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I just accidentally found my way to the conservative City Journal, particularly an elderly article on how CUNY could be better by not being soft on minorities, and I am currently angrier than I’ve been in quite some time.

Probably because I spent two hours yesterday in a New York public school where over 50% of the kids are on free school lunch, which will generally get you sensitive to arguments about how minorities are undeserving parasites. Oh, and I’ve been picking up the slack left by an incompetent college counsellor with Fab and a friend of hers, who are taking the SATs for the first time in November, as seniors. Having not been advised to take the PSAT last year.

City Journal was upsetting, but then I found my way to some random conservative mom’s blog from there. I don’t usually read the conservative blogs — in fact, I don’t really read blogs at all! Ha! — but this one also frustrated me beyond belief. I need to read this South Park Conservatives thing… I’m concerned about the co-optation the title seems to suggest… but all in all I just don’t get why anyone could call Republicans a “big tent” party or why a “rules-based” party makes any kind of sense at all… I’m not explaining myself well… Something about the very unusualness of this woman’s argument, the fact that she distances herself from fanatical religious conservatives and is aligning herself with libertarian values I’d rather see people further left adopt, really bugs me, and I feel like I need to go take a nice hot bath or a nice long walk and stop hyperventilating about this and figure out why I’m so upset.


  1. Cassandra wrote:

    Maybe you’re upset because your preconceived notions about “convervatives” were challenged, and you don’t like it?

    “I don’t usually read the conservative blogs”.

    Funny – several of my best friends are liberal Democrats, and I regularly read liberal blogs to find out about other points of view. In fact, one or two of my regular readers are liberals, and we argue all the time – civally.

    Perhaps you should try it more often. As your “side” keeps saying, stop the hate. City Journal wasn’t saying minorities are undeserving parasites. The argument is that it doesn’t help minorities to give them a handout – what they need is the training to learn to be self-sufficient and not dependent on government.

    Misstating someone’s argument intentionally is a poor way to start a dialogue with the other side, Gus.

    Cheers 🙂

    Sunday, October 9, 2005 at 7:29 pm | Permalink
  2. Roger wrote:

    Well, I’m not sure what the proximate cause of your getting upset was, I’d urge you to stay as upset (about this kind of nonsense) as you can handle while remaining happy in other parts of life.

    That City Journal article, protestations from the appropriately-named “Cassandra” aside, is a steaming pile (and yes, I’ve been suckered by that site’s superficial appearance of rationality before too). Its major virtue is that it manages to assemble the whole grab-bag of reactionary complaints about the academy, from barely concealed (okay, not concealed at all) racism to “tenured radicals” anti-intellectualism to privatization-mania. The piece’s very incoherence demonstrates the incompatibility of this bizarre confection of arguments.

    One of my great hopes, actually, is that the US right will eventually be electorally crippled by its own ideological diversity. To this point the Bushies have been remarkably successful in marshalling conformity with their narrow agenda of religious reaction and New American Century foreign “force projection,” but a more organized center-left (ha!) could, I think, easily weaken the ties between New England fiscal conservatives and Bible-thumping loonies and alienated white working people and all the “big tent’s” other occupants.

    Oh, and here’s my local source of a similar rage (note complete assumption of ideological conformity, lack of any mention of protest outside, and prominently placed newspeak about freedom and democracy):

    Monday, October 10, 2005 at 1:28 am | Permalink
  3. gus wrote:

    yeah, that was probably my least organized post evar. should perhaps have waited until I’d organized my thoughts. but my, you’re responsive to your trackbacks, cassandra! That didn’t take much time at all.

    Funny you should chide me about misstating arguments. For the sake of a more nuanced argument, let’s take a closer look at the article on CUNY:

    In 1969 the CUNY administration, unwilling to defend the idea of higher education as a privilege earned by hard work, capitulated to violent student demands that the university be open to all.

    I’m not acquainted enough with the history of CUNY to know how “violent” those student demands were; I can tell you that I know that violence on the part of any protester is generally exaggerated by the media.

    As for “higher education as a privilege earned by hard work,” I can’t begin to describe how wrong that statement is, especially when my prize student, who is very bright and works hard, has been routinely shortchanged by the school system. I began to write up every point at which her hopes were foiled, but it was really too long a list. Suffice to note that her college counselor didn’t tell her to take the PSAT last year and may not have advised her to take the SAT in time for it to count for colleges. The total help given by her counselor appears to consist of a single piece of paper with some basic guidelines. Meanwhile, I know from my own childhood in an extremely prestigious school that elsewhere in the country children who have already been given privileges she never had (though every child deserves them) were now having their personal essays edited for maximum impact, the recommendations from faculty marshalled so that none got lost, and their financial aid papers tracked by their own counselors. These are services my student was not offered. Each of these children in public schools is left to fend for themselves. Do you really think the “hard work” of individual children is enough to overcome this difference in resources, much less overcome a lifetime spent in some of the worst schools in the nation?

    All this to say that higher education, even at the historically huddled-masses-friendly CUNY, has not ever been “a privilege earned by hard work.” (If you’re still not convinced by that argument, finish this screed and then wait a couple of years; I plan to write a book on the undemocratic nature of the divide between privileged and underprivileged students.) To imply that it is casts the minority students who were “violently” trying to get in as lazy. Hence the beginnings of my feeling that this article cast minorities as parasites. Next error:

    CUNY created such schools as Medgar Evers College and Hostos Community College as offerings to black and Puerto Rican nationalism. No one seriously argued that there was a huge pool of college-prepared students in those or other neighborhoods unable to find a place in a college.

    No, I wouldn’t argue that either. The question is whether we should have faced up to the disparities in education, apologized for the colossal errors we’ve made in educating these students to date, and agreed to try to correct these errors. Which is what the remedial courses described in the next paragraph aimed to do. I am completely ready to agree with anyone who says we should stop fucking up so badly in primary and secondary schools and forgo the question of remediation altogether. However, that’s a larger argument about finances and public obligations on which I am betting Cassandra and I would not agree, and I already expect this comment to go on far longer than a comment should, so I’m skipping it in favor of dealing more thoroughly with the CUNY article.

    CUNY established tenured departments of remediation and new majors requiring virtually no knowledge of literature or history. Some of the new colleges and departments immediately set about propagating the racial ideology that gave them birth. Medgar Evers’s education school, for example, recently provided a video for the city’s elementary schools called “A Celebration of Blackness.” It addressed the questions: “How did Africans build the pyramids? How did a people go from the pyramids to the projects? Why are some people racists? Why do you know more about Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Martin Luther King Jr. than you do about Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, and Louis Farrakhan?”

    Phrases like “racial ideology” are why I reacted so strongly as to say this article called minorities “parasites.” I was merely responding in kind. For people who actually practice in the fields of history, psychology, and sociology, as opposed to those whose only exposure to these subjects was in high school and college freshman survey classes, these questions are perfectly valid jumping-off points for engaging in a scholarly investigation. The question about black leaders, in particular, is a rather sophisticated one: it is historiographical, asking questions about why the field of history is taught the way it is. Thus, attacks on questions like these seem to me to come less from a real concern with educational quality, and more from a disdain for the (ostensibly black) people who have developed these materials and develop these programs.

    The academic excuse industry began arguing that it was unfair to hold back skill-deficient students from higher-level classes, and besides, who’s really to say what constitutes a grammatical sentence?

    The first half of this sentence is a misrepresentation of the arguments for “social promotion,” while the second sounds like a non-sequitorial slap at Ebonics. The argument for social promotion has more to do with the damaging effects of holding them back on a student’s sense of their abilities, which might well end a student’s academic career forever as they give up, believing they are not “good enough” for college. As for what constitutes a grammatical sentence, that’s up to the linguists to decide, and they’ve demonstrated that “bad English” follows its own grammatical rules. If “proper English” is not any more rule-reliant than “bad English,” why is “proper English” considered better? The correct answers are matters of history, power, money, control of the media, and so on. Again, this seems to be more a misrepresentation and an attack on those who have developed these scholarly arguments than a genuine concern with the achievement of these students.

    The question of why “proper English” is seen as the one true way to make a grammatical sentence gets at the broader assumption of this article with which I disagree: that minorities should embrace “traditional education.” Judging by your statement that you think the Republican party is a “big tent,” Cassandra, I’m guessing you’d probably agree. Anyone with Republican values can join up, and the Republicans overall really don’t care what their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation is, right? Same thing with “traditional education” — it sees no color or gender.

    The problem is that, for reasons of history, “traditional education” implies a certain set of values about people which end up telling women, Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, poor children and children from working-class homes, and other groups that their lives do not matter or are flawed, and that their bodies, ancestors, values, and so forth are or were inherently wrong in various ways.

    And the Republican Party’s platform makes similar judgements. Sure, anyone can join, but they might have to make some awkward or even harmful adjustments to their lives to survive when the Republicans are in power, and there’s no guarantee they will see benefits. To paraphrase Henry Ford, Republicans can have any color car they like, so long as it’s white.

    And I’m not arguing that Democrats are too much less exclusive. Recent years have seen me criticizing demands for politically correct speech, in particular, as a means of excluding poor and working people of any background. This is why I was upset to see you embracing South Park (though I’m not sure I understand why you do it, or how the book frames South Park): when it comes to speech, I tend to agree with the guys who made South Park. I’m pretty firmly Libertarian in that respect. And I’d rather my Libertarian friends — who also seem to agree with me on matters of corporate handouts from the GOP — were developing coalitions with me rather than with you.

    Anyway, to wrap this up, I was merely making an appropriately slipshod response to an exceedingly slipshod article.

    Now, as for YOUR blog, I don’t think I particularly responded intelligently to it at the time, no 🙂 that is going to take some more thinking from me. But you’re absolutely right — I need to spend more time talking with people who disagree with me. It’s just really, really hard when I’ve seen so many lives wasted, and the arguments which perpetuate this waste are so ignorant of what years of scholarship have to say about education, linguistics, social sciences, et c.

    Monday, October 10, 2005 at 1:46 am | Permalink

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