Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama Effect on AA's Test Performance

Vanderbilt University's professor Ray Friedman found that at key moments during the Obama campaign, performance on tests drawn from the GRE (Graduate Records Exam) by Whites and African Americans were indistinguishable, specifically when Obama was front and center in the news in a positive way. There was a drop off by African Americans during points when Obama was not at the center of the press's attention.
In the study, tests were administered to a total of 472 participants using questions drawn from Graduate Record Exams (GREs) to assess reading comprehension, analogies and sentence completion. The tests took place at four distinct points over three months during the campaign: two when Obama’s success was less prominent (prior to his acceptance of the nomination and the mid-point between the convention and election day) and two when it garnered the most attention (immediately after his nomination speech and his win of the presidency in November).
This result represents a striking repudiation of the view that African Americans are inferior to Whites intellectually. It also confirms the view of Liberals that racism continues to negatively affect African American's intellectually. I urge you to read the story for it applies, I would suggest, to how we educate minorities here and everywhere else on the globe.

It has long been noted that how children perform in school is strongly affected by the expectations of others as to how well they can perform. My parents both had college degrees and my mother had a master's. I grew up always knowing I would be going to college. Even financial reverses in the family did not affect this expectation. Can it be a surprise that I and all my siblings as well as other persons of my generation in my extended family graduated from college? I suspect that the record of our extended family had less to do with any native intelligence we might have had than in the examples afforded by our parents and the expectations placed on us.

The results of this study make clear that bridging the difference between Whites and Blacks economically depends critically on training our teachers to act as if they expect all of their kids to succeed and doing our best to see that teachers do this. Enough African Americans have entered the middle class in the last decade and before to suggest that the opportunities will be there for Blacks if they will take care of business in our schools. We cannot expect that glass ceilings for Blacks will not hinder them for there are conservative Whites with power who will erect as many glass ceilings as they can for Blacks (and women and others who are not White and male) However, where people with power can see that their self-interest can be advanced by promoting deserving African Americans, they will usually do so in my opinion. A striking number of Whites made that sort of choice on election day and seem, according to recent polling to continue to believe that promoting Obama was a good thing for them.

I began this sermon with a reference to my family's effect on my development and so must acknowledge that it is imperative that poor families be encouraged to focus on education as a goal for all of their children. We must also enhance the Head Start program as a vehicle to improve on what the families of disadvantaged children have done for them. There is much that needs to be done by African Americans themselves to help fix what is broken in their communities and their families. The larger society can't fix this. All it can do is provide the conditions that favor a positive outcome.

There was a time when Jesse Jackson promoted self-help for the Black community. Years ago, before he entered Presidential politics, I heard a speech he gave in California in which he argued that Blacks can't claim that going hungry inhibits the ability of Black children to learn, noting that hunger didn't stop some of the same children from growing up to becoming great athletes. That is the sort of message our most influential Black leaders need to get back to instead of seeking out opportunities to engage in "cry racism" politics. With Obama in place in the White House, we have a great opportunity for people like Jackson to preach this sort of sermon.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Tweet This!

Friday, January 02, 2009

My Dear Galileo Galilei

My Dear Galileo Galilei, "It gives me great pleasure to inform you that we have reconsidered your case. A small mistake was made by our Vatican astronomers in the determination of the relationship between the earth and the sun. It was an easy mistake to make. I'm sure you will agree, since it was obvious to all that the sun moves from East to West in our skies whilst we remain in place. We regret that you were put in prison and that you were forced to recant under the threat of torture. As a result of the discovery of our mistake, it is our determination that you should no longer be confined to your home."

That wasn't the only mistake the Vatican made in the case of Galileo. They didn't much like his atomistic view of the universe. In recent decades the Vatican has tried to undo their mistake. Pope John Paul II blamed the Church's error on "tragic mutual incomprehension." This concession was beneath contempt since Galileo certainly understood the position of the Church. I suspect the church understood what Galileo was saying as well. Otherwise, why jail him, threaten him with torture in order to force him to recant, and then confine him to his house?

Thanks to protests of the faculty at Rome's La Sapienza University concerning the appropriateness of allowing Pope Benedict to talk there, the Pope canceled a lecture. It was argued that his hostility to science made him an inappropriate speaker at a public university. This seems to have put the Vatican in full retreat. At a Vatican conference on science, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the right hand man of the Pope, said Galileo was an astronomer, but one who "lovingly cultivated his faith and his profound religious conviction." Say what? How did they miss this fact about him 1633? I suspect he wasn't the only victim of the Inquisition who had profound religious convictions. By the way, what does "lovingly cultivated his faith" actually mean? Don't reply to this question. I can figure out some things it might mean, such as "he went to mass" and the like. The Vatican's sugar coating their grotesque acts during the time of the Inquisition with language like this is insulting to thoughtful person.

Good old Bertone also said, "Galileo Galilei was a man of faith who saw nature as a book authored by God." We dealt with this "language of God" nonsense in my last blog. The more religious folks talk about science and religion the stupider they seem to get. If nature were any kind of book then why in hell have we not come to understand all of nature? Does it have too many pages? Or is it that some of the chapters are written undecipherable languages? I need help here.

Charles Darwin is lucky he didn't live at the time of the Inquisition. He would have been burned at the stake for the idea that apes and men have a common ancestry (which isn't to say of course that we are evolved from apes). And the Catholic Church is lucky as well. Pope Paul, who tried to get ahead of criticism of the Church's treatment of Galileo, made peace (on his terms) with the theory of evolution by noting that it is more than just a hypothesis and is consistent with Church teachings. That has not been the last word on catholic views of evolution but the Catholic Church has the advantage of not being literalist in the way that fundamentalist Christians are.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tweet This!