To: FWISD Walter Dansby & School Board Members
From: Eddie Griffin, Child Rights Advocate
RE: Education as a Political Football
Dear Mr. Dansby,
As a former PTA President, school system volunteer, and often critic of our schools, I have spent the past 20 years working to improve our children’s education. But, as I observed from the beginning, there have always been too many cooks in the kitchen giving advice on the subject. As a consequence, we were slow to embrace technology in the classroom; and once technological advances helped us bridge the digital divide, we were slow to embrace online education and using internet tools to help close the achievement gap. Also, we have been hindered by low graduation rates due, in part, to a lack of classroom management which led to the ill-fated creation of Zero Tolerance policies that has since evolved into the School-to-Prison Pipeline.
Now one of the principal architects behind the failed zero tolerance policies, a former covert CIA agent who uses early nineteenth century eugenic pseudoscience, is being cited for his ideas on how to improve the education system in Texas. The most dangerous part about his ideas is scapegoating the parents of students for their lack of involvement in the school system and scapegoating the students for the breakdown in classroom discipline. Blaming the parents and the students is a popular idea among the more conservative members of our society, and even among some of us. This is why author and consultant Charles A. Murray is being cited in gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott’s Pre-K Education plan.
If Abbott’s plan looks and sounds good, it is only because it borrows from a smorgasbord of ideas we have already thoroughly explored, particularly in our Malcolm Baldridge Continuous Improvement model. And, I have always been a believer in starting where we are, and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, lock, stock, and barrel, and starting over to reinvent the wheel by siphoning off valuable resources for public education and putting them into experimental charter school programs which, to date, have had dubious mixed results. This new Pre-K Education plan proposes to use Best Practices in the classroom, which we have already been investigating, and it undermines the structure of the public education system in favor of privatizing the system.
The premise of these ideas, and the starting point of Charles Murray’s ideologies, begins with this quote: “Family background has the most decisive effect on student achievement, contributing to a large performance gap between children from economically disadvantaged families and those from middle class homes,” which is cited by Abbott from Murray's book Real Education.
Such a statement seems so simple and self-evident enough that Mr. Abbott needed no Murray citation. But taking a closer look, we see more of Mr. Murray’s eugenics idea than Mr. Abbott’s education plan.
Notice, it dichotomizes the “economically disadvantaged families” from “middle class homes” and it alludes to the popular stigma about the “family background” of the lesser being the cause of the academic performance gap. Many people believe this. Therefore, in order to address the ineffectiveness of the public school system, they suggest that we should look at the dynamics within the dysfunctional poor families and their background.
It is also interesting that Murray contrast the term “economically disadvantaged families” with “middle class homes”, with the latter being the ideal “home”, and the other not really constituting what might be called a home. We, on the other hand, never automatized family as an isolated unit in society, but always promoted the concept “It takes a village to raise a child”. However, it is apparent that not all people concur with the village concept. Murray’s ideas, from his previously published works, promote the notion that genetics is the cause of low academic achievement. And that is what separates us.
Therefore, this makes us very suspicious of what Murray means by “family background”, and what aspects of family background does he infers leads to low achievement in academics, and why he states in Real Education argues that “students with lower IQ's are not as educable as smarter children and should be siphoned off to vocational programs instead of sent to college”, and that “only 10 to 20 percent of young adults are capable of doing college-level work.” Is he ignoring the empirical fact that a good education can turn low-performing students into high achievers?
For Murray, low-IQ is immutable because it is based on genetic factors, such as brain size. However, these ideas of eugenic factors being attributable to the cause of poverty and low-IQ and immoral parental lifestyles are not new. Thomas Malthus, in his book Principle of Population (1798), uses the same pseudoscience in his argument against the Poor Laws of England, predicated upon the Social Darwinian concept of “survival of the fittest”. He argued that the poor people of England were genetically inferior to the rich. In later revisions, he expanded this argument to include the darker races being inferior to the lighter races, based upon a genetic hierarchy. Moreover, Malthus argued that helping the poor through welfare would move valuable resources out the economy, which would reduce money available to pay wages, and given to the unworthy and unfit, which in turn, would provide incentives for laziness, immorality, increase in the birth of illegitimate children, and discourage people from saving for old age or illness.
Needless to say, these are popular notions in our society today, especially in the stigmatization of poor minority families.
Notice the similarities between the Social Darwinians and the Malthusian theories of the early nineteenth century, and the central thesis of Charles Murray’s 1984 book Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980. In it, he proposes all government welfare programs should be abolished, supposedly because welfare hurts the very people it was intended to help by “rewarding bad behavior” such as “illegitimate babies.” He also called for ending food stamp programs.
Murray's most famous and controversial book, “The Bell Curve” (1994), co-authored with Richard Herrnstein, promoted racial eugenics theories claiming that whites and Asians are genetically superior in intelligence to blacks and Latinos.
The Southern Poverty Law center writes: “In Murray’s world, wealth and social power naturally accrue towards a ‘cognitive elite’ made up of high-IQ individuals (who are overwhelmingly white, male, and from well-to-do families), while those on the lower end of the eponymous bell curve form an ‘underclass’ whose misfortunes stem from their low intelligence.
Recently Murray wrote “No woman has been a significant original thinker in any of the world's great philosophical traditions… Women have produced a smaller number of important visual artists, and none that is clearly in the first rank. No female composer is even close to the first rank. Social restrictions undoubtedly damped down women’s contributions in all of the arts, but the pattern of accomplishment that did break through is strikingly consistent with what we know about the respective strengths of male and female cognitive repertoires.”
The term Cognitive repertoires signify another way of saying the genetic God-given brain size and capacity to learn.
According to some research of Charles Murray’s own background, his career peaked in the Vietnam War years (1965-71) in Thailand, first as a Peace Corps worker, and then, from 1968 onward, in a Pentagon-contracted counterinsurgency program run by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), which operated under the cover of academic anthropology research. In 1970, the New York Review of Books exposed the AIR program in Thailand where Murray worked in covert military counter-insurgency program ran by the Department of Defense's research and development agency ARPA, in cooperation with the CIA.
A 1970 Ramparts magazine investigation into counter-insurgency operations described it as a “behavior control” program through crop destruction against a rebellious minority hill tribe, the Meo, during the period that Murray participated in the counter-insurgency program in rural Thailand.
And now, this man, Charles Murray, with these ideas and pattern of practices, is being touted as an expert is education. We should be offended and kicking ourselves for not doing better and allowing these misguided notions to take parlance in our discussion on Education.
It seems as though we have lost sight on what is first and foremost: Education should teach our children HOW TO THINK, to become problem-solvers, as oppose to those who believe education is about teaching children WHAT TO THINK. With the ability to think, children of today are empowered with the capabilities of solving tomorrow’s real world problems. Knowing only what to think leads them down blind channels over which they have no control or input, to a destination unknown.
The Charles Murray model of Education is not about educating, but rather about controlling the system of Education. Some people buy into the idea that regaining control of the classroom is our most important objective. We think otherwise.