Skip to comments.Rich, Black, Flunking (dated, but timely)
Posted on 09/21/2009 8:47:15 AM PDT by E. Pluribus Unum
Cal Professor John Ogbu thinks he knows why rich black kids are failing in school. Nobody wants to hear it.
The black parents wanted an explanation. Doctors, lawyers, judges, and insurance brokers, many had come to the upscale Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights specifically because of its stellar school district. They expected their children to succeed academically, but most were performing poorly. African-American students were lagging far behind their white classmates in every measure of academic success: grade-point average, standardized test scores, and enrollment in advanced-placement courses. On average, black students earned a 1.9 GPA while their white counterparts held down an average of 3.45. Other indicators were equally dismal. It made no sense.
When these depressing statistics were published in a high school newspaper in mid-1997, black parents were troubled by the news and upset that the newspaper had exposed the problem in such a public way. Seeking guidance, one parent called a prominent authority on minority academic achievement.
UC Berkeley Anthropology Professor John Ogbu had spent decades studying how the members of different ethnic groups perform academically. He'd studied student coping strategies at inner-city schools in Washington, DC. He'd looked at African Americans and Latinos in Oakland and Stockton and examined how they compare to racial and ethnic minorities in India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and Britain. His research often focused on why some groups are more successful than others.
But Ogbu couldn't help his caller. He explained that he was a researcher -- not an educator -- and that he had no ideas about how to increase the academic performance of students in a district he hadn't yet studied. A few weeks later, he got his chance. A group of parents hungry for solutions convinced the school district to join with them and formally invite the black anthropologist to visit Shaker Heights. Their discussions prompted Ogbu to propose a research project to figure out just what was happening. The district agreed to finance the study, and parents offered him unlimited access to their children and their homes.
The professor and his research assistant moved to Shaker Heights for nine months in mid-1997. They reviewed data and test scores. The team observed 110 different classes, from kindergarten all the way through high school. They conducted exhaustive interviews with school personnel, black parents, and students. Their project yielded an unexpected conclusion: It wasn't socioeconomics, school funding, or racism, that accounted for the students' poor academic performance; it was their own attitudes, and those of their parents.
Ogbu concluded that the average black student in Shaker Heights put little effort into schoolwork and was part of a peer culture that looked down on academic success as "acting white." Although he noted that other factors also play a role, and doesn't deny that there may be antiblack sentiment in the district, he concluded that discrimination alone could not explain the gap.
"The black parents feel it is their role to move to Shaker Heights, pay the higher taxes so their kids could graduate from Shaker, and that's where their role stops," Ogbu says during an interview at his home in the Oakland hills. "They believe the school system should take care of the rest. They didn't supervise their children that much. They didn't make sure their children did their homework. That's not how other ethnic groups think."
It took the soft-spoken 63-year-old Nigerian immigrant several years to complete his book, Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement, which he wrote with assistance from his research aide Astrid Davis. Before publication, he gave parents and school officials one year to respond to his research, but no parents ever did. Then Ogbu met with district officials and parents to discuss the book, which was finally published in January.
The gatherings were cordial, but it was clear that his conclusions made some people quite uncomfortable. African-American parents worried that Ogbu's work would further reinforce the stereotype that blacks are intellectually inadequate and lazy. School district officials, meanwhile, were concerned that it would look as if they were blaming black parents and students for their own academic failures.
But in the weeks following the meetings, it became apparent that the person with the greatest cause for worry may have been Ogbu himself. Soon after he left Ohio and returned to California, a black parent from Shaker Heights went on TV and called him an "academic Clarence Thomas." The National Urban League condemned him and his work in a press release that scoffed, "The League holds that it is useless to waste time and energy with those who blame the victims of racism." The criticism eventually made it all the way to The New York Times, where an article published prior to the publication of Ogbu's book quoted or referred to four separate academics who quarreled with his premise. It quoted a Shaker Heights school official who took issue with the professor's conclusions, and cited work by the Minority Student Achievement Network that suggested black students care as much about school as white and Asian students. In fact, the reporter failed to locate a single person in Shaker Heights or anywhere else with anything good to say about the book.
Other scholars have since come forward to take a few more swipes at the professor's premise. "Ogbu is just flat-out wrong about the attitudes about learning by African Americans," explains Asa Hilliard, an education professor at Georgia State University and one of the authors of Young, Gifted, and Black: Promoting High Achievement Among African-American Students. "Education is a very high value in the African-American community and in the African community. The fundamental problem is Dr. Ogbu is unfamiliar with the fact that there are thousands of African-American students who succeed. It doesn't matter whether the students are in Shaker Heights or an inner city. The achievement depends on what expectations the teacher has of the students." Hilliard, who is black, believes Shaker Heights teachers must not expect enough from their black students.
To racial theorist Shelby Steele, the response to Ogbu's work was sad but predictable. Steele, a black research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the author of The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America, has weathered similar criticism for his own provocative theories about the gap between blacks and whites. He believes continued societal deference to the victims of racial discrimination has permitted blacks "the license not to meet the same standards that others must meet," which has been detrimental to every aspect of African-American life. "To talk about black responsibility is "racist' and "blaming the victim,'" he says. "They just keep refusing to acknowledge the elephant in the living room -- black responsibility. When anybody in this culture today talks about black responsibility for their problems, they are condemned and ignored."
Ogbu knows that better than anybody. In the months since publication of his book, he's been called a sellout with no heart for his own people, and dismissed entirely by critics who say his theory is so outrageous it isn't even worth debating. It is not surprising that Ogbu himself is now a bit uncomfortable discussing his own conclusions, although he has not backed down at all. After all, many scholars are eager to blame everything but black culture for the scholastic woes of African Americans. "I look below the surface," he says, in response to his many critics. "They don't like it."
Parents in Shaker Heights began trying to explain the disquieting gap months before Ogbu arrived. A small group of black and white parents gathered in the mid-1990s to study the issue months before the student newspaper at Shaker Heights High School published its article. Their preliminary explanations were divided into four broad categories: the school system, the community, black parents, and black students. The group concluded that the academic gap was an "unusually complex subject, involving the internal and external synergistic dynamics not only of the school system, but also of the parents and of students, collectively and individually, as well as our community as a whole."
It was a diplomatic way of saying there was much blame to go around, some of it attributable to black parents or students. Although many black parents would later react negatively to Ogbu's work, this biracial group had in fact beaten him to some of his conclusions. "Ogbu didn't find anything new," recalls Reuben Harris, an African-American parent who served on the subcommittee. "It's just a community where you wouldn't think this kind of gap would occur."
Ogbu agreed. And because he had spent much of his prior career looking at inner-city schools, he was particularly intrigued by the idea of studying a relatively affluent minority group in an academically successful suburban district. This was an opportunity to do a new kind of research. Why were there such stark differences when the socioeconomic playing field was comparably level? How could you explain the achievement discrepancies when they couldn't be dismissed with the traditional explanations of inadequate teachers or disparities in school funding?
Shaker Heights is an upper-middle-class city whose roughly 28,000 residents live on lovely tree-lined streets that run through neighborhoods of stately homes and manicured lawns. Years ago, both blacks and Jews were prohibited from living in the community by restrictive real-estate covenants, but the civil rights era brought a new attitude to the Cleveland suburb, which voluntarily integrated and actively discouraged white flight. Today, blacks make up about one third of the community, and many of them are academics, professionals, and corporate executives.
Ogbu worked from the 1990 census data, which showed that 32.6 percent of the black households and 58 percent of the white households in Shaker had incomes of $50,000 a year or more -- a considerable sum in northeast Ohio. It also was a highly educated community, where 61 percent of the residents graduated from college, about four times the national average. The school district was a model of success, too: Considered one of the best in the nation, it sent 85 percent of its students to college. Today, the district has approximately 5,000 students, of whom 52 percent are African American.
These were the kids of primarily well-educated middle- to upper-class parents, and yet they were not performing on a par with their white classmates in everything from grade-point average to college attendance. Although they did outperform other black students from across Ohio and around the country, neither school officials nor parents were celebrating.
Ogbu's approach was to use ethnographic methods to study the problems in Shaker Heights. In ethnography, the point is to try and "get inside the heads of the natives," he says. "You try to see the world as they see, and be with them -- as one of my colleagues puts it -- in all sorts of moods." An ethnographer lives in the community, talks to his subjects extensively, observes the environment, reviews data, but then derives his own conclusions about the situation.
Many of Ogbu's academic critics take issue with his methods, which they say are way too subjective. Most of them are sociologists, who rely on their subjects' own sense of the situation when studying something. It is the view of those being studied and not the view of the researcher that counts most. "They do surveys," Ogbu says. "They ask questions. I live in the community and socialize. My research is not confined to schools. I tell you what I observe."
Ogbu addresses this point in the introduction to his book: "The natives' own account of their social reality is also a social construction rather than a reality that is out there." He uses the example of racial attitudes in Shaker Heights to show why he believes this approach fails. Ask people there about race relations in the community and you will get wildly divergent opinions, depending on whom you ask. Whites, he found, say it is a racially harmonious and tolerant place. African Americans, meanwhile, describe the community as racially troubled and filled with tension between blacks and whites.
There are other differences between Ogbu's approach and that of most other academics who study minorities and education. They focus their scrutiny on the academic system or society at large, pointing to factors such as socioeconomics, inadequate urban schools, or the legacy of racism in the United States. Such theorists often cite the 1994 publication of The Bell Curve, which argued that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites, as evidence that negative stereotyping of African Americans still exists.
Ogbu, however, trains his eye elsewhere. "I am interested in what kids bring from home to school," he says. "And it seems to me there are different categories of students and they bring different things. I want to know what are those things."
The question of what students in Shaker Heights brought to school from their homes turned out to be profound. Black homes and the black community both nurtured failure, he concluded.
When Ogbu asked black students what it took to do well in the Shaker district, they had the right answers. They knew what to say about how to achieve academic success, but that knowledge wasn't enough. "In spite of the fact that the students knew and asserted that one had to work hard to succeed in Shaker schools, black students did not generally work hard," he wrote. "In fact, most appeared to be characterized by low-effort syndrome. The amount of time and effort they invested in academic pursuit was neither adequate nor impressive."
Ogbu found a near-consensus among black students of every grade level that they and their peers did not work hard in school. The effort these students put into their schoolwork also decreased markedly from elementary school to high school. Students gave many reasons for their disinterest. Some said they simply didn't want to do the work; others told Ogbu "it was not cool to be successful." Some kids blamed school for their failures and said teachers did not motivate them, while others said they wanted to do well but didn't know how to study. Some students evidently had internalized the belief that blacks are not as intelligent as whites, which gave rise to self-doubt and resignation. But almost of the students admitted that they simply failed to put academic achievement before other pursuits such as TV, work, playing sports, or talking on the phone.
The anthropologist also looked at peer pressure among black students to determine just what effect that had on school performance. He concluded that there was a culture among black students to reject behaviors perceived to be "white," which included making good grades, speaking Standard English, being overly involved in class, and enrolling in honors or advanced-placement courses. The students told Ogbu that engaging in these behaviors suggested one was renouncing his or her black identity. Ogbu concluded that the African-American peer culture, by and large, put pressure on students not to do well in school, as if it were an affront to blackness.
The professor says he discovered this sentiment even in middle- and upper-class homes where the parents were college-educated. "Black parents mistrusted the school system as a white institution," he wrote. They did not supervise their children's homework, didn't show up at school events, and failed to motivate their children to engage in their work. This too was a cultural norm, Ogbu concluded. "They thought or believed, that it was the responsibility of teachers and the schools to make their children learn and perform successfully; that is, they held the teachers, rather than themselves, accountable for their children's academic success or failure," he wrote.
Why black parents who mistrusted the school district as a white institution would leave it up to that same system to educate their children confounded Ogbu. "I'm still trying to understand it," he conceded. "It's a system you don't trust, and yet you don't take the education of your own kids into your hands."
Ogbu's critics find much to argue with in his Shaker Heights work. They believe his methods were shoddy, his research incomplete, and his assumptions about Shaker Heights outdated or wrong. They say the black community is far less affluent than Ogbu portrayed it and add that many of the black parents are first-generation college graduates with fewer family resources than their white counterparts. By and large, they blame the district and outside forces such as discrimination, stereotyping, and poor job opportunities as the cause of its academic problems. Talk to these critics and you also get a sense that they see Ogbu as a bit heartless.
"I find it useless to argue with people like Ogbu," says Urban League educational fellow Ronald Ross, himself a former school superintendent. "We know what the major problems in this school system are: racism, lack of funding, and unqualified teachers." Although Shaker Heights is in fact an integrated, well-funded, and well-staffed school district, Ross is nonetheless convinced that it suffers from other problems that contribute to the achievement disparities between the races.
Ronald Ferguson, a senior research associate at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government who also is studying Shaker Heights, believes the denial of equal educational and socioeconomic opportunities is at the root of the gap. He argues that Ogbu didn't pay enough attention to these essential differences, which he blames for the achievement disparities. The key to those differences is the amount of preparation students receive for academic challenges. "The differences in homework completion are not necessarily signs of lower-level academic disengagement," Ferguson says. "Instead, they're signs of skill differences, and in family-background supports."
Ferguson notes that even in affluent Shaker Heights, the rates of parental education are lower among African Americans than whites, and half the black students report living with one or no parent. "Ogbu writes as though the differences in family background are not very great, but in fact, they're substantial," he says.
Ogbu rejects this criticism in a way that suggests he's sick of hearing it.
"Nonsense," he says, dismissively. "What about other groups that come from one-parent families, like refugees, and they do better than the blacks? In Shaker Heights, 58 percent of the whites in 1990 made $50,000 to $100,000. Thirty-two percent of the black families made the same amount. The people who invited me are lawyers, real-estate agents; one was elected judge just last year. Over 65 percent of that community had at least four years college education. It's not a poor community."
Ogbu points out that another recent study of fourteen affluent communities around the United States found that the achievement gap between well-heeled whites and blacks is widespread, and not confined to Shaker Heights. "This is not unique," he says.
Although it's perhaps not surprising that Ogbu's theory would be criticized by a competing researcher with his own explanation for what's happening in Shaker Heights, even colleagues who have worked with Ogbu in the past are eager to put some distance between themselves and the anthropologist's latest work. Signithia Fordham is a professor of anthropology at the University of Rochester in New York who did research with Ogbu in the 1980s. It was that research that popularized the concept of "acting white," the notion that black students avoid certain behaviors like doing well in school, or speaking Standard English, because it is considered "white." The two researchers were criticized harshly over that research, which has been attacked in at least ten doctoral dissertations. Ogbu is now writing a book about that work.
Although Fordham did not want to comment on Ogbu's latest work, it is clear that her beliefs are almost exactly opposite from those of her former colleague. She believes school pressure to speak Standard English and "act white" is the very thing that makes black students fail. "What I found, the requirements in school compelled them to act in ways as if they weren't living in black bodies but who were essentially white or mainstream Americans," she says. "Kids found it difficult to deal with that and they found strategies to deal with it. They had to speak a certain variety of English in order to be successful. They had to buy into the ideas that dominate mainstream America. ... Black kids couldn't just be who they were."
In Ogbu's work with other American minority groups, the anthropologist has identified a core distinction that he believes is central to academic success or failure. It is the idea of voluntary, versus involuntary, minorities. People who voluntarily immigrate to the United States always do better than the involuntary immigrants, he believes. "I call Chicanos and Native Americans and blacks 'involuntary minorities,'" he says. "They joined American society against their will. They were enslaved or conquered." Ogbu sees this distinction as critical for long-term success in and out of school.
"Blacks say Standard English is being imposed on them," he says. "That's not what the Chinese say, or the Ibo from Nigeria. You come from the outside and you know you have to learn Standard English, or you won't do well in school. And you don't say whites are imposing on you. The Indians and blacks say, 'Whites took away our language and forced us to learn their language. They caused the problem.'"
Georgia State University's Hilliard brushes all this attitude stuff aside. He is convinced that the way teachers approach students of different races is key to understanding academic disparities. "It doesn't matter whether the students are in Shaker Heights or an inner city," he says. "The achievement depends on what expectations the teacher has of the student. There are savage inequalities in the quality of instruction offered to children. ... Based on other things we do know, many teachers face students who are poor or wealthy and, because of their own background, make an assumption certain students can't make it. I wouldn't be surprised to find that would be the case in Shaker Heights."
Ogbu did, in fact, note that teachers treated black and white students differently in the 110 classes he observed. However, he doesn't believe it was racism that accounted for the differences. "Yes, there was a problem of low teacher expectations of black students," he explains. "But you have to ask why. Week after week the kids don't turn in their homework. What do you expect teachers to do?"
Vincent Roscigno is not convinced by Ogbu's Shaker Heights theory. A sociology professor at Ohio State University who studies race and class disadvantages in achievement, he says Ogbu's latest premise descends from a long line of blame-the-victim research. "A problem in racial research historically has been to vilify the culture of the subordinate group," Roscigno says. "In the 1960s, a popular explanation for poverty was a culture-of-poverty thesis. That thesis argued the problems of urban poor people had to do with their culture and they were being guided the wrong way by their culture. ... At the turn of the century, the culture of white immigrants was blamed for their poverty and all the social conditions they faced."
Roscigno also believes Ogbu's research methods are flawed because he failed to do any comparative research on white families in Shaker Heights, substantially weakening his premise. "He's drawing very big conclusions about black students and black families in a case where he doesn't do much comparison," Roscigno says. "We don't know if white students would say anything different."
Ogbu barks a bit defensively in response: "I was invited by black parents. If I had more money and more time, I could study everybody."
John McWhorter, the author of Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, says Ogbu's book roiled the waters of academia, which he believes is too invested in blaming whites for the problems plaguing black America. "There's a shibboleth in the academic world and that is that the only culture that has any negative traits is the white, middle-class West," says McWhorter, a UC Berkeley professor of linguistics who is currently serving as a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a New York think tank.
McWhorter's own book, based largely on the author's experiences as a black man and professor, blames a mentality of victimhood as the primary reason for most of the problems in black communities -- including educational underachievement. "There's an idea in black culture that says Plato and hypotenuses are for other people," he says. "There is an element of black identity today that sees doing well in school as being outside of the core of black identity. It's a tacit sentiment, but powerful. As a result of that, some of what we see in the reluctance of many parents, administrators, and black academics to quite confront the 'acting white' syndrome is that deep down many of them harbor a feeling that it would be unhealthy for black kids to embrace school culture too wholeheartedly."
Nor is Steele, who's also been dismissed as a sellout in his day, surprised by the way the scholarly world has reacted to Ogbu's latest work. "Academics are a sad case," Steele says. "They support the politics of white responsibility for black problems. If they were to do research that found blacks responsible they'd be 'Uncle Toms,' and that's how they've treated Ogbu."
Ogbu seems a bit bothered by the avalanche of criticism that's come his way. He treads carefully when he talks about his work and reiterates repeatedly in his writing and in person that he is not excusing the system. First of all, he concedes there are historic socioeconomic explanations to account for some black academic disengagement. Historically, there has been a weak link between academic success and upward mobility for African Americans. Blacks traditionally saw big leaps in social mobility only during times of national crisis such as war -- or during shortages of immigrant labor. "If those are the points where they move, it's not a kind of experience that allows a group to plan their educational future," Ogbu says.
In his book, he writes that the school district in Shaker Heights could do more to involve black parents and work at building more trust. He believes school officials should expand their existing Minority Achievement Committee, adopt more cooperative approaches to learning, and educate teachers about how their expectations can affect student performance. "I don't think it's one thing," he says cautiously. "There are a whole lot of things involved. My advice is we should look at each very carefully."
But Ogbu is adamant in his belief that racism alone does not account for the distressing differences. "Discrimination is not enough to explain the gap," he says. "There are studies showing that black African immigrants and Caribbean immigrants do better than black Americans even though some of them come with language barriers. It's just not race."
Ogbu believes he knows this firsthand. The son of parents who couldn't read, he grew up in a remote Nigerian village with no roads. His father had three wives and seventeen children with those women. Ogbu has a difficult time explaining his own academic success, which has earned him numerous accolades throughout his career. He did both undergraduate and graduate work at Berkeley and has never left. When pressed, he says he believes his own success primarily stems from being a voluntary immigrant who knew that no matter how many hurdles he had to overcome in the United States, his new life was an improvement over a hut in Nigeria with no running water. Involuntary immigrants don't think that way, he says. They have no separate homeland to compare things to, yet see the academic demands made of them as robbing them of their culture. Ogbu would like to see involuntary immigrants, such as the black families in Shaker Heights, think more like voluntary immigrants. In doing that, he says, they'd understand that meeting academic challenges does not "displace your identity."
The parents who invited Ogbu to Shaker Heights are uncertain about what to do with his theory. They know he is one of the preeminent scholars in his field, and yet his premise makes many of them uncomfortable and angry. They insist that they care deeply about education, which many say is the reason they moved to Shaker Heights. They feel betrayed by the very person they turned to for help.
Khalid Samad, the parent who compared Ogbu to Clarence Thomas, believes the professor fails to understand the black experience in America and how that creates problems for African-American students. "The system has de-educated and miseducated African Americans," he says. "Africans came here having some knowledge of who they were and their history and they had a self-acceptance. For several generations there has been a systematic robbing African Americans of their sociocultural identity and their personal identity. The depth of that kind of experience has created the kinds of problems we're still grappling with today."
Meanwhile, Howard Hall, a black Shaker Heights parent who is a child psychologist and professor at Case Western University, believes Ogbu had his mind made up before he even started his research. "It's scandalous to blame the kids for this," he says. "It's a good school system, but there are weaknesses in addressing the racial disparity and it's not the parents' fault. Effective schools set up an environment where most kids reach their potential."
Obgu's theory did find some support among black parents. Although they are in the minority, these parents believe he's pointed out a painful but powerful truth, and are happy to see it aired. "I already held his position before he did his research," says Nancy Jones, who has one child in the district and two who have graduated. "You can't get African-American parents to get involved and stay involved."
Jones says she is sick of the finger-pointing and blaming in her community, and was thrilled to see Ogbu highlight why this is detrimental. "We come from this point of view of slavery and victimhood and every problem is due to racist white people," she says. "That victim mentality is perpetrated by parents and they're doing their kids a disservice. ... My primary objective is not to hold someone accountable but to close the achievement gap."
Other parents also agree with Ogbu, Jones says, and will admit it privately, but publicly, it's too politically charged. "When you're in a public setting people are less apt to speak their mind if they think it's politically incorrect."
Sadly, Jones says, harsh criticism of Ogbu's Shaker Heights work has made any positive change nearly impossible. "Experts are telling the parents, 'The research wasn't good,' and, 'Disregard him,'" she says. "Besides, the parents' gut instinct tells them the district is at fault. When you have that many academics trashing him, it's easy to write off his conclusions. I'm having my doubts his work is going to motivate African-American parents and kids."
The fact that the conclusion was unexpected is just another symptom of the same problem.
In Mexico, someone who shows too much ambition is accused of “wanting to be an American” - a surprisingly effective insult. Hence their per capita GDP is half of ours.
Ogbu concluded that the average black student in Shaker Heights put little effort into schoolwork and was part of a peer culture that looked down on academic success as "acting white."
Great post. Hard studying trumps sloth every time.
To a worker with only one tool, a hammer, every problem appears to be a nail.
Seems to me that the people who are getting angry at the author, and blaming him, are reinforcing the very point he was making.
The only way to get here is the all-nanny state which, like Cuba, literally takes the kids away from their parents and puts them in a 24/7 government controlled environment. Maybe some black parents would be grateful for the babysitting service, but at what price?
So the ambitious souls head for the border -- legally or not.
Ambition has historically been looked down on in Catholic cultures as an exhibition of “pride.” In my conversations with Mexicans, both here and in Mexico, I never really encountered the “wanting to be American” comment (although I am sure it exists), but instead came across the attitude that it was bad to think that you were “better” than your family and friends by pulling yourself up and beyond your station. This attitude was common in southern Europe (to say nothing of Poland) until quite recently, and has (thankfully) been dying in Brazil as well.
Is that for all Mexicans or just the Mezitos and Indians?
It isn't the book reinforcing the stereotype, it is your attitude and your childrens' performance. Stereotypes gain and keep traction precisely because they are representative for a large percentage of the target population. They are insidious because they paint everyone with the same broad brush. But if there wasn't underlying correlation, they wouldn't last. The best way to break a stereotype is to look for the underlying validity and cure the problem.
I worked with some Nigerian post-grad students a few years ago and they were very bright, anxious to learn and to go back to Nigeria to apply those lessons in their own communities.
They didn’t look for racism in me or anyone else. That’s the difference.
Our society needs to get past looking for affront in everything with the attendant attitude that accompanies it.
Yes, racism is part of the past, but it is part of the past. Time to move on.
Kids who achieve academically (any color) are shunned by an angry contemptuous underclass which is marked by skin color, not by socioecnomics. These angry kids are only protected and made angrier by patronizing libs who assume they cant learn because they are black or tan, don't have enough role models, enough teachers, enough money to buy fancy books, equipment schools and programs etc
We have high-achieving hispanic friends whose kids suffered the same thing from their peers - contempt toward education
Very thorough article. Ogbu appears to be a good researcher, one of the (apparent) few willing to look into what’s really wrong and how to fix it. I’m sick of the blame game and no longer care who discriminates against who. Cosby, Clarence Thomas, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, et al certainly experienced race problems beyond my imagination.
All of them managed to accomplish far more than the vast majority of we white folks. They simply buckled down and outperformed their white peers. Good for them!!
“Ambition has historically been looked down on in Catholic cultures “
NOT the Irish, Polish and Italian ones!
We make the same exceptions for black politicians. We don’t expect them to pay their taxes or observe other laws.
“It wasnt socioeconomics, school funding, or racism that accounted for the students’ poor performance, Ogbu says; it was their own attitudes, and those of their parents.”
“The school system should take care of the rest”. “”””
I wish I could bring back LBJ and show him up close and personal what his “Great Society” actions have wrought.
We have 45+++ years of welfare, trillions of dollars of wealth transfer, and we have still got a group of welfare recipients who believe ‘someone else’ is responsible...but NEVER THEM.
I hold that this bad news is a result of educational policies that I summarize as “Juneteenthlsm” — the encouragement of making one’s freedoms, one’s status and one’s wealth to be the due of others who owe it to you.
I grew up Catholic - ambition was encouraged, even demanded, but never looked down upon!
"Blacks" per say, aren't intellectually inadequate or lazy, but the rap/hip-hop culture and it's previous incarnations all discourage academic achievement.
"Education is a very high value in the African-American community and in the African community."
How anyone with even passing familiarity with the "African-American community" or, in particular, Africa could even suggest this is appalling.
Here is my theory on race. People are like cars, they come in many colors but essentally have the same potential. disparities in performance come from how the cars are treated. For example, lets say that 95% of the people own red cars never do any maintenence on them. The oil is full of sludge, the spark plugs are bad, and they fill the engine with cheap watered down gas. In a race against cars of other colors that are well maintained, the red cars will lose every time. People then start to think the red cars are junk, and start giving them head starts in races, but they still lose. Telling owners of the red cars that they need to take batter care of them makes them angry. They think the problem is not with their cars, but with the shape of the race track or with the judges.
Even in the first two generations of residency in the states, many Catholic-Americans embraced the humble concept of Church/Neighborhood/Work and not "rising above" the way that Jews and protestants did. It took assimilation into the larger American culture and out of the Catholic Ghetto/urban peasant mentality for upward mobility to take place.
As far as the Catholic world outside the US is concerned, places like Ireland did a cultural about face starting in the 1970s/80s, to say nothing of France earlier under the Orleanists (mid 19th century) and Italy (outside of the south, where the urban peasant attitude continues in places like Naples and Palermo, encouraged by the welfare state) under De Gasperi's reforms of the 1950s.
Cultures (and religions of course) are NOT static, which is why even places like Brazil are seeing a scrapping of the old "ambition as Pride" mentality in both the populace AND the Church (thank you Josemaria Escriva and Opus Dei!). Nevertheless, to deny that such an attitude existed among the Irish, Polish, Italians, Portuguese, and French Canadians, both at home and in the diaspora, would be ahistorical.
--- Clemenza, Descendant of the ambitious ones. :)
Generally, one should expect to catch flak when one is on-target.
parents worried that Ogbu's work would further reinforce the stereotype that
blacks are THEY WERE intellectually inadequate and lazy. .....there, fixed it.
School district officials, meanwhile, were concerned that it would look as if they were blaming black parents and students for their own academic failures.
Well, who else would be responsible? When I completely screw up something, I don't blame the guy down the street.
If this group ever decides to stop finger-pointing and address the real issue - that is, children and their parents are ultimately responsible for their educations - they might get somewhere. Otherwise, it'll be the same old same old with a victim mentality.
This Professor John Ogbu is absolutely right, no matter how hard the professional malcontents try to undermine him.
So even black academics buy into the notion that excelling in academics and speaking proper english are "acting white".
If thats your assumption you've lost the game before it began.
I have a nephew who was half-latin, and had fallen in with the little gang-bangers at school in an effort to be authentically latin. He dressed the dress and talked the dialect. Then I invited him to South America when I was working there, and he saw a real latin society, with successful happy people, moral people, all kinds of people, and he was never the same again. He never again tried to emulate the little gangbangers, and he's grown into a bright, moral, successful college student at this point.
There is such a thing as poverty culture. A lot of people have moved through it, up and out. But when you begin to associate poverty culture as being somehow "authentic" and anything else as somehow a betrayal of your authentic self, you are truely and royally trapped.
That is real similar to the dynamics of Envy in the small tribal situations.
ping for later reading
The "acting white" cultural norm is in part a defense. Which is more hummiliating: to work your ass off in a suburban school to get C's, or to claim trying to succeed is "acting white", cop an attitude and get D's.
Of course we can't talk about this. "That's racist!".
Suffice it to say that the concept of 'victimhood', victimhood' resonated in my mind. AND the lack of parental involvement in their children's education. Bill Cosby has stated the conclusions, set forth in this article, many times in the last few years (though he is going 'wobbly' now).
The quote by the mother, states it succinctly
"We come from this point of view of slavery and victimhood and every problem is due to racist white people," she says. "That victim mentality is perpetrated by parents and they're doing their kids a disservice. ... My primary objective is not to hold someone accountable but to close the achievement gap." "
Thank you so much for posting this! I went to a Prep School in Shaker Heights in the ‘60s. The community has changed drastically since then.
“Whites, he found, say it is a racially harmonious and tolerant place. African Americans, meanwhile, describe the community as racially troubled and filled with tension between blacks and whites.”
That short quote shows exactly where the “tension” lies.
Lack of effort results in lack of achievement.
“someone else is responsible...Never them.”
Same attitude as when they are facing the judge and jail time.
The ones with any ambition are already here.
Other ethnic groups are **AFTERSCHOOLING**!!!!!!
Conclusion I: Little learning happens in school. Almost **all** learning happens at home due to the teaching efforts of the parents and the effort of the children!
When I talk to parents of academically successful children I find that what they are doing in the home matches **exactly** what we did in our family's homeschool. ( NO difference!)
Academically successful children in functional homes would likely make even better progress if they spent less time in school and more time at home. The institutional school may actually be **retarding** their progress.
Children with poor academic achievement would likely do better in highly structured institutional schools similar to KIPP schools. George Will calls them paternalistic schools that attempt to reproduce in the institution what should be happening at home. These paternalistic schools spend a lot of effort in educating the parents as well.
These parents are already highly accomplished. They sacrificed financial to move to Shaker Heights. They are motivated enough to find a researchers and to fully participate in a study.
I believe parents like this would respond to “coaching” on how to be more effective as parents.
It states in the first sentence of the article that the parents are highly successful and achieving. (Doctors, lawyers, judges, and insurance brokers,) Even with affirmative action, the IQ of the parents is more than adequate.
If they change the wording to "wanting to be Chinese," then we should start worrying...
Ambition was the hallmark of my Irish ancestors who came here in the 1720’s. ‘course they were not catholics but they were poor. The first luxury they bought once they accumulated enough assets everyone didn't have to plant fields was - schooling for their kids to give them an advantage
It was not ambition that was looked down on by the European catholic cultures, nor education!! Just ambitions toward certain vocations, maybe.
The Kennedys seemed to be among the first to make public service a desired and attainable vocation for these cultures. Entering the priesthood- required education.
imho you cannot equivocate cultural expectations of “catholics” with the nonexpectations, low expectations, or expectations of entitlement, that taint the educational outcomes of many “families of color”
BTW, my hispanic friends whose kids were taunted and shunned by other hispanics for being too studious and “wasp”- - one graduated Harvard Law and the other from med School- and the taunters? Many came from poor families whose folks were working 2-3 menial jobs to live in the best suburban school district to try and give them a good education so they wouldn't have to work menial jobs.
Go figure (I always thought it would be Clemenza- but Tessio was the smart one)
Keep in mind also that those who came here were often the more ambitious ones, and you see this today with the entrepreneur class among Latin/Filipino/Vietnamese immigrants. Nevertheless, there was a large population of folks who were dependent on the city or the union for their low status jobs which kept them living in the same ethnic ghettos for three generations, as they failed to shake the "village"/tribal mentality towards material success and upward mobility.
It was even worse back in Europe itself, where the larger culture was dominated by the "material success and surpassing your family is Pride" ethos. Again, this changed in several countries at different times (France in the 1840s, Ireland in the 1970s, Brazil in the 1990s, etc.) but you can't deny it was a major factor keeping Catholic cultures in relative poverty.