Are calculus professors racist?

Are calculus professors racist?
The consequences of Affirmative Action

by Chett
October/November 2003

Unintended Consequences

Penn State University is really keen on Affirmative Action, for the typical reasons of wanting to level the playing field and the desire to increase diversity. Seemingly paradoxically, racial animus is a real problem on campus. “Seemingly” because the university administration bends over backwards to meet the demands of minority student groups, regardless of whether these demands are illogical or unfair.

What the University doesn’t realize is that their “solution”–along with their mollifying attitude–is a big cause of the problem.

The Biased Exam

Case in point is the black Penn Stater who failed a calculus midterm exam, and who then did a quick poll of her black friends and found out most of them failed it as well, whereupon she leveled accusations of racism.

There’s just one little problem. The exam was a multiple-choice, computer-scored exam, with the answer key posted that same evening (students keep their test booklets) so folks could check their work and see where they made their mistakes. In other words, no smoke and mirrors in the grading process.

There are only two possible explanations for the racial divide here.

Either the white students (who presumably attended the ultra-top-secret Calculus Reich Aryan Panoply earlier that day) had received answer keys prior to the exam, or maybe, just maybe, the students who failed weren’t as well prepared (and possibly shouldn’t have been taking calculus with their level of math skills).

If a student–who is not ready for college–is accepted into college to meet a diversity quota, the end result in many cases is a student who is much, much more likely to fail out. What happens when you see black students failing calculus (and failing out of school) at higher rates? Charge the university with racism and demand more diversity and sensitivity programs!

Graduation and Racial Preferences

What is unclear is why there is such a big push for having racial quotas in university admissions (aka Affirmative Action), when no one much cares who gets accepted into college. What really matters, especially to employers, is graduation from college.

We do not need tables of data with percentages of minority admissions, because this evidence is rendered meaningless by race-based programs such as Affirmative Action. Rather, we need to examine the graduation rates of minorities.

It turns out that when graduation rates are broken out into two categories: those admitted on merit, and those admitted under a racial quota, a picture emerges that punctures neatly the theory that minority students simply need an easier path through the front door for all to be well in academia.

While the graduation rate of students who were admitted under an Affirmative Action program was far below the rest of the student body, the rate of graduation of minority students admitted on merit nearly matched that of white students. Merit in this case means better preparation in their K-12 education.

A recent report by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education examined racial differences in SAT test results, and had this to say about preparation (or the lack thereof):

In 2002, 47 percent of white SAT test takers had taken trigonometry in high school compared to 38 percent of black test takers. More than one quarter of white test takers had taken calculus in high school. Only 14 percent of black students had taken calculus, about one half as many as whites.

Either blacks do more poorly on the SATs than whites because of racial bias, or maybe it is simply a question of preparedness.

Alternative to Affirmative Action

Adding points to the scores of minorities to “help” them get into college is easy, actually improving K-12 education for minorities is much, much more difficult. But impossible? Only if you believe minorities can’t excel.

Math Student

The late José Valdéz was one calculus teacher who believed “all students can learn” and created math programs specifically targeting black and Hispanic students, with outstanding results. Jaime Escalante was another gifted teacher who created a powerhouse calculus program out of whole cloth (largely serving Hispanic students), which was immortalized in the film Stand and Deliver.

Now think again, does Affirmative Action really level the playing field? Or maybe is the solution found in the classroom of the young student shown here?


Copyright © 2003 The Multiracial Activist. All rights reserved.

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