Which of These Professors Would You Fire?

We keep getting new ones every week. University professors—supposedly enjoying academic freedom—keep getting into trouble for offensive political speech. Sometimes they get fired or punished and sometimes they don’t. How do administrators decide? It doesn’t seem like it’s about the politics.

eots_lawton1

The professor as activist: What will get you fired?

So today it’s time for the latest bitter ILYBYGTH play-along: Can YOU match these professors with their punishments? [Only click on the links if you want to cheat.] [And be warned: These rants sometimes include offensive language.]

Case 1: Law-school professor with a history of racist-y statements declares (incorrectly) that very few black students are top in their class. The line that got her in the most trouble? “[O]ur country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.”

Case 2: University professor rants on facebook about how much he hates white people. (He’s white, by the way.) The troublesome lines: “I now hate white people. . . . I hereby resign from my race. Fuck these people. . . . Fuck you, too.”

Case 3: Grad student instructor confronts a conservative undergrad. Stood in front of the undergrad’s Turning Point USA table and shouted, “”Becky the neo-fascist, right here. Wants to destroy public schools, public universities. Hates DACA kids. . . . Fight white nationalism! Fight white supremacy!”

Case 4: Adjunct instructor declares his support for antifa and hints that he’d like to hit Trump with a baseball bat. Gets heat for declaring on facebook: “It’s not pretty, and I’m not proud, but seeing what Evangelical Christians are doing to this country and its people fills me with rage, and a desire to exact revenge.”

So how were these professors punished? Are left-wing professors protected? Are conservatives attacked? Not so much. It seems like the differences are more about whether or not the professor had tenure.

Can you match the cases above with the punishments below?

Punishment #1: Instructor is fired.

Punishment #2: Instructor is removed from teaching, but keeps her job. The university president calls her ideas “repugnant.”

Punishment #3: Instructor is removed from teaching but keeps her job. University president privately apologizes to her for having to punish her.

Punishment #4: Instructor is fired, then un-fired. University calls his comments “offensive” and says they “violated university policy.” However, on a re-think, the university decided that “No student or university employee has come forward to assert that [the instructor] has in some way penalized them for their race. . . . There is no evidence that he administered grades and conducted himself in class in a manner that reveals any racial bias on his part.”

…so what do you think? Can you match the punishments with the cases? And, most intriguingly, do these cases reveal that conservative professors are punished more harshly than liberal ones? That mocking and belittling African Americans is a bigger crime on campus than threatening and insulting white people or evangelicals?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Here are a few stories for your beach reading. What do the radical creationists say to the flat-earthers? What do politically liberal Christians say about Trumpism? Why do some conservatives think colleges have grown more racist? All that and more…

What do Christians have to say about “Christian Nationalism?” At RNS.christians against christian nationalism

Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.

Radical creationists resort to poetry to prove they aren’t flat-earthers. At AIGKHB.

It’s not just atheists arguing the Bible teaches a flat earth—it’s some Christians, too, who’ve sadly fallen for flat-earth arguments and now believe that’s what the Bible teaches. But does it?

No, it doesn’t. Now, flat earthers will frequently bring up poetic passages, such as verses from Psalms or Job, and say those verses teach a flat earth because phrases like “ends of the earth” or references to a setting sun appear. But those passages are poetry—by definition poetry is filled with literary devices such as metaphors, similes, and figures of speech. The biblical text is meant to be interpreted naturally, according to the genre. And poetry is clearly intended to be understood within the context of abundant literary devices that are not meant to be taken so woodenly and literally (i.e., God does not literally lie us down in green pastures as per Psalm 23:2).

Guess what? Rich people have advantages in school. The latest non-surprise: Affluent students tend to get more time on tests. At NYT.

From Weston, Conn., to Mercer Island, Wash., word has spread on parenting message boards and in the stands at home games: A federal disability designation known as a 504 plan can help struggling students improve their grades and test scores. But the plans are not doled out equitably across the United States.

In the country’s richest enclaves, where students already have greater access to private tutors and admissions coaches, the share of high school students with the designation is double the national average. In some communities, more than one in 10 students have one — up to seven times the rate nationwide, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.

Race and Man at Yale. New conservative National Association of Scholars report critiques Yale’s segregationist practices, at NR.

Yale’s segregationist practices have been in place for a generation before today’s students were born. Yet 40 years of neo-segregation seems to have increased, rather than decreased, racial resentment.

Is Professor Wax a “repugnant” racist? Or a perfect example of why we have tenure? It’s both, at CHE.

Many have described Wax’s case as a difficult test of academic freedom and its limitations. It’s not. Tenure and academic freedom, as we currently understand them, were literally created in response to another prominent scholar’s getting canned for making inflammatory statements on race and immigration.

Florida man: No evolution in public schools, at FCS.

I won’t support any evolution being taught as fact at all in any of our schools.

The GOP just got a little bit whiter. The last black Republican in the House of Reps is retiring, at NYT.

For white evangelicals, the question of “civility” in politics is…complicated. At RIP.

RIP civility scoreRemember John Allen Chau? The aggressive missionary killed last year at an isolated island in the Pacific? Outside Magazine offers a gripping new portrait.

John stuck to his belief that it was his duty to go to North Sentinel. The islanders were damned to “eternal fire” if they never heard the Gospel, and as an outdoorsman with a knack for making friends in new places, John was one of the few souls in Christendom who could save them. It felt ordained, John said, like God was calling him. Patrick [John’s father] believed his son was deceiving himself. This wasn’t just about helping the Sentinelese or obeying God. This was about John’s Messiah complex. He described his son as a victim of fantasies, fanaticism, and extremism.

What is the nation’s largest non-profit charter-school network up to? Moving from “no excuses” classrooms to “joyful” ones. At Chalkbeat.

Did a recent commission mistake the causes of racial disparities in school discipline? One member says yes, at WE.

The commission purports to find, however, that “students of color as a whole, as well as by individual racial group, do not commit more disciplinable offenses than their white peers.” According to the commission, they are simply punished more. Readers are left to imagine our schools are not just occasionally unfair, but rather astonishingly unfair on matters of discipline.

The report provides no evidence to support its sweeping assertion and, sadly, there is abundant evidence to the contrary. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics surveys high school students biennially. Since 1993, it has asked students whether they have been in a fight on school property over the past 12 months. The results have been consistent. In 2015, 12.6 percent of African-American students reported being in such a fight, while only 5.6 percent of white students did.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Covering the bases this week: Stories about evangelical higher ed, campus free speech, megachurch abuse scandals, and more. Thanks to everyone who sent in stories and tips.

Liberty U student journalist condemns Falwell’s “culture of fear,” at WaPo.

What my team and I experienced at the Champion was not an isolated overreaction to embarrassing revelations. It was one example of an infrastructure of thought-control that Falwell and his lieutenants have introduced into every aspect of Liberty University life.

Mr. Young’s story from Liberty U is heart-wrenching, but it is not new. The dictatorial style of Jerry Falwell Jr. is not an innovation, but rather only a sad flowering of a poisonous fundamentalist flower.

More from Professor Amy Wax. The Penn Law professor is under fire again for “repugnant” statements, allegedly saying, “our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.” At IHE.

An evangelical mega-church reopens after a sex-abuse scandal, at RNS.

[One victim] doesn’t think there’s anything church leaders can say to make the controversy go away. At least not yet.

“I’m just really feeling like they have one last chance kind of to make this right,” she said.

New York’s campaign against Hasidic schools raises tough questions, at EducationNext:

How much authority should the city and state have to impose the government’s vision of an education on a religious minority that would prefer to be left alone? How much power should parents have to send their children to schools that emphasize religious subjects at the expense of topics such as science or math? Does society have a responsibility to ensure that all children receive an education that enables them to participate in democracy and the workplace? And who determines the answers to these questions—parents, politicians, courts, bureaucrats, advocacy groups, or some complicated combination thereof?

Growing up Helter Skelter: LAT interview with the son of Charles Manson.

From the not-learning-our-lesson department: Feds release series of anti-vaping videos, at CNN.

A peek into the ugly politics of school funding. Ohio governor vetoes a last-minute sneaky provision to save rich Clevelanders from paying high school taxes, at Cleveland.com.

Michigan school principal sues district for “anti-white” discrimination, at MLIVE.

Blick’s lawsuit alleges that Ann Arbor school district officials “maintain a custom, policy and practice of: treating Caucasian and nonminority administrators disparately and less favorably than similarly situated African-American and minority administrators; subjecting Caucasian and nonminority administrators to hostility and harassment in the workplace based on their race; accelerating the promotion and advancement of African-American and minority administrators at the expense, and to the detriment, of Caucasian and nonminority administrators.”

When “Repugnant” Isn’t Enough

Professor Wax is out. But The Koala is back in. Two campus free-speech cases this week went in different directions, but for some reason they both harp on the same unusual word. It leads to some questions: Does student speech deserve more or less freedom than faculty speech? And does serious speech need more policing than humor?

koala dangerous space

The joke’s on…who?

Here’s what we know: Inside Higher Ed has reported that Professor Amy Wax of Penn Law has been condemned by her school for alleged statements at a recent conservatism conference. According to one reporter, Prof. Wax said,

our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.

The Penn Law community reacted with outrage. Wax’s dean said her comments were

repugnant to [our] core values and institutional practices.

Meanwhile, across the country at the University of California—San Diego, a student group has successfully sued for having its humor magazine kicked off campus. Back in 2015, The Koala came under fire for its satiric article about the university’s new “Dangerous Space on Campus.” The article used the “n-word” and referred to violent sex acts.

The administration denounced The Koala, calling it

profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking and cruel.

After a few legal back-and-forths, though, The Koala has triumphed. An appeals court ruled that the university could not set up a competition for student funds, then ban only one publication from the competition.

The two cases lead us to a few questions this morning:

  • 1.) Should universities have different rules about free speech for students and professors?
  • 2.) Does offensive language deserve more protection when it is used satirically?
  • 3.) And finally, is the word “repugnant” ever used in any other context? Why is it so popular among campus condemnations?

Can This Professor Be Racist?

Should he stay or should he go? The alt-right has been howling for James Livingston’s professional blood. Rutgers seems willing to punish him. Is this a case of academic racism? Or of academic freedom? I know there are no simple equivalencies among different sorts of racism, but it seems to me we DO have a relevant precedent for this case.

livingston 1

Rude, yes. Racist?

Here’s what we know: History professor James Livingston attracted a lot of negative attention for his anti-white screeds on Facebook. He railed against white people for their sense of entitlement and their arrogant ignorance. As he put it,

OK, officially, I now hate white people. I am a white people, for God’s sake, but can we keep them — us — us out of my neighborhood? I just went to Harlem Shake on 124 and Lenox for a Classic burger to go, that would be my dinner, and the place is overrun by little Caucasian assholes who know their parents will approve of anything they do. Slide around the floor, you little shithead, sing loudly, you unlikely moron. Do what you want, nobody here is gonna restrict your right to be white. I hereby resign from my race. Fuck these people. Yeah, I know, it’s about my access to dinner. Fuck you, too.

And, in a later post,

I just don’t want little Caucasians overrunning my life, as they did last night. Please God, remand them to the suburbs, where they and their parents can colonize every restaurant, all the while pretending that the idiotic indulgence of their privilege signifies cosmopolitan–you know, as in sophisticated “European”–commitments.

Is this racism? And therefore cause for dismissal? Livingston says no. He defended his comments as partly satirical, partly ridiculous, but also non-racist. There is no such thing as anti-white racism, Livingston explained. As he put it,

Racism is the exclusive property of white, mostly European people in this part of the world (the western hemisphere), because such people were able to impose their will on 9 million Africans via a labor system called slavery, and benefit from the economic and social capital of that system unto this day—regardless of their class standing, then or now.

Rutgers disagreed. The administration concluded that Livingston’s comments violated the university’s discrimination and harassment policies and damaged the university’s reputation. As the administration explained,

Professor Livingston clearly was on notice that his words were offensive, yet instead of clarifying that he meant to comment on gentrification, he chose to make another belligerent barb against whites. Given Professor Livingston’s insistence on making disparaging racial comments, a reasonable student may have concerns that he or she would be stigmatized in his classes because of his or her race. As such, Professor Livingston’s comments violated university policy.

What to do? Can the university fire a tenured professor for offensive comments? Rutgers says yes. The administration announced it will soon decide the proper disciplinary action, up to and including discharge. Will Creeley of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says no. As he told IHE,

Rutgers has effectively subcontracted out its obligations as a public institution under the First Amendment to outraged internet mobs. . . . The real concern for us is that this is part of a trend, and if would-be internet trolls see that flooding universities with hate mail and being loud online is a successful way to silence faculty members whose views they disagree with, that will be repeated.

How can this baby be successfully cut in half? How can an academic’s right to freedom of thought and expression be balanced with a university’s duty to protect its reputation and its students from angry professors?

To this reporter, it seems like we’ve been here before. Rutgers could follow the example of Penn last year. SAGLRROILYBYGTH might remember the case of law-school professor Amy Wax. Wax had already attracted negative attention for her recommendation of “bourgeois culture.” In a radio interview, Wax noted that she hadn’t had any top-notch African American students in her class. People were outraged.

What did Penn do? They didn’t fire Wax. They defended her right to academic freedom. But they DID remove her from teaching a mandatory class. It would not be fair to force students to take a class from a professor that had such pre-conceived notions about racial disparities, they concluded.

Could Rutgers do something like that here? As the Rutgers administration noted, students were leery of taking a class from Professor Livingston, who clearly has preconceived notions discriminatory against white people. So just have Livingston teach optional courses. Make a public statement condemning his attitudes but defending his right to speak them publicly.

Would that be a fair solution in this case?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Welcome to your weekly round-up of ILYBYGTH-themed stories from around the interwebs. Thanks to everyone who sent in tips.

Nun in the huddle! Sister Jean and March Madness, at NYT. HT: DW.

calvin reading

My kind of Calvinism…

White evangelicalism—the church of the “slave state,” at Forbes. [Editor’s note: The original Forbes article was taken down as “way out of bounds,” but the text is still available at this new link. Thanks to alert reader for pointing it out.]

Don’t have your copy of Fundamentalist U yet?

Campus cults and “passion plays:” “War on Cops” author Heather MacDonald talks with “What’s Happened to the University” author Frank Furedi at CJ.

What do college students think about free speech on campus? New poll numbers at KF.

What does Queen Betsy think? A tough interview at 60 Minutes.

Creationist Ken Ham praises the Oklahoma university that welcomed his lecture—see his op-ed at KHB.

The view from Greenville: An instructor at Bob Jones U explains why he voted Trump, at HNN.

Dripping Wax: Professor Amy Wax suspended from teaching mandatory class after latest disparaging racial remarks. At IHE.

Is the Museum of the Bible just an evangelical missionary outfit “masquerad[ing] as an educational institution”? That’s the charge at R&P.

Teacher pay and underpay: Check your state at Vox.

Students who walk out should be punished. So says Daniel Willingham. HT: XX

Too close for comfort? Ben Carson’s aide chummy with secretive religious charity, at the Guardian. HT: LC.

How Schools Can Save America

How can schools save America? The answer is clear, but nobody wants to hear it. New research piles on more evidence that our deeply cherished notions about schooling and social fairness just don’t match reality.

birch tree on a boulder REAL

If a tree grew in the forest and there was no one around to hear it, could it still serve as an awkward metaphor?

Try it yourself: Whatever your politics, don’t you think every kid deserves a good education? I do. And part of the reason is because a good education can help children secure better jobs. For children from low-income homes, those jobs can pull families out of poverty into the middle class.

It’s not just a myth. We all know people for whom this story has proven true. Like a lot of people in the aftermath of World War II, my father came to this country with nothing. Because he went to good, free public schools in New York City, including City College of New York, he was able to become an electrical engineer and send me to college, too.

As Rachel Cohen describes in the new Atlantic, however, research from Berkeley’s Jesse Rothstein suggests that these rags-to-richer-through-school stories are not the norm. As Rothstein describes,

There is thus little evidence that differences in the quality of K-12 schooling are a key mechanism driving variation in intergenerational mobility.

For people like me, this conclusion is hard to hear. We go into teaching and education, after all, because we hope to contribute our mite to making the world a better place. We work hard with kids from lower-income homes to help them succeed in school and get into and through college. And we do it all in the hopes that students might be able to get good jobs. Long term, we hope today’s striving students will build tomorrow’s stable, prosperous communities.

Is it all a myth?

According to Rothstein, factors besides formal education have more to do with economic mobility. As he concludes,

most of the variation in CZ [“commuting zones”] income mobility reflects (a) differences in marriage patterns, which affect income transmission when spousal earnings are counted in children’s income; (b) differences in labor market returns to education; and (c) differences in children’s earnings residuals, after controlling for observed skills and the CZ-level return to skill.

In other words, good schools can help people move up, but they’re not the main factor. More important factors include the number of single-parent families in a neighborhood, the availability of jobs, the presence of unions, and hiring discrimination.Rothstein

No doubt we’ll be able to have some unproductive culture-war shouting matches over these findings. Cultural conservatives will point to the importance of traditional marriage patterns. As Professor Amy Wax did recently, they might urge people to embrace “bourgeois culture” as a ticket out of poverty.

Progressive types like me will underline the primary importance of non-discriminatory hiring practices and strong unions.

All of us, though, will probably miss the central point. Focusing on school reform instead of social reform is backwards. We might think of this as the “birch-on-boulder” dilemma. Around these parts, a five-minute walk in the woods will show you plenty of examples of bold birch trees growing out of big boulders. The tree’s roots heroically scramble to reach scanty soil. Even though the baby trees started on top of rocks, they were able to somehow overcome those conditions and grow up tall and strong.

There is no doubt that some trees can thrive even in the most difficult conditions. If we want to grow trees, however, we wouldn’t plant all of them on top of boulders and offer some of them a little more soil or fertilizer. Instead, we would start by clearing out the boulders, preparing rich soil beds for all the trees.

Similarly, if we want to help young people rise above their difficult social conditions, we shouldn’t just put a few more computers in a couple of schools or tinker with a couple of difficult-to-find programs that might help a few students get an advantage in their educations. Instead, we need to make it so that all students have good conditions for growth. We need to clear away the “boulders” of hiring discrimination, job deserts, weak unions, and reduced family resources.

In the end, we face a sobering answer to the question. How can schools save America? They can’t. At least not by themselves.

We Need More Wax in America’s Ears

Jonathan Zimmerman says let her talk. When we defend academic speech we disagree with, we defend ALL academic speech. Jonathan Haidt says let her talk, because she’s right. Stable marriages and “bourgeois culture,” Haidt agrees, really do help people improve their economic conditions. We here at ILYBYGTH want Professor Wax to have her say for different reasons. In short, we think we won’t be able to truly reform public education until we do. We’ll make our case this morning and we’re going for bonus points by working in both creationism and the Green Bay Packers.

aaron rodgers jesus

I don’t think St. Aaron attended Penn Law…

If you haven’t been following the frouforole emanating out of Philadelphia, here it is in a nutshell: Professor Amy Wax of Penn Law and Professor Larry Alexander of UCLA penned a provocative piece at Philly.com. If we really want to ease the burdens of poverty, they reasoned, we should encourage more people to embrace “bourgeois culture.” Such ideas have gotten a bum rap, Wax and Alexander said, but the notions of deferred gratification, stable two-parent households, and patriotic clean living are of enormous economic value.

The outcry was loud and predictable. Penn students rallied to shut down such “white supremacist” notions. Wax’s colleagues denounced her ideas in more nuanced form.

Any progressive historians in the room surely share Professor Zimmerman’s concern. After all, when academic speech has been banned and persecuted in this country, it has been progressive and leftist scholars who have borne the brunt of such punishment.

There is a more important reason to allow and encourage a frank and open airing of Professor Wax’s arguments. As recent polls have reminded us, Americans in general are profoundly divided about the meaning of poverty. For argument’s sake, we might say there are two general sides. Lots of us think that the most important cause of poverty is a social system that defends its own built-in hierarchies. Rich people stay rich and poor people stay poor. Lots of other people disagree. Many Americans tend to blame individuals for their poverty, to assume that personal characteristics such as grit and gumption are enough to solve the problem of poverty.

Professor Wax’s argument tends to support the latter view. And if you disagree with her, you might be tempted to try to shut her down.

That’s a mistake.

Why? Because her arguments just don’t hold water. And because the more often we can get discussions of poverty on the front pages, the more chances we’ll have to make better arguments, to explain that America’s anxiously held Horatio-Alger notions don’t match reality.

In other words, when it comes to tackling the problem of poverty in America, the biggest challenge is that people simply don’t want to talk about it. They want to rest in their comfortable assumptions that the system is fundamentally fair even if some people don’t have what it takes to get ahead.

I’m convinced that the truth is different. Personal characteristics matter, of course. Far more important, however, is the whole picture—the social system that puts some kids on a smooth escalator to riches and others in a deep economic pit with a broken ladder.

Because I’m convinced that the best social-science evidence supports my position, I want to hear more from people like Professor Wax. I want to encourage people who disagree to make their cases in the front pages of every newspaper in the country.

Sound nutty? Consider a couple of examples from near and far.

Radical creationists like Ken Ham want to protect children from the idea of evolution. They fear, in short, that students who hear the evidence for evolution will find it convincing. With a few prominent exceptions, radical creationists want to cut evolution from textbooks and inoculate students against evolution’s powerful intellectual allure.

Those of us who want to help children learn more and better science should welcome every chance to put the evidence for mainstream evolutionary theory up against the evidence for radical young-earth creationism. Mainstream science should never try to shut down dissident creationist science. That’s counter-productive. Rather, mainstream science should encourage frank and open discussions, knowing that exposure to the arguments on both sides will convince more and more people of the power of mainstream thinking.

Or, for my Wisconsin friends, consider another example.

If a Bears fan wants to clamber up on the bar and insist that her team is better than the Packers, it would be the height of folly to try to stop her from speaking her piece. Those of us who know the true saving grace of St. Aaron will instead happily let her slur through her argument, smiling and waiting for Thursday night. The more games we play, the more often the Packers will win.

When the evidence is on our side, it is always better to encourage all the debate we can get.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Believe it or not, Labor Day is already here. Time to put away those white shoes, fellows. It has been a hectic last week of summer here at ILYBYGTH. Here are a few stories of interest that you may have missed:

Are some cultures better than others?

Love means never having to say you’re sorry: Trump pardons Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

At The Gospel Coalition, an open letter from Christian scholars denouncing racism.

Are white evangelicals more racist than Christian?

The problem with “privilege.” Jeffrey K. Mann wants us to look beyond race and gender.

What happened to all the Christian bookstores?

Yes, you read it correctly: Reese Witherspoon will be playing the role of a defector from the “God-Hates-Fags” Westboro Baptist Church.

Where are all the sinister atheists who are trying to undermine Christian America? The Trollingers couldn’t find them at the American Atheists Convention, from Righting America at the Creation Museum.

Family sues NYC schools over their son’s “gender expansive” preference for dresses. The school accused the parents of sexual abuse.

Vouchers and stealth vouchers: The Progressive offers a guide to the wild and woolly world of public-school funding options.

What should conservative evangelicals think about gender and sexuality?

Only in New York: A Brooklyn school principal accused of recruiting her students into the communist movement.

The Real Reason We Can’t Fix Our Schools

We all know public schools are not all equal. Rich kids get meticulous college-prep educations. Poor kids are often stuck in crumbling schools with shoddy expectations. Why haven’t we been able to fix this problem? We get a clue this week from an unlikely source. It underlines an unpopular argument I’ve been making for a while now: in spite of decades of “progressive” reform, our public education system is dominated by deeply conservative assumptions.

public school crappy

Do your local public schools look like this…

This week, our already-fractured academic world was thrown another culture-war bone to chew on by law professors Amy Wax (Penn) and Larry Alexander (UCLA). Writing at Philly.com, the two scholars articulated the unpopular idea that some cultures were better suited for modern American life than others. To help people in poverty, society should encourage them to live more stable personal lives, more in line with “bourgeois” culture.

Penn students and alumni condemned the essay as part of the culture of white supremacism. Some of Wax’s colleagues “categorically reject[ed] her claims.”

What does any of this have to do with school reform? A lot.

We don’t need to support or condemn Wax and Alexander in order to understand this. (Although, full disclosure, I personally put their argument in the same unfortunate category as James Damore’s Google goof. They twist social-science research to suit their own already-convinced positions. They play the provocateur merely to gain attention and they don’t mind articulating atrocious ideas in order to do so.)

public school fancy

….or more like this?

The point here is not whether or not Wax and Alexander are bold speakers of truth—as Jonathan Haidt has argued—or self-inflated stalking-horses for white supremacy.

The point, rather, is that this dust-up among elite academics shows the real reason why school reform is so difficult. It is not because we Americans are unwilling to invest in public education. As recent headlines from New York City have shown, we often have put bajillions of dollars into efforts to improve schools for students from low-income families.

As the case of the Wax/Alexander letter shows, the real reason we can’t fix public education is because we find it impossible to talk reasonably about poverty. Americans in general can’t even agree on the meaning of poverty. Some people think poverty is mainly due to personal failings. Others see the reason as structural inequality.

As a result, we talk instead about fixing schools so that poverty will be magically eliminated. Instead of talking about reforming society so that fewer students in public schools come from low-income families, we reverse the discussion. We talk about fixing schools so that more students from low-income families will get ahead in life.

In effect, our centuries-long strategy to avoid discussions of social reform by investing instead in school reform shows how deeply conservative our fundamental assumptions about schooling have always been. Instead of fixing society to eliminate poverty, we try to fix schools so that individual people might get a chance to escape poverty. Instead of directly addressing the third-rail topic of poverty in America, we sidestep the issue by making a few schools a little better.

The assumption is so deeply embedded in American culture that it is rarely noticed, let alone addressed. As long as kids from low-income families have access to a decent public school—the assumption goes—it is their own darn fault if they don’t improve their economic future. So money goes into shiny programs to make schools for low-income students a little better here and there, instead of going into programs that would change the fundamentally inequal structure of society itself.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing it, but I have to say it again. At the root of our endless failure to reform public schools is our endless failure to address the real problem. Schools can’t fix society, schools ARE society.