Thomas Sowell
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Let's face it: Reality can be stressful and can sometimes get very rough. Everyone has an incentive to postpone it. Most of us, however, learn the hard way that postponing reality only makes it far worse than facing it early on.

The problem gets more complicated in politics, where one set of people has the power to postpone facing reality and a different set of people have to pay the price later on.

Our educational system is a classic example. Nothing is easier than to lower the standards today, avoiding all sorts of problems that arise with students and their parents when higher standards are imposed.

Today's "educators" can simply pass the students along to the next grade and eventually send them out into the world with nice-looking diplomas and little else to enable them to cope with the complexities and challenges of work and of life. These students then pay big time for the rest of their lives.

California is one of a number of states that has belatedly begun to recognize what a disaster this policy has been. In 1999 a law was passed saying that students would receive a diploma only if they could pass a standard test to show that they had some real knowledge, instead of just an acceptable attendance record.

These tests do not require genius. We're talking basic math and English. We're talking multiple choice questions where the passing grade is 55 percent -- and you can get 25 percent by just guessing.

Like other states with high school graduation exams, California has postponed forcing students to pass that exam as a condition for receiving the diploma. This year, the state has decided that it is finally going to enforce this law passed in 1999.

Maybe it will and maybe it won't. Attorney Arturo Gonzalez has filed a lawsuit to stop this graduation requirement from being enforced.

The requirement is not "fair," Mr. Gonzalez says. The schools where a high percentage of the students don't pass the test are predominantly low-income and minority schools.

This is not to say that most of the students in predominantly low-income and minority schools do not pass. It is just that the schools where fewer than 70 percent pass are predominantly low-income minority schools.

Are these tests "fair"? Of course not. Life itself is not "fair" in the sense of offering equal chances of succeeding in any kind of endeavor.

It is hard even to imagine how life could conceivably be "fair" in the sense of equal chances of doing specific things, when there are so many factors at work differently for each person.

Different families and different cultures produce different habits, different values, different behavior patterns. They don't even want the same things to the same degree, much less have a willingness to sacrifice to the same extent to get those things.

The only kind of fairness we can hope for is applying the same rules and the same standards to everyone.

It certainly wasn't fair, in Mr. Gonzalez's sense of the word, for the schools I attended as a child to require me to take the same tests as children from families with more than twice as much education and several times as much income.

What would have happened if the schools had been "fair" to me in that sense? I would have learned less, had a much easier time in school -- and would have gone out into the world not even knowing enough to realize how little I knew.

By now, I might have been on welfare or in prison. But my teachers would have felt good about themselves for giving a poor boy from the ghetto a break.

Admittedly, at the time I didn't always appreciate all the heavy stuff my tough teachers were laying on me. But, at the time, I also didn't know that the world was going to be a lot tougher than school if I didn't learn.

Fortunately, those teachers were not into "fairness" and there was no Mr. Gonzalez around to file lawsuits to protect me from having to meet the same standards as everybody else.

Reality had to be confronted early on, not postponed.

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Thomas Sowell

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

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