One of the problems in education as in many other areas is that we have to proceed on the basis of some kind of assumptions. The great danger is not that our assumptions will be wrong, but that they will be untested, so that we will not even know if they are wrong. In black education this is especially true because there have, in fact, been great moral wrongs in the past—and to some extent in the present—of segregation and discrimination. Various crusading responses have been very appropriate for some aspects of these wrongs. But unfortunately, crusades are not where you find your best factual analysis. The tendency of the crusading approach is to look for pathologies, to look for problems, and not to try to find out what has actually worked and why has it worked, where it has worked. I am impressed by the fact that in the vast educational literature on blacks there is an almost total commitment to studying how people have failed. You would think that you needed massive research in order to fail—and very little research on any form of success.
It is generally assumed that separate schools are inherently inferior
There are several key assumptions in black education that I would like to examine. The main one, which has been with us now for a quarter of a century, is that separate schools are inherently inferior. We know that the schools that blacks went to and have gone to and are going to, do in fact, have substandard performance, have had it in the past and still have it in the present. Approximately 42 percent of blacks who graduate from high school graduate functionally illiterate. I think that has something to do with the pool of black applicants available to colleges. And college is a very late place to try to educate people in basic things.
The question, though, is whether the black schools were poor in performance because they were all-black or whether there is a whole set of other reasons that ought to be looked at. There is also a question as to the very honesty of the statement that was made in Brown v. Board of Education, that the separate schools were inherently unequal—whether segregation was really a reason or just a rationale.
The Supreme Court not only had to reach the decision; it had to fashion a strategy
We have to go back a quarter of a century or more to the time in which this decision was being considered. One of the great fears in the Court and among people on the outside was that a decision would be made that would be rendered absolutely meaningless by massive resistance throughout the South. I was one of those who felt that way. I was an overaged freshman at Howard University the day that decision was announced. And I recall the professor setting aside the class to discuss this historic event. And everyone seemed to think this was going to be the gateway to a new world, all except one person in the back row—myself—who raised the question, "Why is it after fifty years of Plessy v. Ferguson we don't have separate but equal? And what makes you think that we are going to have equality any faster as a result of this decision?" Of course, there was the feeling that there is one in every crowd. And they moved on to other things.
The reality was that the Supreme Court not only had to reach the decision; it had to fashion a strategy. That strategy turned on how to defuse the Southern reaction to this decision. One of the ways of defusing was to say that we are not going to condemn segregation as having always been wrong, the way that Mr. Justice Harlan said in his dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson. We are to say that the South didn't know any better, but that now we have discovered by modern authority (i.e., Kenneth Clark) that there were terrible consequences to black kids merely from being in all-black schools, so those schools are inherently inferior. Whatever the merits of this argument as political strategy, the fact is that we have now lived with that assumption for more than a quarter of a century, and I thought it might be about time to examine it factually.
One of the consequences of this legal finessing of a political issue is that we come up with a unique meaning to the very word "segregation" in the case of a school. In the case of a hotel, an airport, a hospital, almost any other institution in society, we say that the facility is segregated if there are barriers to particular people entering it and we say it is not segregated if there are no barriers. We don't say that San Francisco International Airport is segregated—but any public school that had exactly the same racial mixture as San Francisco International Airport would be called segregated.
We have now created a separate problem in schools, a problem that we don't have in any other facility. The reason we have achieved desegregation in just about every other institution is that we had an entirely different definition of the word to begin with. And it all goes back to this terribly clever finessing of Southern sensibilities in Brown v. Board of Education.
Because of this assumption that racial separateness as such makes the school inferior, we no longer are talking about eliminating barriers or expanding the choices of black students or their parents. We are talking about mixing children according to some recipe designed by third parties, so-called "experts." Moreover, we have developed no interest whatever in preserving successful black schools or in analyzing the causes of their success. And this is tragic.
I have done some studies of Dunbar High School in Washington, DC, which was a tremendously successful all-black school for eighty-five years. That school was destroyed in a period of two or three years. By the time that I went there for my research, I had to be concerned about the safety of the people who accompanied me into the school building. Academic standards had disappeared entirely. And I wondered how this could have happened. It turned out that Dunbar was annihilated in practically no time because the school system was reorganized in order to comply with racial integration. I read through all the minutes of the Board of Education meetings preceding that decision. There was not one mention of Dunbar High School and the effect of this reorganization on it. They concerned themselves with almost every conceivable issue, but not one mention of the academic standards of Dunbar High. One of the board members had graduated from Dunbar and was a severe critic of the board's policy, and yet she too skipped over the question. I remember calling her on the telephone and asking whether there was something that wasn't on the record in which she raised that question. And she said, "No." What they were concerned about was the issue of integration. I think that is a problem not only in this issue but in this whole approach to education. We get a crusade or a fad or what-have-you going, and all other considerations disappear from our view. So the whole question of what would happen to Dunbar High School was never even raised.
It was not uncommon for school years for black kids in the South to be one-third shorter than for white kids
A second assumption in our educational policies is that perpupil expenditures greatly affect education. Anyone familiar with the history of black schools, and particularly of segregated schools in the South, knows that it was not uncommon for black kids to receive a third, a fourth, or a fifth of the expenditures made on white kids in the very same states. It was not uncommon for school years for black kids to be one-third shorter than for white kids, so that the black kid with nine years of schooling, if he attended class every day, would have been in school the same amount of time as a white kid with six years of schooling. These enormous disparities in educational expenditures are all part of the record. In Serrano v. Priest it was decided that this was enormously important to eliminate. It is true that there has been in some studies a noteworthy correlation between expenditures and results, but of course higher expenditures occur in neighborhoods which are higher-income communities with better-educated parents and many, many other advantages as well. It is a problem you run into with all these correlations.
I am struck by how many disasters seem to follow in the wake of experts
A third notion about education that is very popular is that parents must have a large role in the schools—specifically, that they should participate in school decision making. I will come to that.
Another putatively large role for parents is that they must provide a middle-class lifestyle. They should provide the magazines, the books, the verbal interactions with their kids, and without that, all is lost. It is not entirely clear that having Popular Mechanics or Sports Illustrated in the home conveys vitally needed information that will help in the school. It may well be that the kind of people who subscribe to magazines and have books in their homes have a different cast of mind, and that different cast of mind may well affect the child—but this is by no means saying that those books and those magazines do the job. The classic example, of course, would be the immigrant Jews on the East Side of New York, who indeed had these kinds of things. But one can also study other groups, such as the Japanese on the West Coast. If you look at the history of Japanese homes during the period when they rose from poverty to affluence on the West Coast, they did not have books or magazines. There was little or no verbal interaction. There was one-way communications: do this. Do that. And the children did it.
An offshoot of this notion of the kind of home background that is needed is the belief that poor parents, and particularly black parents, cannot be trusted to make the educational choices that are needed, that we need to bring in experts who will then make wonderful choices. One could write a lot about the role of experts in many parts of the society. For my part, I am struck by how many disasters seem to follow in the wake of experts.
And finally, another assumption of our times is that what we need are "role models" for students, teachers of the same race or ethnicity. Again, the assumption is that not only is it a good thing to have, but it is an essential thing to have. If you don't have it, all is lost.
There is a notion that there is some national norm, and that if there is some deviation from it, something terribly peculiar is going on
The "national average" is one of the most dangerous concepts we have. We run into it in economics and education and in almost every other area. There is a notion that there is some national norm, and that if there is some deviation from it, something terribly peculiar is going on. When you look at some group's crime rate or income or educational level or IQ level or fertility rates and find a substantial deviation from the national average, the conclusion seems to be that something terribly peculiar must be at work here. Of course, once one looks at all the groups simultaneously, one sees that they are stretched across a very wide scale, and that it is the national average that is peculiar. It's just a point on a scale.
I handed out to the press and to some of the discussants here statistics on schools in Harlem and in the Lower East Side of New York, which is where various European immigrants settled in years past. These pertain to the 1940s and 1950s. I wanted to find out if the Harlem schools were really unique or simply different from this mythical national average—and if they were different to a greater degree than in other ethnic neighborhoods. What I found, when you look at data on paragraph comprehension, word comprehension, arithmetical reasoning, arithmetic computations, whatever you looked at, the schools in Harlem and the schools in the Lower East Side had scores in the same range. Sometimes the schools in Harlem had higher scores; sometimes the Lower East Side scored higher; but there were no systematic differences. Of course, both differed from the citywide average. They no doubt differed from the national average. But that is very different from saying that we had a unique situation or even a highly unusual situation.
The IQ difference between Jews and Italians was almost as large as the difference between blacks and whites nationally
Another area that is much more controversial is that of IQs. One could, of course, devote a whole day to that issue. The national average IQ of 100 is, of course, significantly higher than the average black IQ in the United States of 85. There has been a heated controversy over whether heredity or environment is the cause of this unusual IQ situation. I have asked a more basic question: Is this IQ situation unusual in the first place? In looking back at other groups and other times and places, I find that it was not. For example, in the 1920s the Italians, Greeks, Poles, Slovaks, and Portuguese in the United States had IQs of 85 or below. The Catholics in Northern Ireland have IQs of 85. So do the people in the Hebrides Islands off Scotland. So do the indigenous Israelis. So do Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans. In the course of collecting data for this IQ research, I acquired some other data which I will use this morning for an entirely different purpose.
I will not get into the validity of the IQ tests, except to say that whatever validity or lack of validity they have, I will assume that that is the same for blacks in segregated schools as it is for blacks in integrated schools.
I collected 70,000 IQ records going back over a period of four or five decades for twelve different ethnic groups and schools around the country. I tabulated these data first by ethnicity, and published those results a few years ago. Only recently have I come up with the tabulation by school. I wanted to look through this tabulation to find schools where there would be a significant sample size for some significant number of years for ethnic groups that were quite different culturally but who lived in the same neighborhoods and went to the same schools. I wanted to see if, in fact, one finds differences of the kind that you find between segregated blacks and whites, whether you find those kinds of IQ differences in integrated situations between groups that had different cultural backgrounds.
I selected the Jews and the Italians as the groups to study. We are familiar with the importance accorded to education in the Jewish culture. What we are not so familiar with is the role of education in the Italian culture. When the compulsory education laws were introduced in southern Italy in 1877, there were riots throughout the region and schools were burned to the ground. The Italians were not apathetic about education. Anyone familiar at all with the history of southern Italyy would know that there really was not much sense in a southern Italian parent sending his child to school at that time. All that he would get would be a loss of the child's time on the farm and zero return to it in the context of the kind of society they had at that time. So I think that they were probably more intelligent in their reaction than those intellectuals who look down on them.
Jewish and Italian children grew up in the same neighborhoods, went to the same schools, sitting side by side. The question is, does that then tend to eliminate or erode the differences between them, or do those differences persist and how big are they?
In all these schools I found only one in which we had Jewish and Italian children in significant sizes for a significant number of years. One of the bonuses of this school, however, was that it had a large Puerto Rican contingent as well. And they, too, are a culture in which education does not hold the kind of role that it holds in the Jewish or the American culture. What I found over a period of about a quarter of a century was that the average IQ of Jews in the school was 105, of Italians was 92, and of Puerto Ricans was 79. The difference between the Jews and the Italians was almost as large as the difference between blacks and whites nationally. The difference between Puerto Ricans and Jews was larger than the difference between blacks and whites in the segregated South.
I searched for data for another pair with similar cultural differences, the Japanese-Americans and the Mexican-Americans. And again, I found one school district with significant sample sizes for a significant number of years. In this school district, the Japanese- and Mexican- Americans were integrated throughout the system.
One cultural difference that I think may be significant between the Japanese-Americans and Mexican-Americans is the age of marriage. Over half of all Mexican-American wives were married as teenagers. Only 10 percent of Japanese-American wives were married that young. So we are talking about groups with entirely different sets of values and cultures. For the period for which I covered the Mexican and Japanese children, the average IQ difference was 20 points, which is the same as that between blacks and whites in segregated schools. One hundred for Japanese-Americans, eighty for Mexican-Americans.
I have also looked at black schools from the same sample. I picked out the five top black schools in the study in terms of IQ and the bottom five. The differences from top to bottom among all black schools was 27 points. The top black school—which was segregated by law in the full legal sense—had an average IQ of 104 over a period of about twenty years, and the bottom had an average IQ of 77. There obviously are many cultural and social differences between these schools. The point is, both of them were all-black schools, and both were segregated.
I have also looked at some modern all-black schools, segregated by residential patterns. The main one was PS 91 in Brooklyn, Crown Heights section. Very low-income area, high-crime area. I called a friend and told him that I was at PS 91 and wanted to have lunch with him and I had a car with me. And he said, "You sure are brave to park. a car in that neighborhood." You have some picture of the school. You get a better picture when you go inside and see gas jets in the hall. Of course, the school was built before there was electric wiring. Fifty-seven percent of the kids in this school could read above the national average; no other school in that whole district was as high as 40 percent. The lowest was 20 percent. They were all all-black schools.
I also looked at non-black schools that were also socially segregated. That is, schools that were 95 percent or more of one race or ethnicity. They were Chinese, Puerto Rican, American-Indian, Mexican-American. In each case, the children in the schools, who were all of their own ethnic group, scored at least as high as children from the same background scattered throughout the general society. There was no evidence that separation made any sort of achievement difference, much less that it was inherently inferior.
The people who perform these kinds of small miracles or large miracles are almost never asked about educational policy
One set of schools I became very interested in was the successful black schools. I wanted to find out what those schools had that others didn't have. In particular, do they have those things which we hear so liberally described as prerequisites for good education. I selected the successful black schools by two criteria. Most of them were selected by the career performance of their alumni. Some years ago the late Horace Mann Bond did a study of black Ph.D.s, whom he traced back to their high schools. So he has a tabulation of which high schools produced the most black Ph.D.s among their alumni, both absolutely and relative to the student-body size. I started with that list. There were two other schools that I acquired simply as a result of other studies dealing with current test scores.
I found that if you look at about four schools in the United States, you would find virtually all black pioneers in such fields as medicine, law, the military, and politics. Indeed, if you looked at just one of them, you would find at least half of all the pioneers. This would be Dunbar High School in Washington, DC. The first black general, the first black cabinet member, the first black federal judge, the first black elected senator, the discoverer of blood plasma, the first black professor at a national university—the University of Chicago, I might add—all came out of Dunbar High School. Back at the turn of the century, Dunbar High School scored higher on tests than any white high school in Washington. The attendance and tardiness record at Dunbar High School was better than most white high schools in Washington.
One of the other schools I looked at was St. Augustine in New Orleans, a private Catholic school. As of the time of my study, 20 percent of all the presidential scholars from the state of Louisiana, up to that time, had come from this one school with only 700 black students in it. The man who was principal at that time, Father Robert H. Grant, was asked to be on the program today. He couldn't—he was left with a lot of work to take care of by himself in his parish. He's now in Idaho. I consider Father Grant a national resource. And I am struck by the fact that the people who perform these kinds of small miracles or large miracles are almost never asked about educational policy. There are people in schools of education, teachers' colleges, journalists—almost everybody is asked how to do it. People who have never done it are asked how to do it.
As I went around to the various black schools that have similarly distinguished histories, I was struck by how many of them had bad physical plants. It occurred to me that if I were going to be an honest empirical researcher I would have to end up saying that a bad physical plant was one of the prerequisites for high-quality education.
Not only were the buildings old; you had desks that were desks that had been worn out in the white schools and transferred to the black schools. The books were books that had become dog-eared in the white schools and were sent over to the black schools to be used again. Obviously, there was a very much lower per-pupil expenditure. In Dunbar High School, the school existed for forty years before there was a lunchroom. And when there was a lunchroom, it was never large enough for the students. The students ate their lunch out on the street. The blackboards in Dunbar High School were cracked so that you couldn't find a clear new blackboard. The lines were likened to a map of the Mississippi Delta. You typically had what today are called overcrowded classes. Classes of forty or more were common at Dunbar High School in its early years. Even in its later years, you had more pupils per class than the white high schools in the district.
One of the great arguments often made is that the kids in these schools had middle-class parents. And so I thought that even this, sacred though it may be, ought to be investigated empirically. Seventeen percent of the parents of Dunbar High School kids were in white-collar or professional occupations. Seventeen percent. Of all the schools that I studied, the highest was St. Paul's in Atlanta, where 40 percent were white-collar or professional. And as I define these terms, it turned out that 33 percent were white-collar and 7 percent were professional. At PS 91 in Brooklyn, a very substantial part of the whole student body was on Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
One of the things that I have done is to break down the allblack schools according to the parental occupation. I took those kids whose parents were in the low-skilled, unskilled, and semi-skilled occupations and investigated them at four black schools which had above-average performance. Those kids still had above-average performance even though their parents were in the lowest occupational group. Clearly, what we are talking about is not the occupation of the parents. We are talking about a whole set of values. At Dunbar, for example, I did a small study of the children whose parent's were doctors versus those whose parents were maids. There were far more kids whose parents were maids than whose parents were doctors. It's true that the doctors' children did a little bit better, but it is also true that the others did far better than the black kids in other schools, and in many cases they met or exceeded the national norms.
As for "role models," Dunbar High School, except for a few years in the early 1870s, had all-black students, all-black teachers, and all-black administrators. St. Augustine, on the other hand, has had virtually all white administrators and faculty. Apparently, excellence can be achieved either way.
Looking at many other groups, we find that when the Irish first came to the United States in the 1840s and 1850s, they were typically taught by white Anglo-Saxon Protestant teachers. And when the Jews came a generation or two later, they were typically taught by Irish teachers. And when I went to school in Harlem, we were taught by Jewish teachers. Apparently, we all still learned.
If you look at groups such as the Chinese and Japanese, who started out not only economically deprived but also with very low levels of education and very little English, you find that they almost never had role models of their own race or ethnicity in the schools. And still they learned.
In the census of 1850, three-fifths of all free persons of color in the United States were literate
A couple of conclusions are inescapable. One is about the use of the word "prerequisites." I am afraid that this word has really not been used in an attempt to provide a formula for success, but as an excuse for failure. When we list prerequisites for better education, what we are really doing is saying that the reason we don't have it now is because we don't have all these things. And if you make the list sufficiently long and sufficiently expensive, you will never run out of excuses.
Parental choice has been feared by many people, particularly by those who have their own grand designs for society in this as in many other areas of human life. The argument is that if you didn't have all this government force and these decisions made for parents and kids, you wouldn't have the education. I thought I would even test this empirically. It is very hard to do that because we have had compulsory attendance laws for a very long time in the United States. But I went back to 1850 when the half-million of the black population free at that time not only was not subject to the compulsory-attendance laws, but in many states were subject to compulsory-nonattendance laws. And they were not allowed to attend any public school, and in the Deep South they were not allowed to go to private schools, even at their own expense. And so I thought that might be a fairly stringent test of the extent to which the government's pressure would be needed. I found that in the census of 1850 three-fifths of all free persons of color in the United States were literate. Three-fifths could read and write. And that in fact, if you looked at it more closely, you found that in the cities the percentage rose to above 90 in many cases. Illiteracy in rural areas was because there was no way to organize schools for these scattered farms, one here and one ten miles away and one ten miles from there. Private lessons, of course, provided these people with education. And in many cases, they provided it in a clandestine fashion. There were, literally, underground schools. When Sherman made his famous march through Georgia, sometimes referred to as the first "urban renewal project," he uncovered black schools that had been operating underground for thirty years. There were places in the South where the census could find no black schools, and yet 80 and 90 percent of the blacks were literate. This suggests that the census then was no more thorough than it is now.
There is not likely to be any such thing as a third-party solution imposed upon people
One common argument is that if we had vouchers or any other system of free choice available to black parents, they wouldn't know what to do with them. How are poor and ignorant black parents going to send their kids to private schools? The answer is, again, historical. That is what they have been doing for a very long time. It was very late in the history of the South that public schools were available for blacks, and still later before public high schools were available. The first public high school for blacks in the state of Georgia was built in 1924 after a bitter political campaign in which blacks turned out en masse and defeated school-bond issues over and over again until the politicians agreed to build a black high school.
In fact, if you look at black history after the Civil War, you find that most black youngsters started out going to private schools. And, in fact, it was 1916 before there were as many black youngsters in public high schools as in private high schools.
One of the objections to things like vouchers—I mention that as a proxy for a whole number of possible free-choice measures—is that they would, above all, benefit the rich. I often wish that there was some way to humanely get rid of the rich so that we could discuss the problems of the other 99 percent of the population intelligently. But, of course, the same objection could have been made to the GI Bill. As of the time the GI Bill was passed, most people who went to college were affluent. The whole point of passing the GI Bill was to change that situation. The whole point of applying that same principle in the voucher area is to change that situation. Most people aren't aware that most private schools are cheaper than public schools in terms of cost per pupil. They really don't have as large administrative overheads or plateglass policies and so on.
Let me get to the question that is always asked at the end of these things: "What is the answer?" I think that part of the problem is that we are always looking for the answer. There probably is no such thing as the answer. There certainly is not likely to be any such thing as a third-party solution imposed upon people. The real answer is to leave the question to the millions of parents and children themselves, leaving them with the freedom to choose where they want to go and not how they can fit into someone else's grand design.
Individual people are the crucial variable
I do think that individual people are the crucial variable. In some of these cases, there are heroic stories of how people made those schools come into existence. It was fairly heroic, for example, in Georgia in the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan for black voters to turn out and defeat those school bond issues time after time until they got their high school. The man who ran a high school also took many chances. He was a man who put forth enormous efforts. In most of these schools you have some outstanding individual who was principal for a very long time and set a certain tone and style. At Dunbar High School, for example, one of the early principals was the first black woman to ever receive a degree in the United States. She was from Oberlin, class of 1862. And at Oberlin at that time they had a separate course for men and women. The women's course did not have math and Greek because women weren't considered capable of that sort of thing. She insisted on taking the math and the Greek, as an 1862 graduate. Clearly, a woman like that in charge of a school for twelve years tended to give it a certain tone.
In many cases, one of the reasons it was so easy to destroy these schools is that if you replace such a woman with someone who is different, the whole thing can be gone in no time. The principal is especially crucial. A good principal can continue to attract new people. People who have creative ideas and want to do something will be disproportionately attracted to the school. When that principal is gone and someone else comes in who is just not of that cut at all, the people who are there will leave and new people won't want to come. I am told, for example, that PS 91 is no longer what it was when Martin Shore was the principal of that school. Certainly Dunbar High School in a very short time was gone. As for St. Augustine's, Father Grant was the person. The average IQ of black kids at St. Augustine was in the 80s before Father Grant came in and rose to over 100 afterwards. Father Grant was not universally loved. He insisted on certain standards. He did not have time to waste on many things that people thought were really good things to be doing in a black school. He pointed out that there was only a fixed amount of time available, and the children came to him with great deficiencies that had to be made up in a very short time.
When Father Grant left, some politically aware types came in, and lasted a very short time. But in that short time, standards declined. By the time I went there to make my study, we had a new man just starting as principal. When the door closed and the two of us were alone, he leaned over and whispered to me that he wanted to restore some of the spirit of Father Grant. I think it is a commentary on our times that he felt it necessary to express himself in this conspiratorial way about restoring standards.
Clarence Thomas: "Being Educated Black"
I attended one of the black schools which Dr. Sowell profiled, St. Pius X High School in Savannah, Georgia. The interesting thing about the school is this: as a result of racial integration, as a result of the requirement that all high schools be integrated in the city of Savannah, they closed down St. Pius X High School because there was no cross-integration from the white community, and approximately 300 students who could afford to go to St. Pius X High School were put out. They were told to go to Benedictine Military Academy, which cost maybe ten times as much for some students. I think we had some very intelligent people who were displaced to what I would consider inferior schools. We did have the bad physical plant; we did have the constant problems with paying bills, and so forth, and we did have the poor books. We also had an excellent education.
The black spot on the white horse
I later attended Holy Cross College. It was very interesting because, prior to that, I had attended an all-white seminary in Savannah. I was the only black there during the mid-1960s and I was referred to, not too politely, as the black spot on the white horse. At that time there was no mercy shown to blacks and there were no changes made in the curriculum. We were simply required to go on and perform as the other students. I remember being called in the first report period—we got report cards every six weeks—and all but told that I was inherently inferior. Therefore, I had to work harder. I knew that it was a way of downgrading me, but in fact it spurred me on. I did not think anybody should get away with calling me "inherently inferior." So I performed very well.
We attempted to change everything
We did some interesting things at Holy Cross College. I think we did some interesting things across this country when I was in college. We attempted to change everything, including the practices at schools. When we saw that black students were not surviving, we attributed that to discrimination and immediately tried to change the grade requirements. We tried to eliminate courses like metaphysics, sciences, and similar ones. We wound up with some poorly educated black kids and we still did not improve the grades and we still did not lower the flunk-out rate. It was a tremendously depressing and disappointing experience. I'm glad to hear Professor Sowell document and explain these facts, because for so long I knew something was wrong. A lot of us knew something was wrong, but we simply did not know precisely what it was.
We have some hope
I believe that the problem will definitely not be solved with an external answer. I do not believe that an institution can change its numbers, change its quotas, change its courses, or reduce its standards and make us better. I do believe that we have some hope, some possibility of accomplishing something if we begin to internalize the solution to the problem, to think in terms of solving it ourselves. It may not be successful, but I can assure you that if we do not take responsibility ourselves we will not have any hope at all.
Black people need to look to themselves for solutions
We have an interesting problem at the institution on whose board I serve. Most of the black students are lumped at the end of the class. My question, after ten years of experience with black students, is why are they all at the end of the class? We have changed course requirements, we have given remedial assistance, and hopefully we have created better students. But they are still lumped at the bottom of the class. Personally, I believe that, as black people beginning the 1980s, we need to look more to ourselves for solutions, not forgetting the preclusive practices that have occurred, but definitely putting the primary role, the primary responsibility for the solution to these problems, on ourselves.
Oscar Wright: "Education and Community Control"
We all know, in this age of high technology and communication, that if one's education is inadequate he is crippled, practically beyond repair. A major problem that I see in the black community is the lack of enough alternatives being provided to make a free choice. Another problem is that we have too many politicians who have polarized the issue of education. It has become an issue of one race pitted against another, one economic group pitted against another. Yet the victim is the innocent child who is not being adequately educated.
How can you have a disorganized community?
I have been told in many circles that the reason why the black community does not have quality education—and quality education is the issue—is because we are a disorganized community. I have problems with that. How can you have a disorganized community? That's a contradiction in terms. It may not be a disorganized community that is our most prevalent problem. Perhaps we are a very organized community, but organized around the wrong goals and the wrong priorities.
A child will achieve as much as you feel he can accomplish
I visited a school in Los Angeles just two weeks ago and was graciously escorted through and told that a particular classroom, which was all black, contained gifted students. I said, "Gifted, to me, means that they have excelled beyond the norm. Is that not true?" But those students, seventh graders, were in there with crayons and coloring books. If that's how we treat our gifted students, I think we are in for a rude awakening in terms of surviving in the 1980s. We do not need more artists. We need leaders.
I inquired a little further and found that those children were reading on a sixth-grade level when they should have been on a seventh-grade level. That told me that there is some type of preconceived notion that a black child cannot achieve on the same level as a white child. We have lowered our expectations. And most of you who are parents are fully aware that a child will accomplish as much as you feel he can accomplish. If you tell him he will be a failure, I guarantee you one thing—he will please you and fail. And that is what is happening in our school system today.
The question is the kind of gang
But preordained failure is not our only problem. I had one young man come up to me the other day and say, "I really can appreciate some of the things you are doing, but I am a gang leader, so there is no place for me in this society." I replied, "Wait a minute, let's talk about that. You are a gang leader. What does that mean?" I continued, "Young man, you must realize that there are many gangs in this country. There are Democrats, there are Republicans, there are Independents, there are corporate executives. So it doesn't bother me that you are a gang leader; the question is the kind of gang. What is your priority? Is it to victimize or is it to progress? Is it to become a producer or a destroyer? It doesn't bother me that you are a gang leader. Some of the best leaders in the black community are gang leaders."
Education takes in the totality of one's environment
When we talk about education, we cannot restrict education simply to those four walls. It transcends. Education, to me, takes in the totality of one's environment that has something to do with effectuating character. One good case is this—and for the white folks who are here and who may not understand the term, let me say that in the street jargon of the black community pimps, hustlers of prostitutes, are sometimes referred to as "flies."
The movie industry determined a couple of years ago, when it was faltering, that black folks went to the movies in disproportionate numbers when one of their own kind was starring. You know, we came a long way from Steppen Fetchit to Sidney Poitier to Sammy Davis, and we have been going to movies in bigger numbers. So in an effort to appeal to the black community, what did they provide? Did they provide positive images, positive role models for the black community, like lawyers and doctors and other sorts of good citizens? No. Let me say this: the dirtiest, filthiest insect in the world is a fly. So what did they give our people? Not just an ordinary fly. A "super fly"! Super nasty, super dirty, and super filthy. You tell me about negative effects. What negative effects are there?
"Too much pride to take the ride"
Let me address the issue of busing. The organization I work for, PACE, has taken a vocal role against mandatory busing in Los Angeles. Our slogan was, "Too much pride to take the ride," and we meant that. Let me tell you why. No one has yet told me about—or convinced me of—the benefits of forced integration in educating our young people. If there is anyone here with that strange knowledge, please convey it to me. Somehow people feel that some process of osmosis must occur when a black child sits next to a white child in terms of the transference of knowledge. The only thing that I have ever caught by sitting next to a white child in school is a cold. So I have to question that. And I am not a separatist; I am not a racist. But I am realistic.
Also in regard to busing, there has been a great deal of confusion in the black community when the typical black person is asked, "Do you want busing?" What do you expect them to say when busing has been the only alternative they have been presented with?
The golden rule in America: he who has the gold rules
Let me conclude by saying that the only alternative that I can see now—looking at the retrenchment of government funds, the energy crises, the movement of more minorities into the inner city-is that of community control. Use what you have. Community control means staff selection, hiring and firing, curriculum determination, career planning. Community control means you do your own allocation of resources. You must have the power to execute your program, and that means money. I am a firm believer in what I have heard to be the golden rule in America: he who has the gold rules. So you must keep control of your resources.
Stir up the hornet's nest
I would like to end by saying that in the very near future you will hear PACE come forth in Los Angeles and again stir up the hornet's nest. Because what we are going to call for is complete decentralization—political decentralization, not administrative decentralization—to make those schools in our communities more responsive. I do not care whether the principal is black, white, purple, or some other Neapolitan color, we want him accountable to our community.
|III. Education: Black Priorities||Table of Contents||IV. Business and the Professions|