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Coming Together: I am Not a Part of Your Bell Curve

| Thursday, March 30, 2017

I am disappointed to hear that Dr. Munoz and the Constitutional Studies department did not rescind their invitation to Charles Murray to speak on campus. In his article, Dr. Munoz mentioned that we can all learn something from Murray and his work. I respectfully disagree. The past 300 years of American history has already taught us that one can profit from racism and bigotry. Therefore, this article will not speak on the moral character of Murray and his research, nor on the limitations of free speech. Instead, I will argue that Murray should not have been allowed to speak on an academic platform because his research is flawed and much of his evidence can be questioned.

When we begin to use evidence to support poorly reasoned claims, we open the door for pseudo-science such as conducted by Charles Murray and Richard Herrstein. Their book, “The Bell Curve”, is a perfect example of why citing evidence and explaining reasoning are vital to forming an effective argument. They do neither, and thus, leave themselves to falsely interpret evidence and present alternative facts as sound academic research.

“The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life,” written in 1994, claims there is a new class structure which called the “cognitive elite, itself a result of concentration and self-selection in those social pools well-endowed with cognitive abilities.” The book argues that low levels of intelligence is the root of many social problems and that intelligence levels differs among ethnic groups.

The most troubling of Murray’s research lies in his conclusion that black people, on average, are less intelligent than white or Eastern Asian peoples. He uses statistical evidence from intelligence testing which shows that the mean IQ score of black students is consistently one standard deviation below the average of white students. For the sake of my argument, l will only agree that Murray’s statistical “evidence” appears to indicate the IQ scores of Black individuals tested appeared lower compared to their white and Asian counterparts.

In Chapter 13 Murray stated, “accounts of phenomenal success stories in education” are “too good to be true.” He believes that “claims for long-term academic improvement, let alone increases in cognitive functioning, typically fade as soon as hard questions begin to be asked.” In an attempt to use the work of Marva Collins he completely underminded his entire argument. In 1975, Collins left the Chicago public school system and started her own school, Westside Preparatory Academy. She took “unteachable” students and taught them to appreciate the works of great authors such as of Shakespeare, Danté, Chaucer and the list goes on. Her students did extremely well on standardized tests and many matriculated to the best universities in the country. In 1979, Collins and her students were featured on CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”

Murray argues that Collins’ teaching methods are ineffective — although, he had never spoke with her neither researched her methods. Thus in 1995, CBS’ Morley Safer re-interviewed the same group of students that were originally featured. The hard evidence that Charles Murray claimed didn’t exist was on the nightly news. Almost every student went on to pursued higher education or a career in their chosen field. What was Collins’ secret? Her students were in an environment that challenged them, reminded them of their gifts and told them that they had much to offer the world. During that interview, her former students shared that she would often say, “Lift your head honey, you’re brilliant” or “Speak louder honey, you’re brilliant.” They all agreed that hearing those positive words several times a day played an important part in their lives. Mrs. Collins believed in them, which gave them the confidence to believe in themselves.

In his new book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” Murray still uses questionable evidence to argue that low IQ and the creation of the cognitive elite are the causes of various social problems among white communities. However, if he didn’t properly use evidence to support his claims and reasoning in “The Bell Curve,” why should we trust any of his work now? Charles Murray’s work should have been carefully re-evaluated before giving him an academic platform to proliferate the same poor methodology and false assumptions.

While composing this letter, the words of Civil Rights Activist, Diane Nash, stirred within me as she described feeling as though she was “ … agreeing that [she] was too inferior … ” whenever she obeyed segregation rules. In many ways, being silent regarding Mr. Murray’s visit and aligning with the belief “we can all learn something from Mr. Murray’s work” are in many ways akin to agreeing that I and other students of color are also inferior. We are not, thus we did not silently agree.

Candace Thomas


March 24

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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