The Corner

Wood On Ogbu

The big Supreme Court decision on affirmative action is coming, so the question of admissions preferences and “diversity” will soon be on everyone’s minds. I’ve already recommended Peter Wood’s, Diversity: The Invention of a Concept as the best treatment of this issue. Wood’s book is by turns, hilarious, biting, extraordinarily thoughtful and thought-provoking. You can find my extended discussion of it here. (And if you don’t believe me, have a look at the reviews posted at amazon.) Anyone with an interest in the question of affirmative action and diversity who has not already bought Wood’s book has grievously erred.

Now Peter Wood has come through again with an incisive review (originally published in Boston University’s, Journal of Education) of an important new book by John Ogbu. Ogbu is the anthropologist who first reported the phenomenon of black school kids refusing to work hard for fear of “acting white.” Now Ogbu has put out a careful ethnographic study of black students and black families in the wealthy Shaker Heights district of Cleveland. Ogbu finds that children of wealthy and highly educated black families in a liberal, prestigious, and fully integrated school district still seriously underperform whites. The evidence points strongly to a cultural explanation for the gap. Ogbu’s cultural argument is powerful–even explosive. Yet Ogbu is sensitive to the potential controversy, and to some extent plays his argument down. Wood shows clearly what the real argument and implications of Ogbu’s book are. Reading this piece by Wood, I felt that all the claptrap about affirmative action, diversity, “institutional racism,” etc. had been swept aside and I was finally looking squarely at the problem at the heart of this great national controversy–-the problem no one wants to talk about.

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