Tuesday, April 16, 2013

To All the Colleges That Rejected Suzy Weiss:  Racism is racism, no matter who practices it

Pittsburgh high schooler Suzy Weiss has a 4.5 GPA, an SAT score of 2120 (out of a maximum 2400), and a slew of rejections from Ivy League colleges. But unlike most unsuccessful applicants, Weiss didn’t accept her rejection meekly. Instead, she penned a sarcastic open letter to those who spurned her — and got it published in the Wall Street Journal.

Weiss’s letter lampoons the in-vogue collegiate-admissions practice euphemistically known as “holistic” review of applications. Holistic review “frees” admissions officers from the old-fashioned practice of relying heavily on objective measures of academic success (such as grades and standardized-test scores) to determine who gets admitted. Instead, they are free to put much more stock in evidence of non-academic qualities, such as compassion and commitment to causes that might prove “valuable” to the campus community.

Weiss’s letter touches on all these points. But what seems to have most offended the academic community is her lampooning of “diversity,” the sacred cow of the modern university world.

Weiss asks what she could have done differently to get accepted at the schools that rejected her. Her tongue-in-cheek answer begins:

    "For starters, had I known two years ago what I know now, I would have gladly worn a headdress to school. Show me to any closet, and I would’ve happily come out of it. “Diversity!” I offer about as much diversity as a saltine cracker. If it were up to me, I would’ve been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I salute you and your 1/32 Cherokee heritage."

Such sarcasm is seen as blasphemy in universities and colleges throughout America. Their faculty and administrative officers, and their professional associations, such as the American Council on Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the American Association of University Professors, overwhelmingly believe — firmly and unapologetically — that out-and-out racial and ethnic discrimination in college admissions is fully acceptable in the interests of “diversity.”

Discriminating against culturally “nondiverse” Caucasians such as Suzy Weiss is, in their eyes, the right thing to do. And they want the Supreme Court to recognize such discrimination as constitutional.

How do we know that? Because scores of schools and their professional associations have recently filed amicus briefs in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin making that very argument.

Abigail Fisher’s story is little different from Suzy Weiss’s. A culturally “nondiverse” Caucasian (i.e., the type of student who does not fill any of the racial and ethnic “diversity” quotas of college-admission officers), Fisher applied for admission to the University of Texas in 2008. Texas, like almost every other university in the country, takes race into account in its admissions process. Because Fisher was not black, Hispanic, or, as Suzy Weiss says, “Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything,” she was not given the same exemptions from standard admissions criteria that UT-Austin provided to other, more “diverse” students with the same or worse qualifications.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the four universities that rejected Suzy Weiss — the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Yale, and Vanderbilt — all joined the same brief in the Fisher case. Sadly, my undergraduate school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which used to be a place that believed that everyone should be judged on his abilities, not his race, is also a party to the brief. It encapsulates the high-sounding academic jargon and rhetoric used to disguise the ugliness of what these universities do.

The amici “seek to provide their students with the most rigorous, stimulating, and enriching education environment, in which ideas are tested and debated from every perspective,” in order to “prepare active citizens and leaders in all fields of human endeavor.” But apparently, the only way they can achieve those goals is to “take account of race and ethnicity” as factors in the “holistic review process” that determines who will be admitted.

Even though these schools all “have highly selective admissions criteria designed to ensure that all of their students (including minority leaders) will be prepared for demanding coursework and will graduate successfully,” the only criterion they all agree on that is required to achieve those goals is discriminating on the basis of race.

Perhaps we should not be surprised that Ivy League and other top-notch schools practice such ugly discrimination. After all, they had similar practices in the 1920s to ensure their schools did not have “too many” Jewish students. Today, they just want to make sure they don’t have “too many” Caucasians or Asians on campus. All they have done is change the groups targeted for discrimination.

Suzy Weiss and many other high-school seniors across the United States are being discriminated against because of their skin color or because they have an epicanthic fold in their eyes. Such racial and ethnic discrimination is morally wrong, and neither “diversity” nor anything else can justify it.

Attempts to disguise discrimination with high-sounding talk about “holistic” reviews just won’t wash. And the claim that such discrimination provides different points of view is, itself, racist. Apparently, America’s institutions of “higher” learning believe that your skin color determines how you think.

In 1965, that would have gotten you rightly condemned as a bigot. In 2013, it makes you “progressive.”


How I (Never) Taught My Son To Read

So often I hear, "Of course, your son reads well. He has a reading specialist for a mother!"

My son does read with ease, taking in entire pages in what appear to be single glances. His 2nd grade standardized tests found that he was reading at the 11th grade level. (Of course, David was not allowed to check out chapter books from the school library until he became a 3rd grader because it was against school policy. See this.)

We kept the family cars supplied with clip-on book lights so darkness had no power to stop our reading. By high school, David would take 3-4 thick novels on each day trip…so he would not run out of reading material. Usually, all had been read before we arrived home in the evening. I kept a miniature encyclopedia in the car and he read every page, more than once. I smile when people say that David seems to know something about everything because…well, he does.

But, I never taught him to read.

David learned to read without effort because he received four important gifts in life:

 *   Articulate, chatty relatives who were always discussing the past, the present, and the future; who talked about plans, books, people, animals, news, relationships, problem solving, mechanics, movies, television programs, experiences, and personal reactions to Life, from trivial to weighty.

*    A family that traveled extensively to see new and interesting things which were photographed, discussed, and described to others: Wilder’s Little Houses; Caddie Woodlawn’s home; ferries; lakes; rivers; mountains; zoos; aquariums; aviaries; caves; trails; historical markers, and more.

*    Parents who began – soon after David was born – to read aloud…in the morning, mid-morning, during lunch, before nap, after nap, in the car, in the living room, on the porch, at the supper table, in waiting rooms, while riding all the way to Colorado, while riding all the way back,…to and from everywhere and at all the times in between; parents who ended each and every day with "Bath, teeth, and a couple good books." PLUS…

*    A very wise day care provider who made one day of every week "Sound Day". Prior to those days, parents led their children on treasure hunts through their homes to fill bags with "things that begin with the sound /m/" …or /b/ or /th/…on through most of The Code in which English is written. Mitten, mouse, mug, movie, even a picture of a moustache, were carried to "school" for group discussions that went like this: "Look! David brought his cat’s toy mouse. Mmmmmouse. Listen! The word ‘mouse’ begins with /mmm/. mmmmouse. The word ‘house’ does not begin with /mmm/ but the word ‘mouse’ does. Everyone say mmmmmmmmouse."

After these 4 gifts of gold, David could easily recognize spellings-for-sounds in the thousands of words that he already knew and used. Those words flowed together into language and concepts which were already known, or were added to his knowledge base. The stage had been set and David required no other reading lessons. He is not unique. He just has a mother who understands that Language is the foundation for constructing a Life. Readers must have a variety of language ‘tools’ stored in their brains which they then use to assist them in the act of reading. Words, concepts, ideas, knowledge, sounds, and spellings are the absolutely necessary tools for a Reader. A child who knows little-to-nothing will read….little-to-nothing.

As a preschooler, David listened to the best in children’s literature, including chapter books like the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Once of school age, he listened to the best in literature for young adults, and even to adult novels like James Oliver Curwood’s memorable Kazan and Baree, Son of Kazan. As a preschooler, David was not interested in trying to read the books himself, so I never had to worry that he might memorize sight words and so mis-wire his brain. He listened to sounds; to vocabulary; to themes; to language usage; to beginnings-middles-endings. He soaked up books. One day, when he was nearing 5 years old, he told me that he had decided to read a chapter book, and he did. Around the World In Eighty Days, in an shortened version, was the first book that he chose to read, then he was on his way to become a non-stop and lifelong reader.

The best reading lessons are those that teach language, vocabulary, and knowledge. One cannot read print without the ability to quickly and smoothly make mental connections between 1) things already stored in the brain and 2) the print on the page. A wise parent will make sure that their children’s time – and brains – are filled with information and experiences that will make connections between the Language of Books, and the Language of Life, simply snap, crackle, and pop!

The schools have forgotten – and now unfortunately refuse – to carefully teach the Code in Which English Is Written. How well can a person, who has never been taught the code in which music has been written, read music? To read English skillfully, both children and adults must learn the full Code for English: /b/ is spelled ‘b’; /k/ is spelled ‘k,’ ‘c,’ and ‘ck’; /f/ can be spelled with an ‘f’ or a ‘ph’; /z/ can be spelled with an ‘s’ or ‘z’; …and on through both the Simple and Advanced Code.

Look in your rearview mirrors, educators! You made a very wrong turn! DIBBLES and sight words are simply the left lane on a terrible highway! Please double back and correct your life-destroying errors. It is vital that a phonetic language like English be taught by methodically teaching the Phonetic Code for English. There is no need to blame parents or genetics or culture or poverty. Only the education establishment is at fault, with professors, teachers, and consultants pushing bad policies, fad-philosophies, and damaging curriculum offerings.

My mother, Doris Sneary Regnier, was indeed right when she said, "Children who manage to learn to read in today’s schools…do so in spite of the teaching and curriculum."


Stop saying degrees are a waste of £50,000 - they're not

Dismissing a university education as an indulgent way to eat up £50,000 is fashionable but asinine, says David Ellis

During graduation, perhaps even in the ceremony itself, there is an almost perceptible ‘pop’ of the university bubble bursting. Suddenly the only thing that matters is landing a job. Dozens of applications are duly sent out en masse, which tends to be followed by weeks of rejection letters or impolite, frustrating silence. And students are surprised by this – as if a generic letter and a 2:1 entitles the bearer to a job.

The degree isn’t the problem; this approach is.

I worked as a recruitment consultant once, and regularly advertised for graduate positions, which were always tellingly oversubscribed. With my boss, I’d select a handful for interview. Here’s an email I never sent:

‘Thank you for your application. I’m delighted to invite you to interview.

We were extremely impressed by your 2:1 from a red-brick university and though you didn’t mention the company by name, we could tell from your cover letter you were thinking specifically of us. Your apparent knowledge of Microsoft Office and Excel particularly dazzled us too, as these skills are so rarely found.

We’re glad too that you possess excellent creative and communication skills – it wasn’t immediately obvious from your application until we saw the sentence saying so. It really reassured us.

I’d like to sincerely thank you for your eight-page CV detailing your employment to date since your prestigious role as table monitor in primary school. It was most illuminating: that you took the leap to be a barista after summers spent babysitting was a bold and unusual step that is sure to help you thrive as a city consultant.

Thanks again for your application. It was like nothing we’ve ever seen before.’

My point is obvious – but I imagine a few grads are blushing. It’s uncomfortable for me to say so as I’ve made similar mistakes time over, but thinking that changing the name at the start of the cover letter decently tailors it is like heading to Primark for the best cut on a dinner jacket.

Critics of university pounce on unemployed graduates as evidence that a degree does nothing, which seems rather to miss the obvious: even for those with the best qualifications, the market is combatively tough. Too tough, in fact, to bear complacency. Every applicant must do what they can to stand out, and be prepared to put in at least a few years working up from the bottom.

A degree is likely to strengthen a job application but it won’t write your CV, edit your cover letter or charm a potential employer in interview. Dismissing a university education as an indulgent way to eat up £50,000 is fashionable, seemingly easy but, I think, asinine and crass. Anyone contemplating a degree should ignore such criticisms while noting the point: those letters tagged to your name won’t single-handedly realise your dream career.

I don’t blame my rejections on the mediocre law degree I scraped: for most applications, I wouldn’t have been vaguely considered without it, or even eligible to apply. A degree is, in most instances, an absolute prerequisite for the kind of job which offers either valuable experience or a chance for progression, or both.

You can find work without one, of course, but your options will be more limited, and while success stories of those without qualifications are well documented, not everyone is an entrepreneur, a dotcom genius or wants to pursue the kind of career an apprenticeship might serve.

Rightly or wrongly, many major employers emphasise the necessity of a university qualification – apply with a note saying a degree means nothing to you if you like, but I wouldn’t take my chances.

The benefits of university are well documented and needn’t be repeated here. The salient thing for graduates to realise is that whatever academic successes they’ve achieved, there’s either someone with a better record applying for the same position, or someone in HR who is looking for more.

A degree gives you the opportunity to more easily pursue many careers which would otherwise be impenetrable, and that alone is worth the price of admission. Graduates, brace yourselves: the months after leaving university are for figuring out what happens when plans work out, and what happens when they don’t.


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