According to The Washington Free Beacon, the student government at University of Wisconsin-Madison is demanding “free and full access” for “all black people,” as well as “test-optional admissions” for minority students.
In a recent op-ed, Tyriek Mack, one of the students who sponsored the legislation, enumerates the demands of The Blackout Movement, of which he is a part:
- “…reparations for the systemic denial of access to high quality educational opportunities in the form of full and free access for all Black people.”
There are several other demands–as well as vague condemnations regarding the school’s alleged promotion of “white supremacy”–but the two stated above are by far the most outrageous, and will be the focus of this piece.
Tyriek Mack furthers his argument for “test-optional admissions” by noting that “a significant amount of research has shown that standardized testing does not indicate how well one will perform at an institution.” He follows this up by complaining that “the advertisement of average ACT scores during recruitment discourages students who could have been successful at this University from applying.”
The issue addressed by Mack has real roots, but his solution is ludicrous. There are two problems facing black America as it pertains to education–culture and public restriction.
In a 2014 piece for Reason.com, John McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia, and author of the New York Times bestseller Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, writes about the cultural roadblocks faced by African American youth with regard to education.
Citing the work of John Ogbu and Signithia Fordham, McWhorter writes:
…black kids underperform in school partly because those who behave scholarly are teased as being “white,” such that often fitting in means letting one’s grades slip…black American teen identity often includes a sense of school as the province of whites—which is hardly surprising given black Americans’ history in this country.
McWhorter provides anecdotal evidence as well, noting that after Losing the Race was published, he received “thousands of letters, including over a hundred from black people explicitly attesting that they were teased as ‘white’ for liking school, as well as from concerned teachers wondering what to do about black kids coming to them and telling them about this happening.”
The Columbia professor furthers his argument regarding the role that cultural stereotypes play in academic underperformance in his 2005 book Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America.
The other major factor holding minority students back is the way in which our public school system is structured. Many minority students are disadvantaged because they live in low-income districts, and thus, are forced to attend poorly funded and dysfunctional public schools. If low-income families were free to choose the schools to which their tax dollars go, their children would have better educational options, which would lead to better test scores, and higher college acceptance rates.
To demand that a university accept students–minority or otherwise–without considering ATC scores, or administering some other type of admissions test, is shortsighted. Students admitted to a university without the necessary educational prerequisites are bound to fall short, and drop out.
Mack also demands free school for “all black people” as a means of reparations. The student government legislation he sponsored reads in part:
The current achievement gap between majority and underrepresented students has roots that date back to enslavement…during enslavement, black people were legally barred from the most basic forms of education, including literacy.
There are two problems with the idea of free tuition for African Americans. First, it glosses over the more pertinent issues of the cultural effects and educational restrictions facing African American youth. If those problems aren’t fixed, or even attended to, free college is less than useless.
Granting African Americans free college tuition does absolutely nothing if those entering college are academically ill-prepared. It’s akin to applying a Band-Aid to a gunshot wound.
Second, providing free tuition for individuals based on their race is, in a word, racist. Financial difficulty is not a problem faced exclusively by the black community. Many white, Asian, Indian, Latino, and Native American students work multiple jobs in order to pay for their tuition. One cannot provide free college for African Americans while ignoring the hardships of other economically-disadvantaged students. Additionally, such a practice would simply reverse the scales of alleged privilege, rewarding African Americans for the color of their skin at the expense of other races and ethnicities.
Tyriek Mack’s op-ed, as well as the demands of the student government at University of Wisconsin-Madison, are a microcosm of a larger issue, which is the shallow understanding of the way in which race, culture, and education interact. There are real-world issues to be solved, but the proposed solutions ignore critical aspects of the problem in favor of seemingly easy solutions that, in the long-term, would do more harm than good.