Category Archives: inequity

Bully Politics and Political Theater in an Era of Racial Shift

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) recently bullied students about wearing masks as he prepared to give a press conference. DeSantis called wearing masks “Covid theater,” but it seems more likely his petulant behavior is his own political theater since DeSantis immediately turned the embarrassing behavior into a fundraising gimmick.

That a sitting governor publicly and brazenly chastised students—behavior that no student would be allowed toward other students or adults while in school—is a snapshot of the broader attack on K-16 education in the U.S., also driven entirely by Republicans.

Curriculum gag orders, anti-CRT legislation, and book bans all seek to censor any mentioning of race or racism as well as topics related to gender or sexuality (the latter repeatedly identified by Republicans as “pornography”).

Copy-cat legislation across Republican-led states is far less about teaching and learning than about the tremendous racial shift occurring in the U.S.—and the immediate tension in K-12 public education because of that shift.

The 2020 Census has revealed, as reported in USA Today: “The white, non-Hispanic population, without another race, decreased by 8.6% since 2010, according to the new data from the 2020 census. The U.S. is now 57.8% white, 18.7% Hispanic, 12.4% Black and 6% Asian.”

In short, the white racial majority in the U.S. is shrinking quickly, and the future of racial balance in the U.S. is now reflected in K-12 education, where white students constitute less than half of students:

However, K-12 education remains a very white space except for that student population.

Almost 80% of teachers are white, and despite the false claims made in curriculum gag orders and anti-CRT legislation, K-12 curriculum and texts remain disproportionately white:

Research on U.S. history textbooks indicate White, European Americans are featured in over half of pictorials and illustrations. In some cases, it is more than 80 percent. Representation of people from BIPOC backgrounds are rarely featured, with some ethnic groups featured as low as 1 percent.

These racial and ethnic representations do not reflect demographics given in the 2020 U.S. Census, where 61.6 percent of the population is identified as White, 18.7 percent Hispanic or Latinx, 12.4 percent Black or African American, 6 percent Asian, 1.1 percent American Indian and Alaska Native, 0.2 percent Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, 8.4 percent some other racial population, and 10.2 percent multiracial….

In sum, studies on books and other materials reveal that White characters are more prominent than BIPOC characters. The data suggest that it is likely that students who identify as White will see mirrors of themselves more often than students from BIPOC communities.

The Representation of Social Groups in U. S. Educational Materials and Why it Matters, Amanda LaTasha Armstrong

DeSantis, then, personifies the resulting bully politics of Republicans as a response to the racial shift occurring in the U.S.

An examination of bullying in academia offers an important frame for understanding the larger phenomenon of bully politics:

What makes bullying an unethical, yet effective, means to rise through the ranks? An emerging body of research suggests that mediocre academics in particular resort to bullying, to remove their competition. Experimental research has shown that when male hierarchies are disrupted by women, this incites hostile behaviour specifically from poorly performing men, because they stand to lose the most.

Members of underrepresented groups report they are the targets of bullying with the intent to sabotage their careers. Some anecdotes suggest that bullies spring into action when their targets become too successful for their liking — and thus viable competition.

How bullying becomes a career tool, Susanne Tauber and Morteza Mahmoudi

This unpacking of bullying in academia fits well into understanding the bully politics of Republicans, often mediocre white men, like DeSantis, who feel threatened and cultivate political capital by stoking racial animosity through misinformation.

As I have noted before, K-12 public education is quite conservative and, as shown above, very white. While curriculum gag orders have characterized teachers and schools as hostile to white students (legislating bans on making students uncomfortable)—without evidence—and rampant with CRT—which isn’t occurring in K-12 schools—few people are directly exposing why bully politics is on the rise—the significant racial shift in society and schools in tension with the static whiteness of teachers and curriculum.

Unlike the ways in which Republicans have characterized U.S. schooling, Ranita Ray has witnessed a much different reality for students:

What I discovered was rampant racism, cruelty, and indifference from teachers working inside public schools. Most of the teachers I observed were not, in fact, teaching about America’s racist history but instead were perpetuating everyday racial violence against their students inside the classroom. While the idea is not prominent in public discourse, I am not alone in finding teacher racism to be an everyday presence in the American classroom. One recent study, for example, found that teachers hold as much implicit and explicit pro-white racial bias as nonteachers do. Education scholar Michael Dumas has written about teacher racism and Black suffering inside the classroom, showing that these attitudes have concrete outcomes. And students themselves know this. Social media is replete with students talking about teacher racism, and they have often taken to the streets to protest it.

It Never Seems to Be a Good Time to Talk About Teachers’ Racism

The irony of the racial shift spurring bully politics lies in ground zero, the backlash against the 1619 Project, which represents not a rewriting of history but a confronting of what history is—stories of the past shaped by who ever has power.

The facts of history do not necessarily change but the power behind what facts are told and why does shift. The 1619 Project changes what is centered in the telling of U.S. history (moving it away from the idealized founding and toward the grim reality of the institution of slavery)—in a similar way to the shifting racial centering of the U.S. in the 2020s.

Republicans are scrambling not to protect history or Truth, but to further entrench a mythology, an aspirational white-washed version of the country.

The impetus behind the 1619 Project and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts is well expressed in Adrienne Rich’s poem:

I came to explore the wreck.

…the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

“Diving into the Wreck”

The facts of history and even the present—and not the myths—are disturbing, uncomfortable (“the drowned face always staring”).

Some of us, like the speaker in Rich’s poem, accept the discomfort as motivation to work toward a better world for everyone.

Others are petulant, bullies, carelessly grabbing all their toys and threatening to go home.

DeSantis and the other mediocre Republicans are playing political theater but their bully politics is all too real and has devastating consequences for academic freedom and democracy.

Histrionics characterizing masks as “Covid theater” are masking white fear that has reduced the Republican Party to bully politics in the service of a misguided whiteness—and to the exclusion of democracy and basic human dignity.

There Can Be No Equity without Community and Empathy

[D]espite overwhelmingly good intentions, most of what passes for intercultural education practice, particularly in the US,
accentuates rather than undermines existing social and political hierarchies.

Paul Gorski, Good intentions are not enough: a decolonizing intercultural education

A split second of awareness kept me from stepping into my apartment’s elevator, the floor covered in vomit, recently.

I thought about this moment yesterday while standing in that same elevator filled with an unpleasant smell as I also noticed a new orange-brown stain on the floor.

A week or so ago, I was unloading two bicycles from my car rack, going up and down the elevator and walking through the enclosed garage of the complex a couple of times. I encountered twice a women with her small dog on a lease, and in both cases, she paused while the dog urinated on a steel beam in the garage.

It isn’t uncommon to see dog droppings scattered down the hallway carpet in this complex either.

Having lived almost four decades in my own homes before becoming an apartment dweller, these experiences are new but not shocking, and they remind me of the general lack of concern for others I experienced in dorm life in college. I also recognize these behaviors are typical of the American character, one grounded in rugged individualism and lacking any real sense of community.

It is the trash carelessly tossed out of car windows or dropped on the sidewalk.

It is the “I got mine so you get yours!” ethos of the good ol’ U.S. of A.

As I stepped out of the elevator yesterday, I was thinking about #TransDayofVisibility and about why people are so antagonistic about diverse sexualities and races, about gender fluidity and transexuality.

A type of awareness for me that helped move me past the bigotry and intolerance of my upbringing was coming to peace with my own self-awareness, being able to articulate that I did not make choices about my gender identification or sexuality but that I came to recognize my gender identification and sexuality.

To be blunt, I cannot fathom denying other people that recognition because I want my awareness to be honored. I also had to come to terms with differences being simply different and having nothing to do with right or wrong, or normal or abnormal.

What is “right” or “normal” for me is not in any way a template or commentary on anyone else, and vice versa.

While this may not be uniquely American, it is certainly true of Americans that we have a fatal lack of community and empathy.

And that “we” is statistically white Americans who exist in a sort of fear that if the “normal” white America has constructed isn’t the only way of being then maybe it isn’t “right.”

Rugged individualism is a significant part of the enduring presence of racism, sexism, homo-/trans-phobia, and all sorts of bigotry in the U.S.

But the negative consequences of rugged individualism are more than the narcissism inherent in racism and other types of bigotry (the provincialism that leads a person to see themselves as “right” and “normal” and people unlike them as “Other”).

What may be worse is that a society that centers the individual maintains inequity even when trying to expand diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) if the centering remains.

I have been involved in DEI initiatives at my university for many years, and since I actively incorporate anti-racism/anti-bias elements in my scholarly and public work, I find myself regularly confronting the misguided “good intentions” of my colleagues, my progressive white colleagues.

My first rude awakening about DEI in colleges and universities came early on when I discovered that my department and DEI structures across campus used the strongly debunked “framework of poverty” promoted by Ruby Payne.

Payne’s work is steeped in racist and classist stereotyping, and it suffers from the centering of whiteness and an idealized middle-class “normal.” When I challenged using Payne’s workbooks, I also encountered the other level of centering: “But it works,” I was told, “with our population of students.”

“Our population of students” happens to privileged and white.

Almost twenty years later, I faced the same situation and same justification again.

An event was held for students examining the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. The featured speaker was a former white nationalist. When I raised concerns about centering a former white nationalist, I heard the exact same justification I heard in my first weeks of coming to my university—but our (white) students.

What if we created opportunities for growth in DEI by centering those people experiencing the unfair weight of inequity? What if we considered a Black student sitting in the audience while a former white nationalist was given center stage and honored as an authority?

If we were organizing an event on sexual assault would we invite a former rapist to speak to that audience? If not, I imagine some of that decision is grounded in considering those people who have experienced sexual assault.

I included the central point from Gorski above this blog because I am disheartened by DEI efforts; I am witnessing Gorski’s recognition that “good intentions” often still perpetuate inequity by refusing to confront it, not resisting the urge to center whiteness and privilege.

While I no longer see Payne’s materials around campus, many still eagerly guide students through poverty simulations, poverty tours, and “pretend to be a minority” activities; these are all dehumanizing and offensive approaches that are grounded in stereotyping while continuing to center the sensibilities of the “normalized” group.

No one needs to pretend to be poor or minoritized is they are willing and eager to listen to people with lived experiences in poverty or being a minority.

Days ago I avoided stepping into that elevator because I was looking beyond myself instead of assuming the world was centered on me.

That elevator would have been clean and safe to enter, however, if everyone else lived with a sense of community and empathy.

Measuring the Unmeasurable: Racism by the Numbers

Several years ago, women faculty at my university raised concerns about gender inequity across hiring, retention, and pay. The data suggested those concerns were valid so the university brought in an outside team to examine if gender inequity, in fact, existed at the university.

The university faculty was composed of fewer than 40% women (well below the percentage of women in society) and women faculty had been leaving the university at a higher rate than men faculty for several years. Although the university culture discouraged the sharing of salaries, women faculty were able to establish that women did in fact make less than men—in part, because there was also inequity of rank by gender.

These gender imbalances are common across higher education in the U.S. as well.

The external review gathered more data, mostly interviewing across campus different stakeholders in the university. That report confirmed gender inequity and offered reform strategies to address the imbalances.

Almost immediately upon its release, white male faculty questioned the review on the grounds that it did not meet the high standards of scientific inquiry (quantitative experimental/quasi-experimental research).

This scenario is playing out nationally in a similar way, but focusing on racial inequity (racism) in policing, specifically in the use of deadly force by police officers.

First, it is important to start a consideration of statistic and quantitative data by clarifying language. At the crux of a statistical analysis of gender inequity or racism (incredibly complex phenomena), we must distinguish between equality and equity.

For example, equality as a goal would dictate that universities hire the exact same number of men and women, maintain the same number of men and women at each rank, and pay men and women the exact same at those steps. Equality (in a much darker view of the world) would mean that police officers shoot and kill the same number of white citizens as black citizens (note that such a quantitative approach fails the ethical issue of whether or not police offices should kill any citizens).

Equality, however, is the wrong standard since it fails to acknowledge proportionality; this is especially important when trying to measure racism in the U.S.

Race demographics in the U.S. are significantly imbalanced since there are about 5-6 times more white people than Black people. Here is the importance of starting an investigation of racism in policing with equity.

The data on policing and race, then, become extremely complicated since police do kill more white people than Black people, but that measurement is also inequitable since the imbalance falls well below the race imbalance in society; as Bronner explains: “That’s how you get studies that show 96 out of 100,000 Black men and boys will be killed by police over the course of their lifetimes, compared to 39 out of 100,000 white men and boys — a risk that is 2.5 times higher.”

Two statistical facts (police kill more white people than Black people and police killing are racially inequitable) are simultaneously true, seem to discredit racism in policing for some people, and prove racial inequity. This last point is incredibly important and at the root of the problem with measuring racism in policing.

Once there is credible evidence of inequity (data on gender inequity at my university or policing in the U.S.), the challenge of conducting research on that inequity is identifying why the inequity exists and then establishing if that inequity is justifiable or if that inequity can and should be eradicated.

Another paradox of conducting so-called high quality research on inequity is that experimental and quasi-experimental research (designed to isolate and capture causal relationships between factors) often finds no causal significance in the data, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the condition doesn’t exist.

This brings me to the work of Roland Fryer, who I first encountered through his research on education (charter schools and teacher quality). Measuring teaching and learning has similar problems to measuring inequity since teaching and learning are highly complex and pose real challenges for isolating relationships among factors.

Fryer’s research on education garnered a great deal of uncritical media and political attention since that research reinforced uninformed and overly simplistic views of teaching and learning among the media, the public, and political leaders.

Bruce Baker, for example, noted about Fryer’s work in education: “But, each of these studies suffers from poorly documented and often ill-conceived comparisons of costs and/or marginal expenditures.”

Here is a pattern that is essential to understand: Experimental/quasi-experimental research fails to show a causal relationship in an examination of inequity, the media rush to cover the research by misrepresenting the conclusion (“didn’t find” doesn’t mean that something doesn’t exist), and public/political biases are triggered and reinfocred.

Fryer, who seems to revel in having surprising outcomes to his research, has recently shifted to studying policing and racism, but the pattern has remained intact.

Recently, Fryer promoted a surprising study that seemed to fail to show racism in police killings of citizens, and the media jumped on board despite the research not yet being peer reviewed.

A paradox of research on inequity is that as long as a culture is inequitable all evidence that seems to disprove inequity benefits from that inequity and even the most intentionally “unbiased” research is likely tainted by that inequity.

Once other scholars, most of whom have more expertise in race and policing than Fryer, began to interrogate Fryer’s research, the “surprise” in his conclusion fell apart—in similar ways as his research on charter schools and teacher quality.

Two aspects of scholarly challenges to Fryer’s research on policing and racism are important to highlight.

First, once Fryer was challenged, he responded in a way that clearly discredits the media interpretation of his findings; Fryer wrote a rebuttal to his critics and concluded:

The time has come for a national reckoning on race and policing in America. But, the issues are thorny and the conclusions one can draw about racial bias are fraught with difficulty. The most granular data suggest that there is no bias in police shootings (Fryer (forthcoming)), but these data are far from a representative sample of police departments and do not contain any experimental variation [emphasis added]. We cannot rest. We need more and better data. With the advances in natural language processing and the increased willingness of police departments to share sensitive data, we can make progress.

Once again, probably due to the use of a non-representative sample, Fryer did not find causal proof of racism in fatal policing, but that is a statistical fact that cannot and should not be used to claim that racism does not exist in policing or in fatal police interactions with citizens.

In a response to Fryer’s response, in fact, Ross, Winterhalder, and McElreath conclude in a review of Fryer and other research that seem to fall outside the standard view that racism does impact policing:

We establish that: (1) the analyses of Ross (2015) and Fryer (2016) are in general agreement concerning the existence and magnitude of population-level anti-black, racial disparities in police shootings; (2) because of racial disparities in rates of encounters and non-lethal use-of-force, the encounter-conditional results of Fryer (2016) regarding the relative frequency of the use of lethal force by police are susceptible to Simpson’s paradox. They should probably not be interpreted as providing support for the idea that police show no anti-black bias or even an unexpected anti-white bias in the use of lethal force conditional on encounter [emphasis added]; and, (3) even if police do not show racial bias in the use of lethal force conditional on encounter, racial disparities in encounters themselves will still produce racial disparities in the population-level rates of the use of lethal force, a matter of deep concern to the communities affected.

A more fair response to Fryer (and others) is that his work—despite its weaknesses—raises challenges about the complexity of systemic racism when trying to determine how racism does or does not impact policing.

Systemic racism pervades virtually every aspect of U.S. society, therefore, teasing out and isolating racism may be nearly impossible to do (see Fryer’s emphasis on “granular data” which allows a scientist to focus on a grain of sand while ignoring the beach and the nearby ocean).

Ultimately, a more disturbing paradox may be that interrogating racism by the numbers will never allow us to consider the importance of human witnessing.

The lived experiences of women and of Black people can be silenced when numbers are allowed to trump the complexities of inequity.

“Granular data” and rigorous experimental research are neither fool-proof nor inconsequential. Scientific inquiry isn’t the problem.

The problem is there is inequity entrenched in the type of “science” that is allowed to count, and that is a cycle that itself maintains the inequity that is often nearly impossible to measure.

Fryer’s research along with the media, public, and political engagement with that research does prove one very troubling thing—a confirmation of Audre Lorde‘s warning: “[T]he master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

For Further Reading

Why Statistics Don’t Capture The Full Extent Of The Systemic Bias In Policing

Reading as a First-Mile Problem: Recognizing the Role of Poverty and Inequity in Literacy Development

Literacy scholar Tim Shanahan answers the question Why Is It So Hard to Improve Reading Achievement? with the following: “Classroom implementation is the last mile in reading reform.” He eventually adds, “The last mile rhetoric shouldn’t be a hair-on-fire message, but one that acknowledges both the current successes and the need to do better.”

Shanahan’s consideration of the persistent public and political concern over low reading achievement appears to offer a balanced admission that many approaches to reading instruction can be successful, but framing reading as a last-mile problem is finding yourself in a hole and deciding you just need to dig a little deeper.

Shanahan seems to accept a number of different “levers” as valid approaches to improving student reading, including a somewhat veiled endorsement of Common Core standards; in fact, he concedes: “Let’s face it. Our problem in reading isn’t that nothing works. It’s that everything does.”

In 2020, what Shanahan’s last-mile argument reveals, however, is that there is a mistake in teaching reading that can be addressed, but as a society, we refuse to acknowledge that reading is a first-mile problem.

That first mile is much larger than formal schooling, and what we refuse to recognize is that measurable reading achievement is a marker for the disadvantages of poverty and inequity in both the lives and schooling of vulnerable populations of students (students in poverty, black and brown students, English language learners, special needs students).

The accountability movement driven by ever-new standards and ever-new tests has been paralyzed by in-school only reform. That movement is both an example of last-mile reform and why last-mile reform has failed.

First, let’s acknowledge that Shanahan does make a key argument about how reading is taught; for example, a recent review of meta-analyses of systematic intensive phonics has shown that most approaches to teaching reading are about equally effective, as Shanahan suggests.

However, the current “science of reading” version of the Reading War argues that systematic intensive phonics must be required for all students; this phonics-first claim has been concurrent with pathologizing most struggling readers as probably dyslexic.

If we shift from last-mile reform to first-mile reform, then, we must avoid both “all students must” and “everything works,” choosing instead to admit that every student deserves the reading instruction they need (regardless of what programs or standards mandate), and we must acknowledge that students living in relative privilege often acquire reading rather easily, suggesting that the conditions within which students live and learn need to be reformed—not the students or the teaching methods.

First-mile reform in reading must start with addressing poverty and inequity in every child’s life. Alleviating poverty, addressing food security, improving work opportunities and security, adopting universal health care—these are issues of equity that would allow all students to acquire reading in ways that are now common for affluent students (often before entering formal schooling).

Stable communities and homes not overburdened by poverty and inequity would have the opportunities to provide children with language-rich environments that send children to formal schooling already highly literate, often reading before direct instruction.

First-mile reform of reading, however, is not a narrow commitment to out-of-school only, but it makes primary equity-focused out-of-school reform while also including equity-focused in-school reform as secondary but essential.

Instead of digging the accountability hole deeper by seeing reading reform as a last-mile challenge, we must climb out of that silo and think differently about in-school reform.

Equity-focused reading reform starts with the conditions of teaching and learning—guaranteeing students small student/teacher ratios in early literacy classes, insuring all students have experienced and highly-qualified teachers, and funding fully the materials needed for rich literacy experiences (authentic texts for all students and robust libraries in the schools and in children’s homes and communities).

This new approach to reform would also avoid tracking students and then would monitor more directly equitable learning opportunities as opposed to narrow measurable outcomes. For example, all students should be in rich and challenging courses—and not in test-prep classes or highly prescriptive programs (reading programs or systematic phonics for all).

Last-mile reading reform continues to focus on students as inherently flawed humans who need to be fixed; first-mile reading reform recognizes that systems are flawed, and that all students can flourish if their living and learning environments are equitable and conducive to learning.

Ultimately, continuing down the current road to reading reform as if we just need to be more demanding of teachers and students in the crucial last mile is continuing to recognize the negative impact of poverty and inequity on children’s ability to read and teachers’ effectiveness in teaching reading.

We mustn’t keep our heads down, we mustn’t keep digging.

We need finally to acknowledge that reading is a first-mile problem.

Ellen Is Wrong: “Love takes off the masks”

Ellen DeGeneres sitting and yucking it up with George W. Bush in the owner’s suite of an NFL game—including the Dallas Cowboys, owned by Jerry Jones—may be the perfect metaphor for the U.S. in 2019.

While DeGeneres as a gay woman has become a key public figure in the broader fight for equity, she ultimately has attained something, like Oprah, that keeps her well above the consequences of inequity in the U.S.—enormous wealth and celebrity.

Laughing in the rarified air of the owner’s suite, DeGeneres and Bush are literally well above the actual game in which grown men bash each other senseless for the entertainment and enormous profit of others.

In this contemporary colosseum, we should be reminded that DeGeneres and Bush are merely two actors in an exclusive club of wealth and fame.

Source

Donald and Melania Trump on their wedding day in 2005 with Hillary and Bill Clinton.
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DeGeneres has doubled-down after some have criticized her being very publicly chummy with the former president, who is also good pals with Michelle Obama. Fans of DeGeneres have praised her for her message of love and her argument that we can and should love each other even if—and maybe especially if—we have different beliefs.

But here is the problem. If this were about beliefs—if DeGeneres were Muslim and Bush, Christian, and they were showing how people of different faiths can and should love each other—then DeGeneres would be entirely justified.

This, however, is not about beliefs.

W. Bush for decades was a key leader of the Republican Party, which enacted policy and laws as well as advocated for policy and laws that are anti-gay, anti-woman, pro-mass incarceration, pro-gun, etc.

And here is the crucial point: These laws are inherently inequitable; they deny life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Additionally, these laws and policies negatively impact marginalized and impoverished Americans disproportionately.

Yes, Ellen has faced inequity as a women and for being gay, but on balance, her wealth and celebrity have greatly mollified those consequences; she—and W. Bush—is but a far-removed observer of this world that is quite real for the rest of us.

For example, as Republicans move the U.S. toward greatly restricting and even banning abortion, we must recognize that wealthy women will never be denied excellent health care, excellent birth control, and access to safe abortions.

Never.

These restrictive and harmful laws will mostly negatively impact marginalized and impoverished American women.

DeGeneres and Bush see politics and belief, then, as just a game—not really all that different than the NFL contest where they sat as far as possible away from the violence.

Republican or Democrat? Cowboy or Packer? What’s the diff, eh?

Ultimately, DeGeneres has no obligations, however, to live her life any other way than the way she wants, including keeping and fostering her connectedness to the world of enormous wealth and celebrity. She has reminded us over and over that she is friends with Aaron Rogers (quarterback of the Packers, who were playing the Cowboys as she lounged with W.)—and of course, with Justin Bieber.

Using her enormous bully pulpit, DeGeneres goes beyond living her life, often, and advocates for the rest of us to live our lives a certain way; in this case, she is preaching a sort of universal and unconditional love.

How, then, can DeGeneres be wrong?

At one level, DeGeneres’s message approaches respectability politics, at least to the point that many people supporting her seem to think she is calling for civility among political rivals. Respectability politics is often used to deflect from the central issue, as was the case with Colin Kaepernick.

Calls for civility also work as a shield for those with power and privilege. Just as the rich and famous often live above the consequences of laws and social norms, people with power and wealth have expectations for others that they themselves never follow.

Respect authority. Watch your tone.

There is nothing civil about declaring homosexuality a sin; there is nothing civil about calling abortion murder.

On another level, DeGeneres simply misunderstands or at least oversimplifies love. Instead, I recommend James Baldwin’s admonitions about love:

In order to achieve freedom of this sort, Baldwin contended, we must love one another. His understanding of love was deep and complex, and the love he prescribed was difficult and often unsettling. To love someone, he explained, is to deny them “spiritual and social ease,” which “hard as if may sound,” is “the most important thing that one human being can do for another.” Love requires us to force each other to confront the delusions that we rely on to avoid taking responsibility for our lives. “Love takes off the masks,” Baldwin declared, “that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” (From The Fire Is Upon Us, Nicholas Buccola, p. 163, quoting from Baldwin’s “Down at the Cross,” pp. 335, 341)

I am not saying DeGeneres should be uncivil to W. Bush, but I am saying that what someone of her stature and influence could do is to love Bush in such a way that he feels spiritual and social discomfort, that is he is forced to take off the masks of his corrupt political ideologies.

That Bush accepts responsibility for the consequences of his actions.

As Baldwin implored throughout his career, it is a terrible delusion that the rich and famous believe they are above it all because there is simply nothing that doesn’t impact each and everyone one of us even as some seem to be having a great time while, you know, Rome is burning.

Recommended

Why Rihanna Turned Down the Superbowl

Unsweet Tea: On Tokenism, Whiteness, and the Promise of Culturally Relevant Teaching

I stood as I have many times in front of the two tea dispensers at a chain sub sandwich shop. But this time, I was suddenly struck with the choice I always make—the “unsweet tea.”

Medium Freshly-Brewed Iced Tea Unsweetened

I was born, raised, and have lived my entire life in the Deep South. My mother made tea that would rival pancake syrup and trained my sister and me in the meticulous ritual of steeping tea bags and then pouring the hot tea over a huge mound of processed sugar.

The tea pot was dedicated only to steeping tea, and the tea jar and the giant plastic sugar spoon were sacred as well.

Once I left home, my mother flirted with sun tea, but the syrup-sweet tea of my childhood later became my defining feature of what could rightfully call itself The South. When ordering tea, The South hands you sweetened ice tea; hot tea or tea without sugar are not even mentioned, or considered.

So with a great deal of shame, I must admit that only a week or so ago I was truck with the absurdity that is “unsweet tea,” which of course is just tea.

The “unsweet” is a necessity only because “sweet tea” in South Carolina is the norm, the default, what has been rendered invisible and simultaneously right.

All across the U.S., then, “unsweet tea” in The South is a less controversial entry point into how whiteness works as the norm, the invisible, and the right.

Whiteness as the normal and as the invisible drives the greatest bulk of privilege in the U.S., but once that whiteness and privilege are exposed, confronted, white fragility is the response, as Robin DiAngelo (2011) details:

White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.

White fragility as a response to naming and confronting privilege as well as racism is extremely powerful because that response is clinging to an entrenched norm with incredibly long and anchored roots.

Despite claims that formal public education works to change students and thus reform society, schools most often reflect and perpetuate privilege and all sorts of inequities and norms. Thus, education—teachers/teaching, curriculum, testing, discipline, dress codes, etc.—tends to work in the service of whiteness.

Just as whiteness must be exposed and confronted in society, education that is liberatory and life- as well as society-changing must be willing to commit, as Gloria Ladson-Billings explains, to culturally relevant teaching:

A hallmark for me of a culturally relevant teacher is someone who understands that we’re operating in a fundamentally inequitable system [emphasis added] — they take that as a given. And that the teacher’s role is not merely to help kids fit into an unfair system, but rather to give them the skills, the knowledge and the dispositions to change the inequity. The idea is not to get more people at the top of an unfair pyramid; the idea is to say the pyramid is the wrong structure. How can we really create a circle, if you will, that includes everybody?

Instead, Ladson-Billings laments:

I find that teachers often shy away from critical consciousness because they’re afraid that it’s too political [emphasis added]. A perfect example for me is some years ago when Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, that district in Ferguson sent out a directive that teachers not talk about this. This is exactly what kids are talking about every single day, because at night when they go home and turn on the news, their streets are flooded with protesters, and they need an adult to help make sense of this. But the school has said, “No, you can’t talk about this.”

One result of teachers and schools self-regulating in the service of whiteness, privilege, and inequity is tokenism—viewing culturally relevant teaching through a deficit lens isolated on Black and Brown students or students living in poverty; and selecting curriculum, materials (texts, programs, etc.), and events that highlight diversity and multiculturalism,

but [as Ladson-Billings explains] what research has found is just changing the content is never going to be enough, if you are pedagogically doing the very same things: Read the chapter, answer the questions at the back of the book, come take the test. You really haven’t attended to the deep cultural concerns. What happens is school districts want you to do just that — teach exactly the way you’ve been teaching, just change the information [emphasis added]. That does little or nothing to increase engagement, and it certainly doesn’t help kids feel any more empowered about what they’re learning.

Whiteness, like sweet tea in The South, is ubiquitous in the U.S.—but whiteness desires to remain invisible as it drives privilege for some and further entrenches inequity for others. White fragility is the only consequence of rendering whiteness visible so that it can be eradicated.

This confrontation of whiteness is the duty of white people, and that must not be dulled by tokenism and self-regulation.

Recognizing that “unsweet tea” is just tea serves as a powerful example of the importance of naming as a first step to exposing in a journey to eradicating whiteness and privilege.

Genuine and robust culturally relevant teaching does offer a promise to move beyond whiteness and to quell white fragility, as Ladson-Billings argues:

When we do this work, there are certain baselines that people have to have. Number one, they have to believe that racism is real, and number two, they have to believe that they may be acting on it….

The most segregated group of kids in the country are white kids. We never refer to their schools as segregated. We refer to black and brown kids as going to segregated schools.

So, integration in which kids of different races and ethnicities have an opportunity to fully participate in the life of the school is what I would hope to see.

De-centering whiteness proves to be a bitter drink for white people who are too often compelled to respond with white fragility or tokenism.

Now, whiteness must seek ways to work against itself, making whiteness visible, centering it one last time in order to recenter our society and schools in ways that are equitable.


See Also

The female price of male pleasure

Educational Accountability and the Science of Scapegoating the Powerless

Several years ago when I submitted an Op-Ed to the largest newspaper in my home state of South Carolina, the editor rejected the historical timeline I was using for state standards and testing, specifically arguing that accountability had begun in the late 1990s and not in the early 1980s as I noted.

Here’s the interesting part.

I began teaching in South Carolina in the fall of 1984, the first year of major education reform under then-governor Richard Riley. That reform included a significant teacher pay raise, extended days of working for teachers, and the standards-testing regime that would become normal for all public education across the U.S.

In fact, SC’s accountability legislation dates back to the late 1970s (I sent her links to all this).

As a beginning teacher, the only public schooling I ever knew was teaching to standards and high-stakes tests by identifying standards on my lesson plans and implementing benchmark assessments throughout the academic year to document I was teaching what was mandated as a bulwark against low student tests scores. State testing, including punitive exit exams, pervaded everything about being an English teacher.

Yet, an editor, herself a career journalist, was quick to assume my expertise as a classroom practitioner and then college professor of education was mistaken.

This is a snapshot of how mainstream media interact with education as a topic and educators as professionals.

I am reminded of that experience over and over in fact as I read media coverage of education. Take for example this from Education Week, Want Teachers to Motivate Their Students? Teach Them How, which has the thesis:

Most teachers intrinsically understand the need to motivate their students, experts say, but teaching on intuition alone can lead to missteps in student engagement.

A study released in May by the Mindset Scholars Network, a collaborative of researchers who study student motivation, found most teacher education programs nationwide do not include explicit training for teachers on the science of how to motivate students.

Two key elements of this article stand out: The new scapegoat in proclaiming education a failure is teacher education and the go-to failure is always about a lack of “science” in teacher education.

This article on motivation is following a media template well worn recently about students in the U.S. can’t read because teachers are not taught the “science of reading,” you guessed it, in their teacher education programs.

As I detailed in a Twitter thread, scapegoating teacher education has many flaws, and my experience and expertise as a teacher educator for almost two decades, following almost two decades as a classroom teacher, inform my understanding of how finding scapegoats for educational failure during the accountability era is fool’s gold.

How has the accountability era gone in terms of where the accountability and locus of power lie, then?

In the 1980s and 1990s, the accountability mechanisms focused on holding students accountable (think exit exams) and schools accountable (student test scores often translated into school rankings or grades, designating schools as “failing,” for example).

Keep in mind that students had no power in that process, and that schools were merely agents of the standards being implemented, again outside the power dynamics of those mandates being determined.

With No Child Left Behind spawned by the false claims of the Texas Miracle, the accountability era was greatly accelerated, including a creeping sense that the process wasn’t improving education but it was punishing students (lower graduation rates due to exit exams) and demonizing schools (most high-poverty and high-racial minority schools were labeled as “failing”).

By the administration of Barak Obama, with education policy under another false narrative (the Chicago Miracle) and false ambassador with no background in education other than appointments (Arne Duncan), the scapegoating took a turn—the problem, went the new message, was “bad” teachers and the solution was not holding students or schools accountable for test scores but those teachers (the era of value-added methods [VAM]).

As some have noted and documented, teacher bashing increased and then prompted a backlash (see magazine covers from Time for a great series of artifacts on this); it seems that VAM proved to be a false metric for accountability and that maybe teachers were not the problem after all.

With the scapegoat role now vacant, the media have discovered a new candidate, teacher education.

Let’s here recognize that once again the power context is way off in who is determining the accountability and who is being held accountable. For the most part, teachers and teacher educators are relatively powerless agents who are mandated to implement standards and assessments that they do not create and often do not endorse as valid.

Now consider another really important reason accountability in education is deeply flawed: The constant misguided scapegoating of powerless agents in formal teaching and learning is a distraction from the actual causal sources for educational challenges.

Fun fact: Decades of research from educators and education scholars have detailed that out-of-school factors overwhelmingly determine measurable student outcomes, some estimates as high as 80+% and most scholars agreeing on 60%. Teacher quality’s impact on measurable student achievement has been identified repeatedly as only about 10-15%.

Yet, the entire accountability era since the early 1980s has focused on in-school reforms only (scapegoating along the way), while tossing up hands and embracing harsh ideologies such as “no excuses” practices that argue teachers fail students with the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and students fail because they lack “grit” or a growth mindset.

Many of us have doggedly argued for social context reform, addressing socio-economic reform first and then reforming education along equity (not accountability) lines next, or concurrently. Many of us have also demonstrated that “grit” and growth mindset have racist and classist groundings that are harmful.

For those positions, we have been demonized and marginalized for decades.

So imagine my surprise when, first, the tide shifted on teacher bashing (I have 34 posts on my blog discrediting VAM and dozens on misunderstanding teacher quality) and then these articles: Better Schools Won’t Fix America (The Atlantic), The Harsh Discipline of No-Excuses Charter Schools: Is It Worth the Promise? (Education Week), and Unchartered territory: 2020 Democrats back away from charter schools (MSN).

My blog posts, however, on social context reform and poverty (157), “no excuses” reform (70), and the mirage of charter schools (80) have either mostly been ignored or are harshly (even angrily) rejected. Like my interaction with the editor discussed in the opening, my experience and expertise as an educator and education scholar have held almost no weight with those in power pr the media.

The media and journalists as generalists seem deeply resistant to learning a lesson they create over and over.

Take for a current example Karin Wulf’s examination of Naomi Wolff and Cokie Roberts; Wulf herself is a historian:

It’s been a tough few weeks for amateur history. First, journalist Naomi Wolf discovered on live radio that she had misinterpreted key historical terms in her new book, “Outrage,” leading her to draw the wrong conclusions. A week later, journalist Cokie Roberts, too, got a quick smackdown when she claimed on NPR that she couldn’t find any incidence of abortion advertised in 19th century newspapers, a claim quickly disproved by historians.

Wolf and Roberts fell victim to a myth widely shared with the American public: that anyone can do history. Whether it’s diving into genealogy or digging thorough the vast troves of digital archives now online, the public has an easy way into the world of the past. And why would they imagine it takes any special training? After all, the best-selling history books are almost always written by non-historians, from conservative commentators like Bill O’Reilly to journalists like Wolf and Roberts.

Wulf’s confronting “that anyone can do history” immediately prompted in me my experience when I first moved from teaching high school English (and adjuncting at several colleges, including being a lead instructor in a university-based summer institute of the National Writing Project) to higher education. My university was debating a curriculum change that included dropping traditional composition courses (popularly known as English 101 and English 102) for first-year seminars.

One of those first-year seminars was to be writing-intensive, and the argument being posed was that any professor could teach writing.

This change passed, and the English department and professors were relieved of sole responsibility for teaching writing.

Over the next eight years or so, the university learned a really disturbing lesson (one I could have shared in the beginning): “Any professor can teach writing” is false.

As Wulf argues about history, with writing and education, experience and expertise matter.

So here I sit again, writing over and over that the media are getting reading wrong, that scapegoating teacher education is missing the real problem.

How many years will it take until I see articles “discovering” these facts as if no one with experience and expertise ever raised the issue?

School Rankings as Racist, Classist Propaganda

On 20 May 2019, the Charleston Post and Courier offered this: Here’s what it takes for a SC school to be the No. 1 public high school in the US. And here is what is newsworthy:

The news was out before the sound of the school announcement system crackled through the halls: Academic Magnet High, long regarded as the top-performing high school in South Carolina, had climbed to No. 1 in a national ranking of public high schools.

Just three days later, The State (Columbia, SC) reported: Richland 1’s elite elementary school is also its whitest and least impoverished. This coverage explains:

Like all parents, Sara McBride just wanted her son to get the best possible education.

That’s why she tried to get her son into Richland 1’s highest-ranked school: Brockman Elementary. A school where class sizes are small and teachers’ advanced degrees and experience nets them a higher average salary.

The South Carolina Department of Education provides for 1270 public schools in the state a Poverty Index; for 2018, Academic Magnet High is the #1 least impoverished school in the entire state, and Brockman Elementary is #57, placing these two celebrated schools in the top 4.5% of all schools in the state in terms of extremely low poverty as well as disproportionate racial imbalances (Brockman is 75% white and AMH has only 3.5% black enrollment).

SC as a state ranks in the bottom ten of high-poverty states (about an 18% poverty rate) and has a relatively high percentage of black citizens (28%) as well as about 5-6% Hispanic/Latinx.

Across the U.S., there are some harsh facts about measurable student outcomes and demographics of students being served. Race, socioeconomic status, first language, and special needs are all highly correlated with those measurable outcomes.

High poverty, majority-minority schools with high percentages of ELL and special needs students have historically low test scores.

Therefore, these rankings and labels such as “elite” are gross misrepresentations of school quality.

Imagine if we had some hospitals that admitted only well patients and then ranked those against the hospitals serving curably sick patients as well as hospitals only admitting the terminally ill.

Can you guess how they would rank if we used health of the patients as the data for ranking?

This is more than just a problem of semantics, but to be blunt, these schools are not elite; they are selective—one overtly (AMHS) and one indirectly (BE).

These rankings and then the media coverage that perpetuates the rankings mask some powerful and essential facts that if confronted could help drive substantial social and educational reform that would serve students in SC much more directly.

First, public schools are primarily a reflection of the communities they serve; high-poverty communities have high-poverty schools, and both the communities and those schools suffer under enormous burdens related to a wide array of inequities linked to racism and poverty.

Second, schools almost never change the burdens of those communities. In fact, formal schooling has structures that tend to perpetuate and even intensify the inequities of high-poverty and racial minority communities—inequitable discipline policies, tracking, inequitable teacher assignment, inability to attract and retain experienced and certified teachers.

Magnet (AMHS) and choice (BE) mechanisms work to increase inequity because affluent and privileged students are over-served while poor students, racial minorities, ELL, and special needs students are systematically excluded through direct and invisible structures (choice, for example, often requires parents who can provide transportation and the time needed for transportation).

Conversely, poor students and racial minorities are over-identified as having special needs while also being under-identified in other sorting structures such as gifted and talented.

In-school inequities also include that wealthy and white student are more often served by experienced and certified teachers while sitting in classes with lower student/teacher ratios (typically correlated with being in Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tracks). High-poverty students and racial minority students experience just the opposite—inexperienced and un-/under-certified teachers and high student/teacher ratios as well as more remedial and test-prep courses.

Continuing to rank schools while also maintaining a disproportionate concern for narrow data (test scores) serves only to misrepresent how well students are learning, how well schools are serving their students, and how our policies and practices are in fact guaranteeing success and failure for children born into privilege or disadvantage through no effort or fault of their own.

The real news in the two articles above is that SC has a long history of political malfeasance—a lack of political will—and a compliant media that simply refuse to label racism and classism for what they are.

U.S. Education a Scam and a Rigged Game

iceberg on water
Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

Many years ago while I was a high school English teacher, I began to advocate strongly against the influence of the SAT, and all standardized testing. One of the few sources for that criticism was work by Alfie Kohn, whose publications received pretty harsh resistance from the testing industry.

One of my best friends and colleagues while teaching high school left for higher education before I did, and as I would several years later, found himself teaching at a selective liberal arts college. He taught education foundations, where he included some of my work and Kohn’s confronting the failures of testing and the SAT specifically.

What my friend and former colleague discovered is that students at a selective liberal arts college did not receive well his message or the evidence about the inequity in high-stakes standardized testing and college admission exams.

As the recent college admissions scandal, Operation Varsity Blues, is gradually unmasking, people with privilege are powerfully invested in proving their merit—even if that veneer has to be manufactured at great expense.

I have been very successful at every level of formal education, attaining what is ominously called a “terminal degree.” Along that journey, I worked very hard, and simultaneously, the journey was nearly effortless because it required skills that I have mostly been quite adept at completing.

As well, I have been a professional educator for 35-plus years, at both the K-12 and higher education levels, including public and private schools.

In those experiences, I have been afforded incredible privilege because I am white and male. But I also have been often at arm’s length from that privilege in some ways because of my working-class background and my ideological alienation from my personal and professional communities.

Most difficult has been that despite my educational accomplishments and career as an educator, I have witnessed and then argued that while formal education is often framed as powerful in terms of how it shapes society and people (the “great equalizer” and “game changer” mantras), the reality of K-12 and higher education in the U.S. is that they mostly reflect and reinforce our inequities along racial, economic, and gender lines.

With the so-called college admissions scandal before us, I hope we can have larger discussions of what the purpose of education is and how access to education must be as sacred as what happens once students enter school.

The scandal exposes that education is not a game changer, but a marker for privilege. The wealthy are always branding, always seeking ways to be associated with the aura of quality.

Wealthy celebrities needed a daughter to attend USC for the prestige that attending Arizona State did not offer. This is no outlier, but an extreme example of how the wealthy perpetuate and are drawn to “elite” institutions, whether it be selective pre-schools, private K-12 academies, or the Ivey League.

Some experiences I have noticed throughout my teaching career include a misunderstanding of teaching and learning compounded at selective (mislabeled as “elite”) colleges by a wish among faculty to take credit for the existing so-called excellence in students admitted.

Let me explain with some historical context first.

The concept of universal public education in the U.S. is expressed very well as an ideal by the deeply flawed elitist Thomas Jefferson in the following passages:

The object [of my education bill was] to bring into action that mass of talents which lies buried in poverty in every country for want of the means of development, and thus give activity to a mass of mind which in proportion to our population shall be the double or treble of what it is in most countries. ([1817], pp. 275-276)

The less wealthy people, . .by the bill for a general education, would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government; and all this would be effected without the violation of a single natural right of any one individual citizen. (p. 50)

I… [proposed] three distinct grades of education, reaching all classes. 1. Elementary schools for all children generally, rich and poor. 2. Colleges for a middle degree of instruction, calculated for the common purposes of life and such as should be desirable for all who were in easy circumstances. And 3d. an ultimate grade for teaching the sciences generally and in their highest degree… The expenses of [the elementary] schools should be borne by the inhabitants of the county, every one in proportion to his general tax-rate. This would throw on wealth the education of the poor. (p. 791)

To all of which is added a selection from the elementary schools of subjects of the most promising genius, whose parents are too poor to give them further education, to be carried at the public expense through the colleges and university.  (p. 275)

By that part of our plan which prescribes the selection of the youths of genius from among the classes of the Door, we hope to avail the State of those talents which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as the rich, but which perish without use, if not sought for and cultivated. But of all the views of this law none is more important none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people the safe, as they are the ultimate, guardians of their own liberty. (p. 276)

The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance. (p. 278)

The recent college admissions scandal is but the tip of the iceberg of privilege that has already sunk the Titanic plan detailed above by Jefferson, himself an original elitist unable to make his ideal real.

So, since these lofty claims established formal education in the U.S., we have instead embraced a deficit ideology—framing students needing to learn as a flaw of the student and a burden on the teacher (misunderstanding teaching and learning)—and creating formal education as a mechanism of enculturation (institutions that either label and shame those deemed deficient or label and praise those deemed elite).

If we pull back from the scandal and how this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the wealthy gaming everything along a spectrum from inequitable and unethical to outright criminal, we must also interrogate that we have failed the ideals of not only universal public education (K-16), but also the potential of education to revolutionize society and individuals.

Many students who need that ideal education the most are disenfranchised from or disillusioned by formal schooling while many privileged students are deeply invested in the game of formal schooling even as the education itself mostly washing over and by them.

In both cases, education is a scam and a rigged game.

While we are hand wringing over the college admissions scam, my home state of South Carolina has rejected provisions in a new education bill calling to lower some student/teacher ratios, claiming such mandates are too expensive.

However, in public schools across the state, mostly white and affluent students sit daily in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes with incredibly low student/teacher ratios, classes often next door to so-called regular classes at and above state maximums for student/teacher loads.

Inequity serving the wealthy and white and mis-serving everyone else—this is a feature of our systems and institutions, including schools, not a glitch—as some seem to suggest about the admissions scandal.

Today, in 2019, formal education in the U.S. is mostly a disturbing snapshot of how we are a people mostly using rhetoric to hide the power and momentum of privilege.

There is really nothing shocking about the admissions scandal, unless you want to pretend it is something other than the tip of a very old and very large iceberg of privilege that defines the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Operation Varsity Blues: One Corrupt Tree in the Forest of White Wealth Privilege

It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.

George Carlin

Andrew Lelling, the US attorney for Massachusetts, made a nearly laughable opening claim in his press conference about a college admissions scandal named “Operation Varsity Blues”:

“This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud,” Lelling said. “There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy, and I’ll add that there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.”

He added, “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.”

Nearly laughable, in part, because this grandstanding of justice wants to proceed from the position that discovering the wealthy gaming a system they already control is somehow shocking (it isn’t), and nearly laughable as well because Lelling offered as context and with a straight face the following:

We’re not talking about donating a building so that a school’s more likely to take your son or daughter.

We’re talking about deception and fraud – fake test scores, fake athletic credentials, fake photographs, bribed college officials.

The layers of bullshit in what is being called a “massive admissions scandal” are nearly as complicated as the story itself, an intricate web of complicit parents, college and athletics officials, SAT/ACT shenanigans, and a charlatan mastermind at the controls—as reported by Kirk Carapezza:

Here’s how Lelling says it worked. Between 2011 and 2018, wealthy parents paid Rick Singer, the head of a foundation and a for-profit admissions consulting service, more than $25 million. Singer would then use that money to pay a ringer to take the SAT or ACT for children or correct their answers. He’d also bribe Division 1 coaches.

Here’s one layer: Despite the very serious tone and facial expressions at the Department of Justice’s press conference, Lelling’s rhetoric remains complete bullshit. In the U.S., these has always been and continues to be two distinct admissions processes for college and two distinct justice systems.

In fact, in every way possible there are two Americas [1], neatly divided by wealth and race. Being wealthy and being white provide significant privileges and then those who enjoy those privileges routinely and without consequence leverage that privilege for even more advantages at the expense of everyone else.

The great irony of the so-called college admission scandal is that the wealthy in the U.S. promote false narratives about merit and rugged individualism while actively perpetuating their own privilege, which buoys mediocrity, at best, and a complete absence of merit or effort at worst.

The wealthy are driven to maintain the veneer of “well-educated” because it provides cover for that mediocrity and privilege.

To be white and wealthy allows them to skip college and still thrive while people of color and the poor scramble to gain more and more eduction even as the rewards remain beneath the truly lazy and undeserving rich:

[F]amilies headed by white high school dropouts have higher net worths than families headed by black college graduates.

…First, understand that blacks and Hispanics have lower incomes than whites up and down the educational spectrum.

On average, black families at a given level of educational attainment receive incomes that are just 66% of what white families at the same level of educational attainment receive. For Hispanic families, that figure is 79%. Naturally, when education-controlled income disparities like this exist, education-controlled wealth disparities will exist.

Second, understand that even blacks, Hispanics, and whites with the same incomes have dramatically different net worths.

On average, black wealth is 26% of white wealth, even controlling for income. For Hispanics, the figure is 31%. Peruse the studies above to try to tease out why. Note here though that, according to Gittelman and Wolff, this is not because blacks have lower savings rates. Inheritance and in-life wealth transfers also appear, in all of the studies, to play a non-trivial role. (Bruenig, 2014)

Lori Loughlin and her social media star daughter are not some sort of outlier evil geniuses who found a loop-hole in the system; they are the faces of the system.

This is how America works.

Ivanka Trump, also, is no evil genius, no outlier, and also not a deeply delusional woman. She believes the narrative that she has been taught even as her life completely contradicts those myths of meritocracy and bootstrapping.

I imagine those parents implicated—and the many more who will skirt by this time as wealthy people most often do—have convinced themselves they used their means for the good of their own children, as anyone would do if having those same means.

And this is the myopia of white wealth privilege in the U.S., the blindness of rugged individualism that allows some to believe they are either above or somehow disconnected from everyone else.

As reported by Cydney Henderson, Loughlin’s daughter used her celebrity and a dorm room someone else more deserving did not have to promote her brand, and make money of course:

Olivia Jade moved into her college dorm in September 2018, documenting the milestone on Instagram through a paid partnership with Amazon’s Prime Student. It’s a standard practice for social media influencers to earn money from companies by advertising products to their followers.

“Officially a college student! It’s been a few weeks since I moved into my dorm and I absolutely love it,” she captioned the post. “I got everything I needed from Amazon with @primestudent and had it all shipped to me in just two-days.”

This is America, at least one of the Americas, the one we worship despite it being a gigantic lie, as Carlin says, the club we will not be allowed to join.

“Operation Varsity Blues” is not a surprise, then, but we must guard against it being yet another gear in the privilege machine, a distraction.

This so-called college admissions scandal is but one tree in the much larger and more powerful forest of white wealth privilege.

As we become fixated on Aunt Becky, we continue to ignore legacy admissions, a criminal justice system best understood as the New Jim Crow, the lingering racism and sexism in high-stakes standardized testing, the school-to-prison pipeline and schools as prisons, and a list far too long to include here.

Like whiteness itself, wealth must remain invisible in the ways it perpetuates privilege and inequity.

This college admissions scandal is an opportunity to pull back and take a long and critical look at the whole forest, a much uglier reality than we have been led to believe.


[1] See the following: