Wednesday, November 24, 2004

She's right, but... 

A great post yesterday at Joanne Jacobs' site concludes,
So much of the affirmative action debate is about where the top 5 percent of black and Hispanic students should go to college. I worry about those kids with a C or D average. Nearly all have the ability to succeed -- if they get their act together.
They do, of course, if they are sorted into colleges that fit their current level of ability. With so few minority students scoring well on entrance exams, the competition sorts them above. But the larger point in Joanne's post is that there isn't any real differences in the demographics of the homes of these students from white students' homes. She quotes from a Time article:
After studying the difficulties of black students in middle-class Shaker Heights, Ohio, in 1997, John Ogbu, an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, posited that academic achievement for those black students was hindered by cultural attitudes, most notably the fear of being labeled as "acting white" if they performed well or studied too much in school.
The Ogbu results have been discussed and debated for quite some time with fears that the point devolves into blaming the victim. It strikes me that once these students come to college we can put a stop to this by having clear expectations. Schools deal with the 'C' and 'D' students who we know have the ability to succeed by assuming the lack of success is our fault, that we have failed to adjust our teaching methods to "reach them where they live". That's wrong: Students will succeed when we instead "pull them to where we live." They cannot be expected to pull themselves together when their homes, as Ogbu found, do not value homework and good grades. They've never learned that, so it is up to us to provide it. It takes extra work on the part of faculty who can do the easy thing instead by excusing poor work and study habits or by grade inflation. The questions to be asked are how to pull those students up.