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Debating the merits of affirmative action

Patrick Duncan | Tuesday, January 27, 2004

As someone who has worked as a tutor for the one of the SAT services Andrea de Vries mentioned in her Jan. 27 letter, I was absolutely astounded by her claim that such services can be bought to improve scores by hundreds of points. I had never heard of that before. As a matter of fact, we routinely inform students, many of whom are desperate for such a fantastic bounce, that such results are astronomically unlikely, and that it is far more realistic to expect an improvement of 50 points or less. There is no system I know which can take someone from a 1000 score to a 1500. I would like Andrea to provide some names, for otherwise it is pretty clear that she made the claim up herself.Aside from the SAT, however, I found it interesting how she avoided the other arguments altogether. Greg Parnell indicated, in his Jan. 26 column, for instance, that poor whites perform better academically than middle-class blacks (this is well-documented in the works of John Ogbu and Abigail Thernstrom), yet for Andrea it is all still just a matter of socioeconomic class.The issue of class, it seems to me, is quite prone to exploitation, especially when discussing the black community. I live down the street from a massive subsidized housing project, inhabited solely by blacks (Hispanics and others do not dare live there), here in Annapolis. I suspect everyone there would be classified as impoverished, by American standards.Yet, if you visited, you would see lots of cell phones, cars with bizarre and costly modifications, very expensive footwear, extraordinary obesity and widespread use of walkmans and cigarettes. Empty beer and liquor bottles and potato-chip bags lie everywhere; drug arrests and shootings are almost weekly events. None of this suggests to me an inability to afford books, or tutors if needed. I doubt the projects of Annapolis are unique.If I could suggest reasons why children from these communities do so poorly in school and on standardized tests, it would not be because there is no money for them. As Parnell pointed out, immigrant children frequently excel with far less than these have. No, the reasons are more likely dysfunctional families, crime and total immersion in a crude pop culture wholly incompatible with anything like responsibility or scholarship. Pumping 50 Cent into your ears all day will keep you from ever learning at all.Throwing money at the black community to assuage our feelings of guilt is what has created the culture of the projects, where so many blacks languish. To suggest that the solution is to throw even more money at it is ignorant and pathetic. Yes, those blacks are victims, but not victims of racism. They are victims of patronizing whites who would rather exacerbate the problem and feel good about themselves than actually face the problem and help solve it.By the way, research also shows that poor blacks are rarely the ones who benefit from affirmative action – sadly, none of the kids up the street are getting pulled into Harvard, I can guarantee. No, it is the middle-class black children who are outperformed by lower-class whites – these are the ones getting into the schools of their choice. Nor do I blame them – I would underperform too, if I knew I would be rewarded for it anyway.

Patrick Duncanclass of 2001Jan. 27