Monday, November 20, 2006

Off to the races

“Schools Slow in Closing Gaps Between Races,” we are told by the New York Times. The article goes on to point out that white kids are improving their test scores faster than black and Hispanic kids. It also says that Asian kids are doing as well or better than whites. The article says nothing about how the Arab race is doing, or the Jewish race, or the Native American race, or any of the hundreds, if not thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of other races out there. Clearly, the article is racist.

Why does the New York Times continue to peddle this racist tripe?

It would be an exaggeration to say that science has abandoned the concept of race altogether, but I believe it is accurate to say that no one has come up with a definition that cannot be easily debunked. Yet the New York Times, as well as most the rest of the world, continues to attempt these ridiculous classifications.

For example, just using this article on test scores, what the fuck is the Hispanic race? There is no such thing. Even the census differentiates between Hispanics of African background vs. Hispanics of European background? But no mention is made of Hispanics of Native American background, which is the largest group, or Hispanics of Asian background, or Hispanics of Lebanese background, of which there are many.

Or the black race? Equatorial people from around the globe have as much melanin in their skin as most Africans. A person from southern India will have about the same skin color as a person from Ghana. A person from Ethiopia will have roughly the same amount of melanin as a person from Spain. Of course it’s not just skin color, but any other marker, or group of markers falls apart just as readily when scrutinized. The only racial classification that makes sense across the board is “human.”

...there is more genetic similarity between Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans and between Europeans and Melanesians, inhabitants of islands northeast of Australia, than there is between Africans and Melanesians. Yet, sub-Saharan Africans and Melanesians share dark skin, hair texture and cranial-facial features, traits commonly used to classify people into races. According to Templeton, this example shows that "racial traits" are grossly incompatible with overall genetic differences between human populations.

"The pattern of overall genetic differences instead tells us that genetic lineages rapidly spread out to all of humanity, indicating that human populations have always had a degree of genetic contact with one another, and thus historically don't show any distinct evolutionary lineages within humanity," Templeton says. "Rather, all of humanity is a single long-term evolutionary lineage."

One cannot deny, however, that there is such a thing as ethnic groups or populations and that customs differ among groups and that these customs can, and do, affect education. One should certainly note that customs that affect education differ within ethnic groups as well. In fact, one can note all kinds of differences among people. One can go on and on and on noting differences among people. The supply of differences to note is endless.

What organizations such as the New York Times should be focusing on is the similarities rather than the differences. There are children who do extremely well on tests from all ethnic groups. What do they have in common?

Money, as we know, is color blind and the children of the wealthier members of any ethnic group generally do better than the less wealthy. So what should we do about that? Just give everyone a lot of money? No, we know that welfare without strings just doesn’t work and it’s often true that the more successful people are smarter, but still, closing the income gap among people who do work would help.

But just as in life, money in education is not everything. Intelligence has to count for at least something, doesn’t it? Not all humans are equally intelligent. The upper limit of our intelligence, we know, is inherited, but how close we come to reaching that limit is a result of how we are raised and individual choices we make. Thus, as any teacher will tell you, the quality of a child’s family life is a better predictor of success at school than anything that could remotely be classified as race. A recent study corroborated the obvious:

The principle is straightforward and has long been recognized in plants and other simpler organisms. In one famous example, often repeated by evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, two genetically identical seeds of corn, planted in very different soil conditions, will grow to very different heights.

Some social psychologists and behavior geneticists have hypothesized that the same must hold true for the relationships linking human genes, socioeconomic status and IQ. Like corn in depleted soil, the thinking goes, minorities and the poor (two categories with so much overlap that researchers find it difficult to tease apart their effects) perform worse not because of their genes but because they are raised in an environment lacking in resources and poisoned by racist attitudes.

If the quality of family life is the most important factor in test scores and people from certain ethnic groups do better than others on tests, does that mean that some ethnic groups do a better job of raising their kids to take tests than others. That’s the obvious conclusion, isn’t it?

So wouldn’t it be cost effective to throw some money at an attempt to raise the child-rearing skills of parents? Yes, I’d say. In fact, I think raising the child-rearing skills of Americans, with the enhancement of our national IQ that would result, should be our number one national priority, the single best thing we could do to improve our national security.

The only caveat is that maximizing our children’s IQ and test taking ability should not be the only goal of our national campaign to dramatically increase parenting skills. Many people, for example, beat their children and although those kids may become quite smart and do well on tests, they are often damaged in other ways that are mirrored in the aggregate society. But more about that another time.

Update: The Daily Howler has a few things to say about the same Times article.

Update II: The British have the right idea.