Did blacks just call themselves stupid?

I’m sure I’m misreading something here. Help me out.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, husband and wife team Abigail Thernstrom and Stephan Thernstrom discuss a case coming up to the Supreme Court, Ricci v DeStefano. The issue is a simple one:

The issue in Ricci was simply stated by Judge José Cabranes, dissenting from a cursory, unenlightening opinion by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. “At its core,” he wrote, “this case presents a straight-forward question: May a municipal employer disregard the results of a qualifying examination, which was carefully constructed to ensure race-neutrality, on the ground that the results of that examination yielded too many qualified applicants of one race and not enough of another?”

The facts are also simple: A City hired an outside consulting group famed for constructing racially scrubbed tests to prepare the promotion test the City would give its firefighters. No blacks qualified, so the City refused to certify the results. This meant that the top scorers on the tests — all whites, but for one Hispanic — were denied their promotions. These men sued.

There are two fascinating little tidbits in the Thernstrom article, one of which explains why at least one white person passed, and one of which leads to the name I gave this particular post. First, the story behind one white guy’s success in passing the exam:

Frank Ricci, the lead plaintiff, had trusted a test of merit. He had been a firefighter for 11 years and was determined to become a lieutenant. All applicants were given three months to prepare for the exam and provided with a detailed reading list. Mr. Ricci is dyslexic, so he paid an acquaintance more than $1,000 to read textbooks onto audiotapes, made flashcards, took practice tests, worked with a study group and participated in mock interviews. He gave up a second job in order to study long hours. His work paid off: He came in sixth among the 77 candidates who took the exam.

Seems to me this guy did what it took to pass a test: he worked incredibly hard, and made extra efforts to compensate for known deficiencies in his learning ability. You go, guy!

And here’s that other interesting tidbit:

An amicus brief for the International Association of Professional Black Firefighters declared flatly that it was “widely known and accepted that cognitive examinations, such as used here, have a demonstrated adverse impact on blacks and other minorities.”

Dress it up in fancy language if you want, but a “cognitive examination” is one that tests how well you think (or cogitate). So, if I read that correctly, the IAPBF has just stated that black firefighters will invariably fail thinking tests. Well, if you’re invariably going to fail thinking tests, then in schoolyard parlance you must be stupid. That can’t be what the IAPBF meant to say and, even if it is, I refuse to accept the truth of that statement.

If it is true that blacks and other minorities fail cognitive examinations, it’s not because they’re stupid. It’s because decades of affirmative action have left them incapable of making the type of decision Frank Ricci made, which is to study, and to study hard. This is what happens if the education system carries you and your parents and your brother and your sister for 30-40 years: You don’t think you need to work.

Incidentally, I have personal knowledge of the truth behind academic laziness. I went to a very rigorous high school, where I did fairly well. When I then went to a top state university, I discovered that the skills I’d garnered in high school put me well ahead of most of my classmates, who didn’t get the quality basic education I did. I could string words into sentences, sentences in paragraphs, and paragraphs into essays. As a liberal arts major, that pretty much guaranteed me an “A.” So I sat back for the next four years (barring the fact that I worked part-time all through college) and did squat academically — and still graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. (Telling me I might have graduated summa cum laude had I made the least bit of effort.)

I learned my lesson during those four years — I didn’t need to work.

And then I went to law school. Boy was that a wake-up call. My first semester, I didn’t work, because I hadn’t had to for the previous four years. My grades at the end of that first semester were abysmal and an embarrassment to me. So I did the only logical thing possible: I started studying, and studied hard. My grades shot up. As it is, I was seriously ill during part of my time in law school, which affected my ultimate GPA, but I’ve never felt too bad about that. I didn’t have control over my illness and could live with the fallout from that. However, when I was well, I worked hard and got good grades (which helped offset the sick time).

Bottom line: Humans are rational. If you reward them for not working, they won’t work.

Cross-posted at Bookworm Room

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