The soft bigotry of low expectations

This Washington Post op-ed by Ruben Navarette, Jr. takes a skeptical view of racial preferences in college admissions. The column may be an attempt at balance by the Post, given the two pro-preference pieces that appeared over the week-end (see below). However, I found Navarette’s opening sentence distressing. He states that, in deciding the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court “should do a cost-benefit analysis” of preferential admissions. The Court should do nothing of the kind. Such an analysis is the task of legislators, not judges, and God only knows what kind of a hash the Court would make of it.
The remainder of Navarette’s argument is of interest, however. He suggests that liberals have a vested interest in supporting preferential college admissions because, without them, much more attention would be focused on the failure of public schools to educate African-American and Latino students. Thus, “those most intent on preserving the educational status quo have a personal interest in also preserving racial preferences.”
Navarette’s suggestion that the answer lies in fixing public education is hard to disagree with, except to note, as supporters of preferences always do, that this answer isn’t coming any time soon. However, I wonder whether, even without such a turn-around, the performance of African-American and Latino students wouldn’t improve signicantly if they were forced to compete with white students for admission to colleges and professional schools. Racial preferences effectively mean that members of favored minority groups are competing only against each other. They probably know, as white students at my daughters’ high school and college do, approximately what grades and test scores they need in order to be admitted to various colleges and professional schools. Isn’t it reasonable to suppose that, if they knew they needed higher numbers, they would work harder to obtain them, particularly in the case of those already in good college, who have every opportunity to compete for grades with white students who will be seeking admission to the same professional schools? The issue here is what President Bush calls “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” I wonder how much of the racial gap in grades and test scores would disappear if blacks were asked to meet the same standards as whites and if, instead of granting preferences, states would provide high quality prep courses for standardized entrance examinations like the SAT to everyone interested in taking such courses.


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