Man Without Qualities

Saturday, November 30, 2002

Twit II!

A prior post discussed the question of whether what Paul Krugman and his "Priceton colleague" call a spectacular growth in American inequality has led to an increase in underqualified "privileged" people occupying academic and other positions which in the past were occupied by those more qualified. If that is not going on, then what, exactly, is this posited "privilege" suppose to amount to other than increased inherited wealth?

While these two Princeton lightweights (I mean, "worthies") do some homework to shore up their artificial polemic that implies an increase in the ranks of the wealthy has led to a decline in the achievement level of the "privileged" occupying valued positions in society, John U. Ogbu, an anthropology professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has committed an urgent and elegant book examining a real problem: black middleclass underachievement through identification with the underclass. The New York Times article about this book, "Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement" (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), reports:

"What amazed me is that these kids who come from homes of doctors and lawyers are not thinking like their parents; they don't know how their parents made it," Professor Ogbu said in an interview. "They are looking at rappers in ghettos as their role models, they are looking at entertainers. The parents work two jobs, three jobs, to give their children everything, but they are not guiding their children."

For example, he said that middle-class black parents in general spent no more time on homework or tracking their children's schooling than poor white parents. And he said that while black students talked in detail about what efforts were needed to get an A and about their desire to achieve, too many nonetheless failed to put forth that effort.

Those kinds of attitudes reflect a long history of adapting to oppression and stymied opportunities, said Professor Ogbu, a Nigerian immigrant who has written that involuntary black immigrants behave like low-status minorities in other societies.

The most urgent issue here is the education and attitudes of these children. But, with respect to the Princeton remedial homework assignment above, it is worth noting the long and well established fact that affirmative action programs disproportionately favor exactly the children of middleclass minority professionals. Also, Professor Ogbu locates many of the difficulties described in his book in cultural factors. Perhaps these two Princeton economists might want to examine whether the culture of intellectual dishonesty they, personally, are so active in creating through their professional writings and political associations may be imposing more general costs on society - a kind of broad-based academic "smash-and-grab."

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