Race and Education: An Interview With Professor Raymond Wolters



[See also


Brown vs. Board, Govt. vs. People: The Curious Course Of
The Desegregation Wars
,
by F. Roger Devlin]




Raymond Wolters
, Thomas Muncy Keith Professor of
History at the University of Delaware, is the author of Race and Education, 1954-2007


(University
of Missouri Press)
, an examination of the impact of
desegregation of public education in the post-
Brown v Board era. His other
books include:


The Burden of Brown: Thirty Years of School
Desegregation
;

Right Turn: William Bradford Reynolds, the Reagan
Administration, and Black Civil Rights
;

Du Bois and His Rivals
,
Negroes and the Great Depression: The Problem of
Economic Recovery; The New Negro on Campus: Black College Rebellions of the 1920s.



VDARE.COM`s
Kevin Lamb
recently interviewed Professor Wolters.



Lamb:


What is your academic
background? How did you become interested in the issues
surrounding the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions on
race, desegregation and education policy?



Wolters:

I was educated at

Stanford
(B.A., 1960) and

Berkeley
(Ph.D., 1967) and have been a member of the
faculty at the University of Delaware since 1965.


My special interest in

school desegregation
came about by chance.


In 1978-79 the federal courts ordered my county, New
Castle County, DE, to implement one of the most
wide-ranging of all of the plans of busing for racial
balance. At that time, 90 percent of the students in
Delaware`s biggest city, Wilmington, were black, and on
standard tests the high school seniors in Wilmington
were scoring at about the level of 8th grade
students in the suburbs, where students were 90 percent
white. The hope was that this

"racial-achievement gap"
would be reduced if
students were bused so that the enrollment at each
school in the county was about 80 percent white.


On May 17, 1954, the date of


Brown v. Board of Education
,
the Supreme Court
had decided five cases that presented a similar
issue—not only the
Brown
case from Topeka, KS, but also cases from
Wilmington, DE, Summerton, SC, Prince Edward County, VA,
and Washington, D.C. As it happened, Wilmington had
desegregated its schools
immediately after
Brown
,
but between 1954 and 1975 the racial balance in

Wilmington`s
public schools
"tipped"
from 73 percent white to only 9 percent white.


That led me to question the view that seemed to prevail
in most books and articles. Most writers depicted
desegregation as a great success, but
the policy had not worked well in Wilmington
. I
wondered if the policy had also failed in the other
places whose cases were decided on May 17, 1954.


It turned out that, with the possible exception of
Topeka, desegregation had also failed in these other
districts, and I told the story of this failure in my
book, The Burden of Brown, published in 1984.



Lamb:

What prompted you to revisit
the topic of
"race and education"
having written


The Burden of Brown? How
does your new book differ from the work of other
scholars who have broached the topic of the
"racial gap"
in educational achievement, such as Stephan and Abigail
Thernstrom, James T. Patterson, and Diane Ravitch.



Wolters:

Instead of focusing monographically on what happened in
five districts,
Race and Education
is more of a synthesis. In
addition to drawing on my own research, it summarizes
the work of several other scholars. It also covers a
longer time frame, 1954 to 2007.


Although I have cited and benefited from the work of the
Thernstroms, my work differs from theirs. In
No Excuses,
they

categorically deny
the importance of IQ and
attribute
the racial achievement gap
entirely to dysfunctional
black and Hispanic subcultures and to bad teachers and
schools. In Race
and Education,
on the other hand, I am more
interested in
describing
(and only implicitly
explaining)
what has happened. I do make it clear, however, that
personally I consider
"the
IQ thesis
"
plausible even if it has not been
proven conclusively, and I am less censorious when it
comes to teachers and schools.


Personally, I agree with the Thernstroms` emphasis on
the importance of culture, but I don`t share their
belief that school reforms (like the

KIPP program
) can be brought to scale.


My book also differs from that of

James Patterson
. Patterson`s assessment of the legal
cases is similar to my own. We both emphasize that,
between about 1966 and 1991,

liberal officials
and

judges
interpreted the Constitution and the Civil
Rights Act to require racial balance—and that in doing
so they went far beyond anything that the
Brown
Court
had
in mind in 1954 or that Congress had anticipated when it
passed the
Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Patterson, however, says
almost nothing about what desegregation and integration
actually wrought in the schools—the disorder, the
de-emphasis on academics, the growing emphasis on
remediation.


I admire Diane
Ravitch
`s work and am not sure we have any major
differences. I sense, though, that

Prof. Ravitch
and I may differ on the potential of
"school reform"—that
she thinks the achievement gap would be eliminated if

schools
and

teachers
did a better job. I doubt that.


The most I would hope for is some reduction in the
achievement gap. I think it`s possible to teach most
students how to read and compute at an elementary level.
But I don`t think it is possible to eliminate (or even
to sharply reduce) the disparities in group averages on
academic tests.



Lamb:


The post-Brown period has
been largely defined by a perpetual need for educational
"reform"—from
"A
Nation at Risk
"
to
"No
Child Left Behind
"
.
 Why have these
reforms been so largely ineffective in
"reforming"
America`s educational system?



Wolters:



Race and Education

notes that the racial gap in average academic
achievement has persisted, despite more than 50 years of
desegregation and integration. This has forced many
reformers to recognize that they can no longer regard
getting the "right" racial mix as the key to better education. They have no
choice but to experiment with other approaches. In my
next book I plan to discuss this turn toward
"school reform".



Lamb:


Russlynn Ali, incoming
Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, is
vice president of the Education Trust, an organization
established in 1990 by the American Association for
Higher Education to support K-12
"reform"
efforts with an emphasis on
"closing the
achievement gap"
. The website of Education Trust
contains "10
Things Every American Needs to Know about Brown v. Board
of Education
"
and concludes that
"Brown v. Board
is part of a long legacy of unmet promises"
. Do you
agree?



Wolters:

I`d characterize Ms. Ali`s comments as the sort of
rhetoric that one is expected to utter but that few
informed people really believe. By now most
knowledgeable observers recognize that our educational
problems do not stem so much from bad schools as from
bad students. The problem is not a lack of equal
opportunity. It is a lack of either the ability or the
culture, or a combination of the two, that is needed to
achieve success in school.


This point is reinforced when impoverished immigrant
students from China and Vietnam and Russia do very well,
on average, even when they attend crime-ridden schools
where most of the black and Hispanic students are below
grade level.


Because most reformers recognize this, the reformers are
trying to instill new cultural values in under-achieving
students. So far the reformers have had some success in
individual schools, such as the KIPP schools, but they
have not been able to bring this success to scale.



Lamb:


There is a body of research
in the social and behavioral sciences, such as
behavioral genetics, that rarely penetrates the public
domain or informs public policy [The controversy that
engulfed


The Bell Curve

is one exception, see

here
and

here
.] Will this taboo ever be lifted?



Wolters:


I believe it has been a mistake

to quarantine research on IQ and racial differences
.
In Race and Education I made a point of discussing these subjects. I
think the research on IQ is one of the most important
bodies of work that must be pondered in order to
understand the history of American education.



Lamb:


You make an interesting point
about radical egalitarians—historians, educators, and
social scientists —who have confused skepticism about
racial inequality with a belief in racial equality. For
example,

John P. Jackson
, a social scientist and author, is
someone you point to as
"crudely" obscuring this distinction.



You compare your view of race differences in mental
ability with

Dr. Dwight Ingle
`s position of accepting the
possibility of a genetic basis underlying racial
differences in IQ levels. Ingle urged scientists to
carry out research that would shed further light on the
issue.



From your vantage point, is the scientific research
reasonably conclusive one way or the other?




Wolters:


In my book I have

written
that in the 1950s and early 1960s
"most scholars
questioned the evidence that had been presented to show
that Caucasians were superior to Negroes intellectually.
[But] it did
not follow that they thought the earlier claims had been
disproved"
. Among well-informed scholars and
scientists, the prevailing view was not that the races
were equal but that the evidence of Negro inferiority
was not conclusive. The scientific skepticism arose
because social scientists cannot control for all the
racial differences in environmental opportunities and
historical experience.


Thus

Henry Garrett
, a president of the American
Psychological Association, acknowledged that the matter
of the Negro`s alleged intellectual inferiority had not
been proved beyond question. But Garrett nevertheless
reported that the gap in IQ and other test scores did
not disappear when black and white subjects were paired
in terms of fourteen social and economic factors. The
persistence of the gap, and the regularity of results
from many studies, made it
"extremely unlikely [in Garrett`s opinion] that environmental opportunities can possibly explain
all the
differences"
.


According to Garrett,
"the differences
between the two racial groups in a variety of mental
tests are so large, so regular and so persistent under
all sorts of conditions that it is almost unthinkable to
conclude that they are entirely a matter of environment"
.
[Henry E.
Garrett, "Negro-
White Differences in Mental Ability in the United States
,"
Scientific Monthly
65, 9 October, 1947]


Dwight Ingle expressed a similar view:
"The concept that
the White and Negro races are approximately equally
endowed with intelligence remains a plausible hypothesis
for which there is faulty evidence. The concept that the
average Negro is significantly less intelligent than the
average White is also a plausible hypothesis"
.
[Dwight Ingle, "Comments on the Teachings of Carleton
Putnam
," Mankind Quarterly 4 (1963): -.]


Ingle went on to say that he thought the evidence for
the second hypothesis was
"somewhat
stronger"
. 


With the passage of time, many scholars came to believe,
or at least to say, that the races were equally endowed.
The Harvard historian

Oscar Handlin
expressed this opinion when he said,
in 1963, "There
is no evidence of any inborn differences of temperament,
personality, character, or intelligence among races"
.
And the Berkeley historian

Kenneth M. Stampp
similarly asserted, in

memorable language,

"Negroes
are after all,
only white men with black skins, nothing more, nothing
less"
.


Your question is: did Handlin, Stampp, and other
egalitarians have an ideological ax to grind? Or did
they mistakenly think that the absence of conclusive
proof of inequality sufficed to establish the existence
of equality.


I don`t know. Some
"egalitarians",
however, were careful to qualify their statements. One
such was the anthropologist

Ashley Montagu
. In 1942

Montagu
published a book that was widely considered
an egalitarian manifesto. The thesis of his book was
implicit in its title,

Man`s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race
.

In 1944 Montagu wrote,
"with some degree
of assurance that in all probability the range of
inherited capacities in two different groups is just
about identical"
. And in 1950 Montagu was
the principal author
of a

UNESCO statement t
hat declared,
"`race` is not so
much a biological phenomenon as a social myth….
Biological differences between ethnic groups should be
disregarded….. The unity of mankind is the main thing"
.
[The Race Question,

PDF
]


Yet Montagu retreated in the face of criticism from
other anthropologists. In 1961 Montagu

said
he had been misunderstood; that he had never
maintained that the races were
"equal in mental
abilities"
. He explained that the
"range" of
intelligence differed from the
"distribution".
In using the former term, Montagu said, he was
referring only
"to individuals—where each race possesses a great range,
from the retarded to the genius"
. Montagu went on to
say, "during
thirty-five years of reading on the subject I have
not more than once or twice encountered a writer who claimed that
`the races were equal in mental abilities`"
. Montagu
was reluctant to make these concessions—but he
apparently felt that he had to do so in order to
maintain the respect of his professional peers.


Times have changed. In 1988 Mark Snyderman and Stanley
Rothman [authors of The IQ Controversy] surveyed more than 600 experts in the
field of psychological measurement. They discovered that
most of the experts believed that IQ tests measured the
ability to solve problems and to reason abstractly; that
most of them believed that heredity accounted for much
of the variation within racial groups; and that most
also thought that the IQ gap between blacks and whites
was due in part to genetic inheritance.


But these responses were made anonymously on a survey.
By 1988 the force of political correctness was such that
only a few of these psychologists would state their
views openly.



Lamb:


In your book you make a
careful distinction between desegregation and
integration. It is a difference that many scholars seem
to gloss over. Can American society can be fully
integrated and remain a free society with free
association? Do you think the matter of desegregating
public schools is finally a settled legal issue?



Wolters:


I do indeed distinguish between desegregation and
integration. In
Brown v. Board of Education
(1954, 1955), the
Supreme Court held that schools must be
"desegregated"—in
the sense that students must be assigned to public
schools on "a
racially nondiscriminatory basis"
. However,
subsequent cases [Green
(1968).

Swann
(1971), and


Keyes
(1973)] redefined
"desegregation"
to mean that students must be assigned
"affirmatively",
on the basis of race, to achieve racially-balanced
integration. Still later, in a series of cases beginning
with

Dowell
(1991) and continuing through


Parents Involved v. Seattle
(2007), the Supreme
Court returned to
Brown`s
understanding the students must be assigned
on a racially nondiscriminatory basis.


Many scholars have
"glossed over"
the distinctions. Scholars associated with
"the civil rights
community"
are especially likely to equate
"desegregation"
and "integration".


Why they do so necessarily involves some speculation.
Some probably were influenced by the sociology of

James S. Coleman
—who noted that students are

influenced by their peers
, and predicted that blacks
would take school work more seriously if they attended
schools where most of the students were from the white
middle class. Others may have been skeptical of
Coleman`s sociology but were so desperate to

reduce the racial gap in academic achievement
that
they were willing to try almost anything.


Still others, I suspect, liked to lord it over
others—and derived special pleasure from

trying to force
"bourgeois"
whites
to

send their children to school
with

lower-class blacks
.


Whatever the reason, beginning in the late 1960s and
continuing for another 30 years, liberal social
scientists and judges glossed over the distinctions and
insisted that, to achieve
"desegregation",
students should be assigned on the basis of race to
achieve racially balanced enrollments.


Yet when it became clear that these affirmative
assignments did not narrow the racial achievement gap,
but instead instigated
"white flight",
most people—blacks as well as whites—turned against
racially balanced integration and instead began to
demand other approaches to achieve
"school reform".


I believe the tide finally has turned against
affirmative assignments to achieve racially balanced
integration. In large part, this is because experience
has shown that affirmative assignments do not narrow the
racial achievement gap. In addition, the Roberts Court
has weighed in against affirmative assignments. Of
course, the personnel of the Court could change. But by
now most people, blacks as well as whites, have come to
emphasize "school
reform"
rather than
"integration".



Lamb:


Hypothetically, if you could
become America`s
"Education
Czar
"
tomorrow, what would policies would you
implement and what reforms would you adopt to improve
America`s educational system
?



Wolters:


If I were "America`s Education Czar", I`d be tempted to try to alter the
anti-academic values that are prevalent in the

African American
,

Hispanic
, and

white working-class
subcultures (and that are also
becoming more widespread among middle-class whites).


But then I`d back off—because I am leery of cultural
imperialism and because I think

many people
should be working in

manual trades
instead of more academic fields. There
is nothing wrong with manual work. What`s wrong is that
America has become so

"de-industrialized"
that there are too few good jobs
for manualists.


Another problem stems from the influx of immigrants who
have
driven down the wages
of America`s working people. I
think deindustrialization and immigration are bigger
problems than the much ballyhooed racial gap in academic
achievement. Admittedly, though, I know more about
education than about

industry
and

immigration.


If I were to plump for one school reform, it would be
"choice". I
would give every student (or the parents) a

voucher
that could be used wherever they chose.
Maximizing freedom would not be a panacea, but I think
it would do more than anything else to
improve our system of education.


However, I should quickly add that I am not America`s
"Education Czar".
I am a professor of history, and as an historian my job
is to describe what has happened, not to prescribe what
should be done.


Kevin Lamb (email
him) is a former library assistant for

Newsweek
and


managing editor
of

Human Events. He was also
assistant editor of the Evans-Novak Political
Report, which involved no contact with Novak.