June 24, 2004
Reductio ad absurdum

Not content with the now undeniable progress of blacks in America, academics have now decided the problem is America isn't helping the right blacks:

While about 8 percent, or about 530, of Harvard's undergraduates were black, Lani Guinier, a Harvard law professor, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., the chairman of Harvard's African and African-American studies department, pointed out that the majority of them — perhaps as many as two-thirds — were West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples.

They said that only about a third of the students were from families in which all four grandparents were born in this country, descendants of slaves.

What would have been far more useful would be a survey of the entire student body to see just how many of all the students have grandparents who were born in this country. Harvard being Harvard, I don't doubt a significant number of whites would, but I imagine a significant number would not.

I'm currently working through Someone Else's House, an excellent and shocking chronicle of the struggle to integrate the US. So far, one of the main lessons of this history seems to be meddling, no matter how well intentioned, is still meddling, and often leads to disaster. Make sure the laws don't allow discrimination to be legal, and then let people sort it out themselves seems to be the only long-term road to success.

True, it does mean it's taken 40 years to make even this inadequate progress. But it is progress, and we are still moving forward, even if the steps are shuffling and painful. It's only the arrogance, bloody-mindedness, and willful naivete of academics and radicals that allows them to think the only reason they can't wipe out some three hundred years of slavery and discrimination with the wave of a legislative, regulatory, or rebellious magic wand is that they simply haven't found the right one.

I guess that's one definite difference I can see between radical conservatives and radical liberals. Radical conservatives want to change what you do. Radical liberals want to change what you think.

Posted by scott at June 24, 2004 10:18 AM

eMail this entry!


Joanne Jacobs has a lot of folks talking about this. One thing your readers should know is that poverty, especially multi-generational poverty, has a very harsh effect upon the young's ability to learn.

This is a port-over of what I left at Joanne's:

The problem seems not to be race per se, but differential language use across class. Sorry this isn't prettier, but I want yo to be able to go look for yourselves:


Serving Children From the Culture of Poverty

Practical Strategies for Speech-Language Pathologists

by Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin

3. Educational level and language stimulation.

Many people are educationally and vocationally limited because of their lack of opportunities. Research has documented a strong correlation between education and income levels. Welfare dependency is strongly associated with lack of a high school diploma and low literacy levels. The strongest predictors of a child’s academic success have proven to be family income and mother’s educational level, and not ethnic background or language ability.

Early Language Stimulation

Some parents with low income and limited educational opportunities do not believe that talking to babies is important or necessary. Thus, children who are rarely spoken to or given language stimulation during the first year of life have disadvantages from early on. Research indicates that stimulation in the first year of life is critical for linguistic and cognitive development. One study of early-enriched children from various cultural backgrounds showed that, in terms of long-term cognitive-linguistic competencies, infants whose enrichment began at 4 months greatly exceeded infants whose enrichment began at 12 months (Fowler et al).

There is much evidence that the amount of parental language input to children of low Social Economic Status (SES) is often less than the input to children of middle SES. Parents of low SES are less likely to respond to their children’s utterances; when verbal interaction does occur, it is more likely to take the form of directives than to take a form (such as inquiries) that keeps the interaction going. Children from low-income backgrounds have poorer phonemic awareness than children of middle SES; the children of low SES fall farther and farther behind children of middle SES on phonemic awareness tasks and reading ability as they go through school.

Falling Behind

Hart and Risley (1995) conducted longitudinal studies of families from various ethnic backgrounds. These studies focused on the home environments of 1- and 2-year-old children and, specifically, interactions and language stimulation within these homes. The researchers concluded, "Socioeconomic status made an overwhelming difference in how much talking went on in a family … the family factor most strongly associated with amount of talking was SES." They extrapolated that, in a 365-day year, children from professional families would have heard 4 million utterances, and children from welfare families would have heard 250,000 utterances. Westby (1997), commenting on this research, states, "Even by 3 years of age, the difference in vocabulary knowledge between children from welfare homes is so great that children from welfare homes would require a preschool program for 40 hours per week in which they heard language at a rate heard in the homes of professional families to gain a vocabulary the equivalent of working-class children."

Children from low-SES homes whose parents are not highly educated may not experience language or literacy experiences that are commensurate with the expectations of mainstream schools. Because parents/caregivers are trying to survive and provide the basics of life such as food and shelter, oral and written language stimulation often does not receive priority. Limited funds also means that families may not be able to take their children to many places and expose them to experiences such as they might have at zoos or museums that many mainstream educators take for granted. Lack of assumed literacy and specific environmental experiences often means that children from low-SES homes perform poorly on standardized tests.

Children with low or nonexistent levels of literacy in their home languages tend to have difficulty with formal schooling tasks. For many children of low SES, school is a culture shock. These children present special challenges for the school system because the children technically do not have language-learning disabilities; they simply come from environments where language stimulation and literacy are not readily available. In their study of children from low-income households, Justice and Ezell (2001) found that the children had low skill levels on tasks measuring metalinguistic terminology, alphabet knowledge, and print and word concepts. These skills are necessary for kindergarten in many states, and thus children from low-income backgrounds may be at a disadvantage from the beginning of their formal schooling.

Fowler, S. A. (1982). Transition from preschool to kindergarten for children with special needs. In K. E. Allen & E. M. Goetz (Eds.), Early childhood education: Special problems, special solutions. Rockville, MD: Aspen.

Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1992). American parenting of language-learning children: Persisting differences in family-child interactions observed in natural home environments. Developmental Psychology, 28, 1096-1105.

Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore: Brookes.


Carol Westby

Learning Science in Culturally/Linguistically Diverse Classrooms

Posted by: Liz Ditz on June 25, 2004 04:37 AM
Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember info?