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He's not a member of a group

Steven Den Beste dissects a Harvard study on merit scholarships which concludes, shockingly, that they were awarded based on merit rather than need. (For "need," read "race.") As Steven writes:

Harvard's researchers are cheating. They're using the patina of a scientific study to deliver political commentary. What Harvard's researchers discovered was that the administrators responsible for these programs were administering them honestly, and awarding the scholarships without regard to race or financial means, based on academic performance and test scores. That's what the Legislators said they wanted when the programs were set up, and that's apparently what the administrators have actually been doing.

Harvard says this is broken, but it sounds to me as if it's working as designed. And that's the point: it's not that these programs are broken, but rather that Harvard's researchers disagree with the goals of the programs.

And then Steven goes on to identify the source of his annoyance with Harvard's researchers: their choice to see people as members of groups, particularly racial groups.

I happened to catch an old episode of the Chris Rock show on HBO yesterday. He had Jesse Jackson Jr. on as a guest. The topic turned to problems in the black community. Chris Rock isn't a politician, so he was free to point out that a big part of the problem comes from black attitudes towards education. He said, "I attended a black school and a white school. We had the same books at both schools. Maybe the white school's books were a little cleaner, but we had the same books. The difference is that at the white school, kids were reading the books." Jackson, on the other hand, being a politician, kept insisting that the solution was for the government to spend more of the surplus (Hey, I told you it was an old episode) on the black community. He just ignored Rock's point, because it wasn't convenient.

Few would argue that there is never any discrimination anymore in the United States; nobody would argue that blacks have not suffered in the past. But by continuing to identify people by their group identity, by rewarding them for who they are rather than what they do, the concurrent problems are perpetuated, not solved. Of course, private groups are, or should be, free to hand out scholarships based on race if they feel it will help those groups. But to enshrine as public policy the idea that need -- defined as membership in a group that has suffered -- is the measure of desert is perverse. It tells those who don't belong to these groups that their effort isn't really important to anybody, that the only people who count are those who fall short in achievement.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 28, 2002 8:54 PM.

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