January 06, 2004

Stupid Conservative Myth #15

Here's the next one on the list from your favorite right-wing idiots:

Standardized tests aren't racist, but racial quotas and set-asides are.

Ah yes, standardized tests. This whole piece of nonsense comes from "The Bell Curve", a thoroughly execrable piece of work that purports to prove that minorities (particularly African-Americans) are genetically inferior in terms of intellectual capacity. The place to go for the real information is a great compilation of essays by Jacoby and Glaubermann called "The Bell Curve Debate" (though Stephen Jay Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man" is also quite good).

One of the most memorable highlights was a brief analysis of the IQ tests referenced by the original authors of the Bell Curve, a couple of wingnuts (funded by the whole right-wing think tank network) named Murray and Herrnstein. Most of their key references are from white supremacist literature, which is a bit lacking in scientific methodology to put it politely. Aside from various basic mathematical and logical errors, one IQ test that was offered to Africans was in English (which none of them spoke). Included in the test was a picture of people playing tennis, but the net was missing, and as a measure of their intelligence, the Africans were asked what was missing from the picture.

It's just anecdotal, I know, but that kind of nonsense is all over the place among the research in the original "Bell Curve" book. Gould also has some very good essays in both books about the nature of intelligence (and varieties of intellectual capabilities that can and should be measured if you want to get down to the nuts and bolts of it). The "Debate" book contains some really good debunking essays along with references to what little actual work has been done that has some respectable scientific status.

As is usual with this sort of work, it becomes clear that the authors are very clever. They knew that the work they were presenting didn't pass muster, and so one is left to wonder what their true motivations actually were, because it certainly wasn't related to science. Racism is likely too simplistic a motivation, but the stink of it is pervasive.

What about racial quotas and set-asides? Well, that's a complex topic, but Chris Rock (a comedian) has a very good take on it all. He says he hears all the white people complaining about how blacks get this benefit or get into that college or get this contract or whatever because they're black. Well, tough shit, he says. He points out that even with his money and his fame, just how many white people would willingly trade places with him? If all these whites think blacks have it so great, how many of them would trade places with a black man, even a successful one? Precious few, and that's pretty much all you need to know about the significance of the mythical "quotas" and so on.

I really don't care about quotas, affirmative action, legacy admissions (racism that favors whites getting into college), etc. It's just not an issue that's big on my list, but I guarantee you that I'm paying attention when someone brings it up. Republicans love to bring up that along with gay rights to get their hate-filled base crawling out of the woodwork (just watch it happen again this year). Anyone who thinks the Republican party doesn't pander to the racist vote has their head in the sand (or is likely a member of the mainstream media ... same thing).

Posted by Observer at January 6, 2004 07:08 AM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

Heh, I love what you wrote about the tests being racist, although I think it is more the whole school system and the way it is set up. I must find again the statistics that show that minority students do just as well (within a couple of percentage points) as white students when both are homeschooled.

(Oh, hi! I know Michelle from mommietalk...)

Posted by: Andrea on January 6, 2004 09:16 AM

So if the myth is that the tests aren't racist but racial quotas are ... are you trying to say it's the other way around? Are you saying that standerdized tests are racist? Or was the "myth" the other way around? It just threw me off ...

Posted by: Polerand on January 6, 2004 07:27 PM

The point is that standardized tests of the sort conservatives have relied on to come to "Bell Curve" style conclusions are racist. The literature that backs up the claims is racist. The tests themselves are demonstrably culturally and racially biased, and in the end, they only measure test-taking ability, not some mythical "intelligence", which is multi-dimensional.

Are current standardized tests, such as Woodcock-Johnson III (commonly used to place students in public schools around here, based on the juvenile education literature), racist? I don't know, but I imagine they're not bad at all in that respect. What little research I'm familiar with from "The Bell Curve Debate" and other sources indicates that test score disparities arise largely from socioeconomic differences rather than racial differences, but it is *very* difficult to say for sure due to the immense number of variables involved in testing.

As for quotas and set-asides, it all depends on exactly what policy you are talking about. In the grand scheme of things, even with "quotas", we still live in a society where it is far better to be white than black or hispanic. My take on people who have problems with affirmative action is: What are you griping about? If you've got problems with unfairness, how about looking at the problems minorities face since they're the ones getting screwed?

Otherwise, it looks to me like your problem isn't with the unfairness, after all. Your problem is with the minorities. (shrug)

Posted by: Observer on January 6, 2004 08:42 PM

See, when I think of standerdized tests, I think of the bubble filling exercises of 1st-5th grade and what not, i.e. current tests. Hence the reason I was thrown off.

Posted by: Polerand on January 6, 2004 10:45 PM