On Your Conscience

From a NYTimes article on why the SATs are really being canned:

According to the College Board, which administers the SAT, 55 percent of Asian-American test takers and 45 percent of white test takers scored a 1200 or higher on the SAT in 2019. For Hispanic and black students, those numbers were 12 percent and 9 percent.

I had no idea that the disparity was so gigantic.

But I understand now the impulse to hide the evidence by abolishing the test altogether instead of trying to do something about it. I don’t support this but I understand why it’s easier to pretend that the disparity doesn’t exist.

It’s still a pretty shitty thing to do, though. All those kids who will drop out of the colleges they were not ready to attend, leaving with a mountain of debt and a feeling of inferiority – they are on your conscience, supporters of this dishonest approach.

24 thoughts on “On Your Conscience”

  1. This entire way of thinking is incoherent.

    People right now think that universities are the gatekeepers to elite jobs, particularly in the USA. Now there are good arguments both that there shouldn’t be such things as “elite jobs”, or that universities shouldn’t be the gatekeepers to them, but people pushing diversity/ affirmative action tend to accept both, so we will just assume this. Plus in a world egalitarian enough to not have elite jobs, or where universities were not important to obtain them, presumably no one would be worried about the racial composition of the student bodies.

    But the thing with elite jobs is that there is a limited supply of them. That is why they are “elite”. By definition, some group will have a near-monopoly of them, and several groups will be left out. The arguments are really about which group falls into which category.

    So who are you putting into the elite jobs? If you want to make the argument over race, fine. Then the most powerful racial or ethnic group will monopolize the elite jobs. Things won’t get more edifying than that once you have introduced race as a criteria. Using something like the SAT/ ACT even with racial disparities, means we are at least going with the ethnic groups that can pass standardized tests.

    Note that using a pure standardized test, neither Blacks or Hispanics will be shut out given the numbers you cited.. I suspect the tenth of each of these groups would be the first to be screwed over moving away from any color or ethnic blind standard.


    1. At my university (which accepts pretty much anybody), graduation rates for African-American students and especially Hispanic students are abysmally low. Those who do graduate, do so with the “fluffy” degrees that don’t mean much.

      Elite jobs are currently in big data, engineering, medicine, software. These are professions where any discussion of race or ethnicity is a waste of time. You either got it or not.


      1. Exactly. So this move is yet another incredibly stupid move by universities and colleges. By accepting sub par students, they debase the value of their degrees. The humanities are already basically finished due to all this SJW post modernist nonsense, and now the quality of those programs will necessarily be debased even further due to everyone default assuming the students are ding bats, totally destroying the value of most non-prestige schools’ non technical or non vocational degrees. Thirty years ago you could at least be assured that an English major from a State school could at least write, and had a modicum of useful general culture and knowledge. Now, most schools will be putting their reputations on the same level as the diploma mills like Phoenix University, or the community colleges, all which will probably be more convenient and cheaper.

        A few years ago, my brother and his wife had a nanny from the South Side of Chicago, a very nice black girl with a BA in English from one of the U Illinois Chicago campuses. She was certified to teach HS English, and was doing the nanny gig while looking for a job. I was hanging out with her at their house one day, making tea according to an essay by Orwell on how to make a proper pot to his high English standard. While chatting and boiling the water, I showed her his essay, thinking she would be properly impressed and amused. It was immediately apparent she had no idea who Orwell was. I was completely floored. How can anyone get out of a college prep high school program, let alone receive a university English degree without at least recognizing his name? It should be utterly impossible. But I’m here to tell you it apparently isn’t.

        Everyone should take some humanities surveys. But very few people should go to university or college for humanities. Two thirds of people should be in vocational programs – community college – and apprenticeships subsidized and paid for by their employers. Two thirds of the other third should go to university for STEM or business. Only ten or twenty percent ought study humanities.

        Some of us – like me – need to study them. It was and is my vocation to read and think, as well as I am able. I needed to study history, literature, art, religion and philosophy in order to be fulfilled as a person. It had, and has, nothing to do with getting a job or money. It was my calling. If you are not called to it, you should not do it. Flooding the colleges and universities with people who are just there for a credential, and study humanities “because they are easier than math and science” are debasing and destroying the experience for those who need to be there.

        Also, the academy is flooded with heretics. The academy is a religious place, where the tradition is everything. The flood of students and now teachers who simply do not care, who even despise that tradition, is the greatest reason why the pews will soon be empty, and the heretics (like the daffy old Episcopalian priestess at my grandpa’s church) will soon be preaching to a choir of other fanatical heretics in an empty church.


        1. I wish I could be stunned by the Orwell anecdote but sadly I’m not. I have college students who say “they is” or “we has saw”, don’t know continents, don’t know that Africa isn’t a country, don’t know which countries border the US, have never heard of the Vietnam War, etc. These are not outliers. These are the majority. Many of my students tell me that the first time in their lives they ever read “a whole book” is in my course for graduating seniors!!

          We do so much remediation that we never get to Orwell.


  2. Who says they won’t graduate? You can always push faculty to dumb things down until anyone graduates. There are very intense efforts to instill guilt in faculty, and only hire those who exhibit properly guilty attitudes.

    When I was a new professor, the first thing they did was send me to a workshop, organized by the American Association of Physics Teachers, where they urged us to deemphasize math and problem solving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “When I was a new professor, the first thing they did was send me to a workshop, organized by the American Association of Physics Teachers, where they urged us to deemphasize math and problem solving.”

      -What the fuck. That’s just insulting.


  3. Arthur Jensen wrote his infamous article, claiming that the failure of compensatory education pointed to genetic differences in IQ being the cause of racial differences in test scores, way back in 1969. If the gap hasn’t closed in 50 years, maybe they have concluded he was right.


    1. I do not think this is about racial differences, although it is probably as difficult to fix as if it were racial differences.
      There is one factor whose importance is grossly underestimated – how growing up in an educated family imparts the value of education as well as certain view of the world upon the children. I have a hypothesis about why this factor is underestimated – most people (especially in meritocratic societies, and societies valuing personal responsibility, and especially in sub-groups that fancy themselves to be more meritocratic than they actually are, like academia) are not comfortable recognizing that their success is not due to just a combination of a) talent and b) a lot of hard work. Note that I am not talking about nepotism or just rich kids getting degrees from fancy universities because they can afford it. I am talking about the attitudes widespread among people like myself, who did not have the money and did put in a lot of hard work.

      Yes, I know, my position smells of “check you privilege”. I am not advocating for anyone growing up in an educated family feeling guilty about that. But it may be useful to recognize that this is important for purely practical, technocratic reasons, if you will… Because one cannot solve the problem one does not fully understand.


      1. The familial is the genetic, though.

        There is a bunch of cultural reasons why Americans are so terrified of the subject of inherited intelligence. This subject is utterly non-controversial everywhere else but here people are really messed up about it.

        Intelligence is like a body type. It’s extremely dependent on genes. However! Just like the body type, it’s all about what you do with the inheritance and it’s no guarantee of happiness either way. Anybody who says, for instance, that obesity doesn’t run in families is an idiot. However, a person always chooses whether to encourage this natural tendency by making certain eating choices and living a sedentary lifestyle. Moreover, none of it has anything to do with happiness. Many plump people are a lot happier than many thin people because there are many other factors to happiness. Just like many brilliant people are miserable messes while many intellectually limited folks are very happy.


        1. Another thing nobody wants to talk about is the temperamental differences and their impact on education. Our education system is set up to make things easier for ethnic groups with a certain kind of temperament. I’m not saying anybody did this on purpose to exclude anybody. But the result is what it is.

          I know many very bright Hispanic kids who are failing not because of any intellectual limitation but because the system is unsuited to their temperaments. But again, it’s a taboo topic because we are supposed to pretend that Swedes are temperamentally identical to Brazilians.

          So many things we do in education – constant sitting, long-form essay, the emphasis on meticulousness and obedience – makes it easier for some types of temperament and harder for others.

          And there is, of course, such a thing as historic trauma that creates behavioral patterns. Eastern European students, for instance, are very bright but not necessarily very successful. They get in their own heads too much, they have extremely high anxiety, they are useless at people pleasing, etc.

          This is a very complicated issue but nobody is talking about it because it’s a taboo topic.


          1. And one more thing. In my area – Hispanic Studies – you’d think that our most successful students would be the ones for whom the language barrier is not a problem. You’d think that understanding 100% of what is being said in class would give an insuperable advantage over those who understand 30-80%. But it’s not true. Our best students are never native speakers. And it’s not because of any intellectual limitation. It’s the format.


    2. There are no genetic differences in intelligence, men can get pregnant, women can have penises, obesity is in no way dependent on what you eat and is very healthy, a mentally disturbed teenager who freaks out about climate is a COVID expert ===== BELIEVE IN SCIENCE!!!!!


      1. What has changed in the last 50 years, as has been pointed out by various people on the right, is the large influx of Asians. Turns out the Chinese are very good at taking exams. Hardly surprising since they invented the system in the first place.


        1. True. They also have the second highest IQ among ethnic groups, which doesn’t hurt. But the cultural factors, such as the comfort with exam systems, high tolerance for frustration, patience, etc help, as well.


  4. “All those kids who will drop out of the colleges they were not ready to attend, leaving with a mountain of debt and a feeling of inferiority”

    Writ large, this creates financial (flow-through) and reputational (recruitment) problems for university administrators. Their go-to solution is to pressure their teaching staff to inflate grades.

    “Who says they won’t graduate? You can always push faculty to dumb things down until anyone graduates.”

    Yes, absolutely see above. This can, however, create as many new long-term problems as it solves assuming a competitive educational marketplace where some institutions refuse to lower standards.

    “But the thing with elite jobs is that there is a limited supply of them.”

    Published four decades ago, Fred Hirsch’s Social Limits to Growth brilliantly develops the concepts of “positional goods” and “social scarcity” in relation to economic growth. See Chapter 3 for his discussion of higher education – as relevant today as when first written.



  5. Even the SAT isn’t great. I scored really well on it. Still dropped out. When people obsess about how you have to go to college to “get a good job” or “be successful” they are maddeningly nonspecific about what constitutes a good job, or success. Or which college programs will get you there.


    1. “Even the SAT isn’t great.”

      Agreed. One size does not fit all. But some universally-applied objective predictors of who is likely to succeed in college/university is necessary for for fairness both to the institution and to students. Personally, I prefer the British model of A-levels where students study subject-specific preparatory material for two years before writing a common exam at the end. However, whatever the universal testing method for entry, I also very much favour work-arounds to allow later entry to degree programs on the basis of proven success in two or three courses previously taken as a “non-degree” or “special” student.


      1. I don’t mind the idea of SATs as a sort of minimum basic standard for entry. But for anything as expensive and time-consuming as college… ugh. There’s a lot more involved in college than “being smart”– and a lot of people who score 98th percentile on the SAT would still be better off in a good vocational program, or apprenticeship.

        The problem, of course, isn’t the SATs. It’s credentialing inflation. That’s a bubble that can’t last much longer.


  6. The SAT is easy if you’ve got deep literacy skills and a real understanding of math. AND you’ve had enough sleep the night before, enough to eat, aren’t massively stressed out about anything, aren’t sick and are able to be calm and focus. I was that person when I took it. We also had some other standardized tests given in low stakes circumstances every few years, so the format wasn’t new, and I’d taken the PSAT – a practice-type one the year before (it’s how they find national merit scholars, and it gets you scholarship offers, so it’s not non-serious).

    All of this I got by being middle class and going to good schools that it was harder to get into or get to if you were black or hispanic because of the location. This is why school integration (separate isn’t equal) and school funding is important, why there must be food at school, a good library, recess, etc., etc.


    1. We were playing that SAT game in 1991 or 1992. 🙂 We were definitely worse off than anybody in the US in terms of food, stress, etc. And it wasn’t in our language. Still, we all laughed at how primitive it was.

      One of my four entrance exams into university was to listen to a short story by a US writer twice and reproduce it in writing verbatim. In English, obviously.


    2. There is some truth to the idea that a good home life will better prepare you for whatever you’re doing as a teenager–sports, dance, academics–but a good home life won’t make you smarter or give you the will to succeed. I was all but kicked out of my home by my alcoholic stepfather and couch surfed for most of my last two years of high school; my marks were good enough for university (and it was MUCH harder to get in then) and I completed a BA and went on to work in my field. Most of my friends from good middle class homes did not do the same.


      1. I am convinced it all has to do with certain things from early to mid childhood education. I had good educational situation and made certain scores easily. In the family:

        Mother, good situation but parents do not value education as such so she has middle scores. Smart person, could have done better, did OK.
        Father, bad situation but parents very very literate. Good scores.
        Daughter, adopted as teenager, smart, but parents can barely speak. Trouble in school. Saved by me. Is person who could be professor but instead has other professional job. It’s all fine, she’s fine, but it is interesting to see what limited her and how, and what did not. Hispanic and has bad scores on standardized tests.
        Son, also adopted as teenager, PhD and well employed but not as professor. Black, although he will point out, Creole. Had smart literate bilingual family. For all their problems, they still had these language and logic skills and he was good at standardized tests, always.


        1. Early childhood is crucial. But it doesn’t give you intellectual capacity just like it doesn’t give you athletic capacity.

          Look at N, for example. He grew up in an extremely abusive family. The parents beat each other, beat the children. He didn’t know the letters of the alphabet until he was 7 because nobody had any interest in teaching him. They lived in a one& bedroom apartment inside a communal apartment where 8 families shared a kitchen and a bathroom.

          But his parents were brilliant, highly educated people. They were abusive fucks but he inherited a powerful intellect from them. There were crowds of people in the USSR who grew up in these conditions and they achieved nothing. Because the intellect isn’t there.


  7. I’m not saying it’s difficult, etc., but that it does in fact ask you to know certain things in English and math and you do have to know how to sit for an exam. These things are learned, and I would actually wager that a lot of US schools did less than Soviet ones. You’re also from a literate family – it makes a huge difference


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