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Thompson: The Gag Rule

Asset_upload_file967_4081_img "Why don't you guys study like the kids from Africa?" I am less direct in asking such a sensitive question because I know what the answer will be. And sure enough the enquiring teacher at T.C. Williams High School was told "It's because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study." The teacher was stunned by another angry response, "’You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us.’ When I did, not one hand went up." Through their words and behaviors our urban students are voicing their pain at being abandoned. Theorists and "reformers" just disrespect our kids further when they take the easy out and blame "low expectations."

The best part of Patrick Welsh's story is his account of the three-day conference they dubbed "Equity and Excellence," one of the many efforts to sell the "idea that once schools stop being racist and raise expectations, these low achievers will suddenly blossom." Teachers in Alexandria, Virginia who want to address the root causes of low achievement are offered "a ticket to Fairfax County." In Oklahoma City the phrase is "Edmond is just down the road."

Welsh writes "two of the finest and most dedicated teachers at my school ... tried to move students who were failing their classes into more appropriate prerequisite courses, because the kids had none of the background knowledge essential to mastering more advanced material. Both teachers were told by a T.C. Williams administrator that the problem was not with the students but with their own low expectations." And yet a speaker at the expensive pep rally for expectations was allowed to say that "’school-dependent learners’ are students from low-income backgrounds who need school to give them the basic knowledge that other kids get from their families -- knowledge that schools expect students to have when they start classes."

Six weeks after the preschool exhortations, writes Welsh "some 30 fights -- two gang-related -- have taken place at T.C. Williams. I wish those three days had been spent bringing students to school to lay out clear rules and consequences, and for sessions on conflict resolution and anger management."

This is the utlimate example of every complex problem having a simple solution - that is wrong.  Back before the phrase "politically correct," I was in a crowd of Rutgers historians watching nervously as Herbert Gutman seemed to be endorsing the reactionary belief that slaves named their children after their masters, thus indicating they had internalized "self hatred."  Some even shouted down the beloved progressive historian.  But the "the Magician," as we called Gutman, then displayed a longer computer printout that showed slaves named their children after extended family members and let the masters delude themselves.  But Gutman was trying to make two points, the second being that we on the Left should not prejudge the evidence.  After all, our demonizing of Daniel Patrick Moynihan for using the phrase "culture of poverty" was not a pretty sight. Gutman recounted the incredible heroism required to maintain the Black family until the 1940's.  But the damage that was done to the family after Blacks were "tractored out" of the South was still damage that was done to the family.

A decade later I intervened, brick in hand, to stop the proprieter of a neighborhood crack house from beating his children with a broom stick.  As I waited with the assailant until "Pookie" and "Dookie" were safely away, he broke down crying, "life is so hard.'  I am in no position to judge men who have crumbled under oppression, but I will join Patrick Welsh in denouncing the politically correct educational policies that deny treatment to children damaged by centuries of oppression and the educational blame game. - John Thompson   


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