Robert Samuelson Missing the Real Source of the "Achievement Gap"
January 10, 2011, 05:21 PM
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Robert Samuelson`s op-ed in today`s Washington Post [To foster high-achievers, think beyond the classroom]is disappointing (knowing what he knows as someone who provided Bob with regular research assistance in Newsweek`s Washington Bureau Library and given that his mentor at Harvard was Edward Banfield), especially near the end where he attributes these "persistent achievement gaps" to factors "outside the classroom": broken homes, street violence, and indifference to education. This is comparable to a physician diagnosing coughing as a cause of emphysema. For the euphemistically challenged, "street violence" is often cited as a category of distinction as if asphalt supposedly takes on a violent life of its own. Samuelson cites Jerome Kagan noting that "a strong predictor of children`s school success is the educational attainment of their parents".

Well, naturally, because the children of parents share 50 percent of each parent`s genes. Samuelson cautiously tip-toes around the elephant in the room, citing a "legacy of history and culture" that needs to be overcome, which schools can`t fix.

As Michael Levin and others have pointed out, culture doesn`t exist in a vacuum. It seems that a large percentage of non-Hispanic white students who come from "broken homes" don`t seem intellectually scarred by having stepmothers and stepfathers, or even without stepparents in their lives, and splitting their time between two residences.

Journalists and columnists should avoid baseless rhetoric and euphemisms and discuss the real source of this "gap", which Robert Weissberg, an honest scholar, admirably details in his book Bad Students, Not Bad Schools.