Obama`s Nixon-Goes-to-China Opportunity

The Obama Administration`s munificence
toward state and local public schools ($100 billion in

stimulus funds,
including a $5 billion slush fund to try
to figure out what
) is bringing out of the woodwork the usual
array of miracle workers with cures for whatever ails us

palpably lacking in the Obama Administration`s approach to
schooling, however, is frank empiricism, wisdom, and

humane empathy for all types of children.


America`s leading social scientist
recently published a
short, lucid book of his characteristic judiciousness laying
out a roadmap for fundamental reform of schooling: Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America`s Schools Back to Reality.
It begins with these words that every parent and teacher
deep down know to be true:

educational system is living a lie. The lie is that every
child can be anything he or she wants to be. No one really
believes it, but we approach education`s problems as if we
did. We are

about saying out loud that children differ in
their ability to learn the things that schools teach.”

the opinion-setters angrily castigate those who explain the
implications of how they behave when it comes to their own

only do we hate to say it, we get angry with people who do.
We insist that the emperor is wearing clothes,
beautiful clothes, and that those who say otherwise are bad

author notes of realism:

“This is not a
counsel of despair. The implication is not to stop trying to
help, but to stop doing harm. Educational romanticism has
imposed immeasurable costs on children and their futures. It
pursues unattainable egalitarian ideals of educational
achievement (e.g., all children should perform at grade
level) at the expense of attainable egalitarian ideals of
personal dignity. We can do much better for children who are
below average in academic ability, but only after we get a
grip on reality.”

author demonstrates four simple truths and their profound

For example, to give some sense of just
where “average”
is, the author

provides this question
from the federal government`s
National Assessment of Educational Progress for 8th graders:


were 90 employees in a company last year. This year the
number of employees increased by 10 percent. How many
employees are in the company this year?

(A) 9
(B) 81 (C) 91 (D) 99 (E) 100

what percentage of 8th graders

got this one wrong


And it`s actually worse than that, because
a sizable fraction of the right responses were likely


Most 8th
graders can figure out what 10 percent of 90 is. And even
more can add 90 and 9. What the majority can`t do is put to
cognitively analyze the problem and put the steps together.

Once you
admit the four simple truths, it`s not hard to come up with
solutions that will make schooling more effective for most

Tracking, for instance. Why humiliate the
worst students and bore the best students by clumping them
in the same classroom? But

tracking has been out of fashion ideologically
since the
late 1960s, in large part because it tends to lead to racial
segregation within schools. Fortunately, it keeps creeping
back in under various disguises (witness the proliferation
of Advanced Placement classes in this decade.)

Discipline is another perfectly sensible
notion that gets lost, in part due to
anti-discrimination laws
. The Los Angeles Unified School
District, the country`s second largest, has a particular
problem with

enforcing discipline
because LA has three essentials for
discrimination lawsuits over

: its own deep pockets, lots of unruly
non-Asian minority students, and an

extraordinary number

style lawyers constantly trolling for
anti-discrimination suits.

Similarly, progressive education`s

against having students memorize the times tables
and historical dates is better
for teachers
(i.e., it`s less boring to teach) than it
is for students, especially

the left half of the bell curve.
As the author points
out, “memorizing is something that children do much, much better than adults”

Real Education is
scathing on the myth of

“Yale or jail”
propagated by the education

“Worst of all, the
current system watches these students approach the age at
which they can legally drop out of school and acts as if it
wants to push them out, urging them to take more
mathematics, language arts, history, and science courses
that they don`t want to take, so that they can pursue the
college chimera.”

example, the rich Gates Foundation put on a full court press
a few years ago and persuaded the LAUSD school board to
mandate that, to graduate from high school, students must
pass not only

Algebra I
and Geometry, but also

Algebra II
—a class that is

simply beyond
a large swathe of humanity`s
of abstract cognition

For students in the mid-range of academic
ability, those who today typically start higher education
but wind up years later with tens of thousands of dollars in
tuition debts but no four-year degree, the author offers a
plan to break up the monopoly of the B.A. degree as a
signaling device. (It would also reduce the

frantic scramble to get into prestige colleges
acquire a halo effect with future employers.)

The author advocates, modeled on the
existing Certified Public
Accountants exam,
more national certification tests in a
wide array of careers. Let students get as much higher
education as they need to sit the exam in their chosen
career. Then publish their scores for employers to see.
Maybe the kid who spent two years working very hard at a
community college learned more of relevance to his future
employers than a kid who spent four years at Swarthmore.

Or maybe
not. But why not have an objective way for employers to find

Unfortunately, this wise man`s name is Charles Murray. So
Real Education has
been almost completely ignored in this Era of Obamania.

Note: It received a brief review in the NYT, (Title:

Just Leave Them Behind
) and a nasty one by Michael J.
Feuer [email him]in
Issues in Science and Technology, (Title:
Bell Curve Ahead
) in which Feuer said that if it weren`t
for Murray`s fame and influence, dating back to

Losing Ground,

"there would be little reason to dignify the current polemic
with a review in a magazine of the National Academy of

tenuous relationship between Obama and Murray goes back to
1994, the year Murray co-authored with

Richard Herrnstein

The Bell Curve

Although Barack Obama has a strong urge toward literary
self-expression, his prudential awareness that what he
didn`t say now couldn`t hurt his career later meant that his
publications during the 1990s were extraordinarily limited.
Although he was

editor of the Harvard
Law Review,
and later employed as a lecturer by the
U. of Chicago Law
, he authored no legal scholarship. Obama wrote
obscure columns for the Chicago black newspaper and for the

local weekly of Hyde Park,
the upscale liberal enclave
in which he kept himself ensconced, but they are not on
line. (There is of course the massive exception of his 1995
autobiography, Dreams
from My Father
, a tome so interminable in length and
slippery in style that few have managed to figure out what
Obama was talking about. See my

Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama`s "Story Of Race And

Unsurprisingly, the subject of Obama`s
lone foray into national punditry in the 1990s, a commentary
on National Public Radio, was so uncontroversial that it
couldn`t possibly backfire on his ambitions: a denunciation
of Charles Murray for co-authoring
The Bell

years later, the headline reads as the quintessence of irony

Charles Murray`s
Political Expediency Denounced

Byline: Barack Obama

little evidence of having read the book he excoriated, Obama
demanded more government spending on social programs that
would benefit his political bases: blacks and social workers
He said: “Now, it
shouldn`t take a genius to figure out that with early
intervention such problems can be prevented … In the short
run, such ladders of opportunity are going to cost more, not
less, than either welfare or affirmative action.”

Although the President constantly demands
that the best teachers be sent to

teach the worst students,
in his own much-praised
teaching career he made sure to teach only some of the most
carefully selected elite students in the world: University
of Chicago Law students.

In 1995, Obama became Chairman of the
Board of the lavishly funded Chicago Annenberg Challenge,
dreamed up by
unrepentant terrorist  Bill
among others, and operation run out of the same
floor (perhaps the same office) as Ayers`s Small Learning
Community educational project. Years later, a careful study
of test scores of students showed that

Obama and Ayers had wasted about $100 million.

Having failed dismally as a school
reformer himself, Obama has hired Mayor Daley`s school chief
Arne Duncan to run the Department of Education. But Duncan
is so handcuffed by the convention wisdom of

educational romanticism
that he won`t accomplish much.

reason that almost nobody wants to think honestly about
schooling is that each of the four truths exhibit
“disparate impact”
on non-Asian minorities. Once

you start thinking hard about the data,
you inevitably
wind up a


largely avoids talking about race in this book. But, in
reality, there`s no escaping it for him. He`ll always be
as the co-author of
The Bell Curve

And yet
there is a possibility for breaking this vicious cycle of
denigration of the best social scientists and the inevitable
result of knuckleheaded social policies.

poisonous cultural atmosphere could be radically improved
with a stroke of the President`s pen:

could appoint Charles Murray his Senior Advisor on

Nixon-goes-to-China endorsement of Murray would radically
clear the air in our society, undercutting the knee-jerk
viciousness routinely directed at social scientists who dare
to tell the truth.

Is there
any chance Obama would do this?

Consider Obama`s

of that
bête noire of
Larry Summers,
to an equivalent role on economic policy.
Granted, that`s different because Obama—as far as I can tell
from his autobiography—doesn`t care about feminism at all.
(Note how during last year`s campaign, Obama revamped his
wife`s image

per year

career woman
to stay-at-home earth mother.)

In contrast, Obama deeply cares about
race, as the subtitle to his autobiography—A
Story of Race and Inheritance—
suggests. He`s risen to
the White House as the
of the conventional wisdom about race.

So why
would he overturn the reigning dogmas?

Well, there`s only reason he would do so:
he actually cares about doing a good job as President.

We shall

[Steve Sailer (email
him) is

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The American Conservative

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