Thomas Sowell

When critics point out the abysmal performances of schools in ghetto neighborhoods, teachers defend themselves by pointing out the disinterested, disruptive, and sometimes dangerous students they have to deal with. But teacher failure and student failure are not alternative explanations. They are twin disasters. There is plenty of blame to go around.

The painful story of educational disasters is analyzed in a recently published book on the teachers' union ("The Worm in the Apple" by Peter Brimelow) and one on black students' counterproductive attitudes and behavior ("Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb" by John U. Ogbu). Neither book is pleasure reading but both should be required reading for those who are serious about wanting to improve the education of American children in general and minority children in particular.

Peter Brimelow's book exposes the insidious, corrupt, and dirty tactics of those who control the country's largest teachers' union, the National Education Association. It is a wholly different picture from that of cheery smiling union officials who appear on TV ads.

While "educators" are quick to seize upon the defects of students, parents and society, as if that automatically vindicates the schools, the fact is that if our public schools had perfect students, perfect parents, and a perfect society, these schools would still be failing because of the three R's that they do not teach -- and the politically correct propaganda that they teach instead.

Professor Ogbu's book is devastating in a different way. It is a study of the racial gap in students' school performances in Shaker Heights, an affluent suburb of Cleveland. Whether measured by grades, test scores, or the quality of courses taken, black students lagged consistently behind white students.

Why? Black teachers, white teachers, black students and white students all give essentially the same answer: Black students simply do not work as hard.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone who has taught black students, especially if they have also taught white students and Asian students. Nor should it be a surprise to anyone who has read John McWhorter's book "Losing the Race." Although Ogbu failed to mention either this book or its author, he is essentially testing the McWhorter thesis that black students do not put forth the efforts needed to succeed.

Why don't they? There are many reasons. McWhorter thinks that the availability of affirmative action reduces the incentives for black students to do their best. Ogbu finds other reasons: different priorities, such as more concern among black students for non-academic activities, such as sports, entertainment, and hanging out with friends in person or on the phone.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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