The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

John McWhorter on Education and Identity


In a wide-ranging review essay on Stuart Buck’s new book Acting White, John McWhorter highlights one of Buck’s more controversial recommendations for addressing the persistent black-white gap in academic achievement:


It is crucial to note that Roland Fryer’s work, as well as some of the studies claiming that “acting white” charges do not matter, have shown that the problem is largely limited to precisely the integrated schools, where there are white students for black ones to define themselves against. And this leads to Buck’s second suggestion, which runs up against the deeply entrenched impulse to decry “segregation”—namely, the establishment of all-black schools.

Buck does not mean that the notoriously lousy all-black inner-city schools should be our model for success. But in the increasing numbers of all-black charter schools, as well as public ones turned around by dynamic principals, students calling one another “white” for liking schools is as unheard of as it was in the black schools of yesteryear. Our visceral recoil today at any conception of an all-black school as reminiscent of shabby one-room schoolhouses in the segregated Deep South must be discontinued.

Many have made the case for single-sex schools along similar lines. Though we certainly don’t have any conclusive answers, McWhorter appears to be approaching this issue in the right spirit: let’s not assume that all-black schools are necessarily a bad thing; rather, let’s create room for more educational experiments. 


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