So's Letter Ignores Reality of Educational System


Austin So's letter, "Attack the Real Problems, Not Just the SAT" (Crimson, May 21), rejected best bias as an adequate explanation for the fact that SAT scores of African American students are, on average, lower than those of white students. Instead, he attributes an imaginary lack of "respect for education" to the African-American students community. This view is insulting representing an unfounded critique of African-American Cultural values. It is also dangerous. So exemplifies the backward thinking that has plunged the American public school system into its current situation.

So offers no evidence for his pop sociology. The closest he comes is his observation that the Jewish and Asian-American populations at Harvard are larger than those in the general population. He takes this as evidence that education is "highly honored and valued" in those communities. This reasoning is problematic enrollment at Harvard is a faulty indicator of a person's and much less an entire culture's respect for education. For example, the black admits which choose not to matriculate here obviously do not lack drive--they were admitted--they lack the money and or the desire to come her.

One of the implications of So's letter is that the high SAT scores attained by Asian-American students is proof that their culture values education. This is another example of his faulty reasoning. The first and second generation immigrant communities in American represent a small percentage of their respective races. The U.S. visa application process favors highly educated professionals and aggressive working class applicants. These people have a drive to succeed which they likely transmit to their children. There was no such selection process in order to become an American or West Indian slave. Seen in this light, higher academic achievement is not a reflection of cultural values, but of the shifting process of entry into American.

When So finally addresses the issue of SAT test bias, he concludes, "The solution is not to edit out exam material that most minority students are unfamiliar with, the solution is to familiarize them." So misses the point. Why should anyone have to understand the securities market or chess in order to qualify as intelligent or worthy of admission into Harvard? So's statement is an example of the misguided administrators that has resulted in high dropout rates, student apathy, and low self esteem, phenomena which so ascribes to faulty cultural values. It is high time for educational administrators to realize that walking into a classroom full of disillusioned adolescents while carrying only good intentions and a textbook full of information about the stock market and other wonders of European civilization, is a farce.

Why should any culture, or any individual, value a farce? It is easier and wiser to value Education, with a capital "E" This is in fact what disenfranchised cultures in this country have done historically. Since slavery, when Africans were denied access to intellectual pursuits. Education has been a religion for us. Once we could read, we would be whole. Once we graduated from Harvard, white people would see us as their equals. And even if they didn't we could use knowledge to pull our people up. My people value Education. But American education, the public school system, has done little to help us, so why should we value it?

So argues that critics of the SAT miss the point. The sad fact, however, is that he sat on the New York City Central Board of Education without a clue as to what the point is. This is the point: A disproportionate percentage of African and Latino Americans are poor. Poor people live in poor communities. Poor communities have poor schools. Poor schools have no money to spend on college counseling and SAT prep.

Don't blame students' cultural values Change the system. Joy P. Gorham '95