The Harvard Committee Against Racism (CAR) has been holding forums all year to oppose the wave of academic racist theories emanating recently from campuses all around the country. Now, in Boston, the real danger of such ideas has become apparent. Notions of black inferiority are being used to whip up racist hysteria around the issue of integration, while the struggle of black and white parents for a decent public education for their children is severely threatened.
Harvard CAR condemns the efforts being made by politicians and the press to use the issues of school integration and busing to build a racist movement in the Boston area. In particular:
I We condemn the Boston School Committee for playing upon many white people's racist fears to divert attention from its own failure to educate Boston's schoolchildren. We believe that the problems of Boston's schools are not caused by students, white or black (as the School Committee would have us believe) but by the School Committee's refusal to provide adequate facilities, teachers, or materials.
IWe condemn the State Board of Education for giving lip-service to integration while actually echoing the racist belief that black children are less able to learn. They argue that because of yesterday's racism, today's black children are unable to learn unless they have white children to use as models. We believe black children score lower on reading and other performance tests because a racist system does not try to teach them--not because of black inferiority.
I As members of the scientific and academic community, we feel a special responsibility because the racist writings of some of our colleagues are used to lend support to the more blatant racists on the School committee. None of these theories can cite a single proven fact for their support, yet they are proclaimed in scientific journals and the popular press alike as important new discoveries.
Some academicians, like Arthur Jensen, William Shockley, and Richard Herrnstein, say racial differences in I.Q. test scores show that black people may be genetically inferior to whites. The evidence that has been advanced to support this claim is entirely worthless. Jensen himself, in a recent article in Behavior Genetics (April, 1974) has conceded that the basic data gathered years ago by Cyril Burt--the evidence Jensen himself used to prove his hereditarian theories--is spurious. Furthermore, the I.Q. test themselves are notoriously biased against black people.
Another group, including former Harvard professors Daniel P. Moynihan and Edward Banfield, claim that black children are unable to learn because of their allegedly inferior culture. Through the process William Ryan has aptly characterized as "blaming the victim," these men would have us believe that if many black people live in slums it must be because they like it there--not because they can't get housing elsewhere. Their "culture of poverty" notions do not point to the main sources of poverty in America: racism, unemployment, and lack of money to buy decent health care, decent homes, decent services.
The opponents of integration have also used the arguments of James Coleman, David Armor, and Harvard's Christopher Jencks. These men claim to have discovered that the quality of teachers and schools, particularly those aspects of schooling that cost money, like small classes and enough supplies, have no bearing on how much children learn. Their readers are left to conclude that, since black pupils tend to score lower on reading tests, they must be inferior. They somehow fail to notice not only that black schools are more poorly funded, but that many teachers--influenced by theories like these--go into their jobs with the attitude that black children can't learn, and so make no serious attempt to teach them. A study by Lenore Jacobson and Robert Rosenthal (Pygmalion in the Classroom) showed that, when teachers were convinced that certain pupils were likely to begin doing better, those pupils' performance improved markedly.
The teachings and writings of racist academics go a long way to convince white parents that integration is not only inconvenient, but destructive of good education. We therefore believe it necessary to refute these teachings as widely and thoroughly as we can.
There are many faults in the state-imposed racial balance plan. These faults, however, are not caused by the state's desire to integrate the Boston schools. Just the opposite: They are due to the state planners' concurrence in many racist ideas--e.g., that black students cause bad schools. Consequently, the state plan, far from providing for improvements in the schools, increases pupil/teacher ratios, provides no space for special programs like bilingual education, effectively closes 22 schools by leaving them--but not their students--out of the plan, and leaves from 55 to 70 schools "imbalanced" (that is, more than 50 per cent non-white; all-white schools in many neighborhoods unaffected by the plan are considered "balanced.")
We urge all parents, teachers, and students to reject the racist arguments of both sides, and move forward with the following program:
I Upgrade all schools, starting with the worst--usually those in the minority areas;
I Modify the state plan wherever integrated parents' groups can work out better ways to integrate their schools. (We know at least one case in which a parents' group developed a plan that would have increased integration while reducing busing, and the state rejected it!); and
I No closings of schools or lay-offs of teachers. (The plan threatens to eliminate the jobs of 450 provisional teachers, a category which includes a disproportionate number of Boston's few minority teachers.)
For our part, we shall continue our fight against racist ideas being taught on the campus. As academicians we have a special responsibility to discredit the university research and teaching that continues to be used by policy planners, politicians, and the media to divide black from white and discourage us from fighting together for a decent, non-racist educational system and a non-racist society.
Stephen J. Gould and John Berg are both members of the Harvard Committee Against Racism. Dr. Gould is a clinical fellow at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and Mr. Berg is a student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.