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.

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Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

"There is a brilliant child locked inside every student." Marva Collins, Black educator.

I agree with you 100% LG. This is a fine article. So true!

8:46 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I wouldn't go that far. There are not so smart people in every racial group. One of the real crimes against children is to give them unrealistic ambitions -- to say you can be anything you want to be. The fact is that not everyone can play in the NBA, or become a physicist, or successful politician, etc. I think children should be encouraged to to work hard to become as "good as they can be" and encouraged to believe that the class work they do is within their reach. No discouragement but no unrealistic expectations either. A tightrope.

7:36 AM

Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

Yes, I think we do an injustice to a child if we lead her to believe she can become a rocket scientist when she clearly lacks the ability to be one and is more suited for a career as a seamstress. But, don’t you think that even a seamstress can be a brilliant seamstress?

Maybe Marva Collins didn’t mean that every child is brilliant in the sense that he has an I.Q. of a genius. Maybe Ms. Collins was referring to the amazing curiosity every child possesses that leads that child to want to learn about his world if given the opportunity and encouragement.

Maybe she was talking about the awesome potential a child possesses to learn and achieve but that often remains dormant because it is not cultivated.

Our education system does not produce too many overachievers. The sad fact is that it produces too many underachievers. Our education system does not ask enough of our children especially those of average intelligence. Some of them go on to college on an athletic scholarship and can’t read worth a dime.

Marva Collins is a remarkable woman. Marva Collins Bio

9:14 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

SusieQ, I totally agree that we must encourage people to, if you will forgive my triteness, "be as good as they can be," and reach as high as one can. I think that kids should be encouraged to over-reach to the point of failure if necessary, to make sure that they are getting the most that life offers them.

I'm not sure we are creating more underachievers now that existed when I was a student, especially considering many people -- Blacks, Hispanics, poor Whites -- who were discouraged from being their best. This is one reason why making sure everyone has opportunities to succeed is so important. This gives us more chances to generate high quality workers.

8:24 AM

Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

Not only does providing opportunities for everyone help to generate high quality workers, it helps to generate citizens who are likely to be informed enough about their country and its politics to cast intelligent votes.

Something that bothers me about what Jackson said regarding hunger and learning is that children who do not receive proper nutrition (not talking chips and soda pop) do not learn as well as they could otherwise.

11:46 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Im sure you are right, but his point was to try to take away the excuse making.

7:31 AM

Blogger Le vent fripon said...

I guess it's the case that telling kids they can be whatever they want to be creates a lot of failed careers, and a lot of unhappiness, but also a greater number of great artists and top academics. That's what I tend to think of when I think of the country in comparison to others: a greater number of failures, and a greater number of enormous successes (financially, academically, athletically, artistically...and so on).

6:58 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Thanks for this post. It is thought provoking & also encouraging. Not being an African American, but, growing up poor & white under the roof of two chronically depressed parents, I've experienced first hand what lack of expectations does for a child's morale. It is never easy to rise above the mire if that's where you've been sunk.

I deal all the time with poor people that get 'mired' on the wrong side of the law. With each person I always ask myself, "What is it that has put them in this position, whose fault is it?" I've never come up with an easy answer. Quite often the trouble seems to go back to lack of common sense. How is that related to intelligence? I would think that it is more related to patterns of behavior which of course always relates somehow to a persons up bringing. So I tend to agree with you that a families record of success has less to do with native intelligence then examples afforded by our parents and the expectations placed on us.

8:10 PM

Blogger gudnuff said...

Hey Professor Geis! I majored in Linguistics over 20 years ago at OSU. You taught a class I took. I just don't remember which one! Glad to see you on the web.

6:21 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Good to hear from you and that you remember my name. Can't promise I would remember yours but email with particulars (buckgeis@yahoo.com). I have a terrible memory for going back that far. I think I might have more influence with the blog than in teaching.

The odds are the class was an honors class, and if so, either a sociolinguistics or general linguistics course. Thanks for the note.

3:28 AM


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