Thursday, February 13, 2014

Two Nations 4

An issue that came up quite frequently in my latest reading of Andrew Hacker’s 1992 (updated in 1995) book, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal was that of qualifications.  Under affirmative action policies for jobs and admission to universities, the required qualifications are often lower for African-American applicants than they are for white applicants.  Critics then ask: Isn’t is disastrous to give people jobs or educational opportunities for which they may not be qualified?

One track that Hacker takes in responding to criticisms of this policy is that perhaps the qualifications themselves are not the best measures of whether or not one can bring something useful to a job, or a school.  African-Americans can bring diversity, which increases the knowledge of the community that they enter.  African-American cops can help the police force to interact better with African-American communities.  Moreover, Hacker wonders why law schools should hire primarily people who have published research or an advanced degree, since “practical experience and an ability to communicate may actually make for better teaching” (page 130).  Hacker also takes a swipe at the SATs, maintaining that they are not a measure of the success that one will attain later in life, that they presume knowledge of middle-class life, and that they “are biased in favor of people who have a knack for solving puzzles at a one-a-minute rate”, even as they discriminate against those “drawn to music and the arts” (page 149).

Why, on average, are other minorities, or people from the white lower economic classes, able to do better on the SAT than African-Americans?  Hacker offers a variety of reasons: Asian students may have studied more American history and literature, immigrants have often been trained in math and the multiple-choice method in their own countries, etc.  But Hacker seems to believe that racism is a factor: that, because there are many whites who look down on black people and do not want to be around them, African-Americans are cut off from the exposure to the white world that they need to do well on SAT tests, or other standardized tests.  John McWhorter in Losing the Race would probably blame anti-intellectualism and separatism within African-American communities.

Hacker does not appear to go so far as to dismiss thoroughly all of the current required qualifications.  For example, on page 132, he refers to the argument that it is important for cops to be aware of complex legal issues and to be able to write precise reports so that what they do will hold up in court.

I think that Hacker makes good points.  I still believe that, say, solid knowledge of the sciences is essential for physicians, but I am open to considering additional forms of aptitude, as well.

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