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‘Fairness’ in Education
At a Berkeley high school, "equality" means fewer science teachers.


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Thomas Sowell

A recent flap in a Berkeley high school reveals what a farce “fairness” can be. Because this is ultra-liberal Berkeley, perhaps we should not be surprised that a proposal has been made to eliminate four jobs as science teachers and use the money saved for programs to help low achievers.

In Berkeley, as in many other communities across the country, black and Latino students are not performing as well as Asian and white students. In fact, the racial gap in academic achievement at Berkeley High School is the highest in California — no doubt a special source of embarrassment in politically correct Berkeley.

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According to the principal, “Our community at Berkeley High School has failed the African Americans.” Therefore “We need to bring everybody up — that’s what this plan is about.”

Surely no one, not even in Berkeley, seriously believes that you will “bring everybody up” by eliminating science teachers. This is a proposal to redistribute money from science to social work, by providing every student with advisers on note-taking, time management, and other learning skills.

The point is to close educational gaps between groups, or at least go on record as trying. As with most equalization crusades, whether in education or in the economy, it is about equalizing downward, by lowering those at the top. “Fairness” strikes again!

This is not just a crazy idea by one principal in Berkeley. It is a crazy idea taught in schools of education across the country. A professor of education at the University of San Francisco has weighed in on the controversy at Berkeley, supporting the idea of “projects designed to narrow the achievement gap.”

In keeping with the rhetoric of the prevailing ideology, our education professor refers to “privileged” parents and “privileged” children who want to “forestall any progress toward equity.”

In the language of the politically correct, achievement is equated with privilege. Such verbal sleight of hand evades the question whether individuals’ priorities and efforts affect outcomes, whether in education or in other endeavors. No need to look at empirical evidence when a clever phrase can take that whole question off the table.

This verbal sleight of hand is not confined to education. A study of incomes of various groups in Toronto concluded that Canadians of Japanese ancestry were the most “privileged” group in that city. That is, people of Japanese ancestry there had higher incomes than members of other minorities and higher incomes than the white majority in Toronto.

What makes the “privileged” label a particularly bad joke in this case is a history of blatant discrimination against the Japanese in Canada in years past, including a longer internment during World War II than that of Japanese Americans. But, to some on the left, the very concept of achievement must be banished by all means necessary, regardless of the facts.

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Achievement by overcoming obstacles is a special threat to the Left’s vision of the world, and so must be magically transformed into privilege through rhetoric.

Those with that vision do not want to even discuss evidence that students from different groups spend different amounts of time on homework and different amounts of time on social activities. To admit that inputs affect outputs, whether in education, in the economy, or in other areas, would be to undermine the vision and agenda of the Left, and deprive those who believe in that vision of a moral melodrama starring themselves as defenders of the oppressed and crusaders against the forces of evil.

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Redistribution of material resources has a very poor track record when it comes to actually helping those who are lagging, whether in education, in the economy, or elsewhere. What they need are the attitudes, priorities, and behavior which produce the outcomes desired.

But changing anyone’s attitudes, priorities, and behavior is a lot harder than taking a stance as defenders of the oppressed and crusaders against the forces of evil.

To the extent that doing the latter misdiagnoses the problem, it makes solving the problem even harder. That does no good for those who are lagging, however much it exalts those who pose as their defenders. “Fairness” indeed!

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
© 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.



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