It Was Forty Years Ago Today ...
Print Friendly and PDF

Today is the 40th anniversary of my first published piece of prose, a short letter to the editor that appeared in National Review on March 16, 1973 when I was a 9th grader. I made a joke about Ernst van den Haag's book review of sociologist Christopher Jencks' meta-analysis of the Coleman Report, Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling in America.

Some things never change ...

To summarize and extend what I wrote in in 2008:

A review by Leon Todd on summarizes some of Jencks' 1972 findings:

"… it is probably wiser to define a "good" school in terms of student body characteristics than in terms of its budget or school resources. According to Jencks, once a good school starts taking in "undesirable" students (the definition of desirable sometimes pertains to academic, social, or economic attributes), its academic standing automatically declines. He concluded that while an elementary schools' social composition had only a moderate effect on student's cognitive achievement, secondary or high school social composition had a significant effect on achievement. … The type of friends students are likely to make, the values they are exposed to, and satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the school, are all dependent upon the character of the student body."

Professor Jencks noted that the data showed that liberalism's key assumption—that equal opportunity would lead to equal results—was wrong. Therefore, Jencks argued, we must have socialism.

The late Ernest Van Den Haag responded in National Review that:

"Unlike his fellow socialists, Jencks no longer believes that inequality of results is the product of unequal social opportunity. He realizes that equal opportunity and advancement according to merit produce unequal incomes. Wherefore he urges that this most American (and constitutional) of ideas be abandoned, for he wants equality of results, even if it can be achieved only by making opportunity unequal. After all, it is luck rather than merit that determines results, and luck has no moral weight. Beyond this assertion (which has already been questioned), Jencks makes no serious attempt to justify morally his brand of equality. He simply assumes that we are all agreed…
"As P. T. Bauer has pointed out, 'income distribution' suggests a fixed stock of income which the government is to distribute and which (discovered by luck?) is independent of the continuous work of those who earn it. Indeed Jencks feels that, since chance distributes income unequally, the government should be '…responsible…for its [more equal] distribution.'

I wrote in:

Having read Ernest van den Haag's article on Christopher Jencks, I am reminded of an old psychiatry joke: A psychotic (egalitarian, in this little morality story) says. "All people are equal, and I'll fight anyone who says I'm wrong." A neurotic (Jencks) says, "People aren't equal, and I just can't stand it."

And that's pretty much been my shtick ever since.

That raises the question of who is stuck in the past in writing about race: me or everybody else?

In March of 2013, the national media has been obsessed with the Ku Klux Klan. Are they storming Oberlin College? Are they murdering black civil rights leaders in Mississippi?

In contrast, I've long figured that I was going to have to live not in the past, but in the future. A half decade later when I heard the opening line of Patti Smith's crazed rant Babelogue (NSFW), I thought she had her priorities about right.

Back then, my picture of what America was going to be like in the future was a lot like what Los Angeles was like in 1973: the Ku Klux Klan wasn't really relevant. Instead, we were going to have a multiracial society of whites, blacks, Mexicans, and Asians, and the KKK would matter less than things like IQ and work ethic.

How was I to know 40 years ago that in 2013 the KKK would be vastly more interesting than nature and nurture?

Print Friendly and PDF