back such innovative efforts to improve their cognitive skills. The foundation cannot see that point, alas, because it has bought into the simplistic notion that all disparities in educational achievement are attributable to continuing racism—and thus is financing antiracist programs devoted to publicizing "past wrongs and group suffering." Nothing good is likely to come from this.

Dr. Thernstrom, finally then, will have no part of the kind of the racial healing that the Kelloggs are trying to make possible.  In fact, he urges the current Kellogg Foundation to continue to old legacy of behavioral and cultural sterilization among the most vulnerable children of the poor.  And just like a hundred years ago, those who don’t measure up are simply not “fit for the kingdom” or “for the forward march of a scientifically efficient and modern civilization.”  There are other institutions awaiting those who fail to measure up to Professor Thernstrom's standard.

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