Glenn Loury
The Glenn Show
John McWhorter – Maintaining Standards in Standardized Testing

John McWhorter – Maintaining Standards in Standardized Testing


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The Black Guys are back on track after last week’s snafu. This episode was recorded on my birthday, and what better gift could I ask for than a conversation with my friend John McWhorter?

After I run down the mouth-watering birthday menu my lovely wife LaJuan planned for me (it was as delicious as it sounds), we get into a topic I know many of you have been waiting for: John’s Twitter exchange with Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi accused John of talking out of both sides of his mouth concerning the abilities of black people, and John explains why that critique is just plain incorrect. The central issue is this: Black Americans, on the whole, don’t perform as well on tests as their peers in other groups. The question is, what should we do about it? John thinks the problem is primarily cultural, and that if black students are taught differently, they can eventually close the gap. I agree, but that means that we have to take culture seriously as a determining social factor, which is something that “antiracists” like Kendi regard with contempt.

John thinks—and I agree—that the way to disprove racists who underestimate the intelligence of black wrong is for blacks to start acing tests not abolishing them. But the cultural dimensions of race and belonging have a way of complicating our understanding of what needs to be done, as I explain through the story of my childhood friend Woody and out attendance at a Black Panthers meeting in 1970. Finally, we conclude with Mitchell S. Jackson’s recent Esquire essay about Clarence Thomas, which we both agree is utterly unworthy of its subject.

It’s great to be back with John McWhorter again. As always, I want hear what you think. Let me know in the comments.

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0:00 What’s on the menu for Glenn’s birthday party

4:08 John’s Twitter spat with Ibram X. Kendi

13:24 What do we lose by changing testing standards?

19:58 Glenn: If groups matter, then culture matters

31:23 How to prove a racist wrong

38:38 The ballad of Glenn and Woody

51:09 Mitchell S. Jackson’s Esquire essay about Clarence Thomas

Links and Readings

John and Ibram X. Kendi on Twitter, part one

John and Ibram X. Kendi on Twitter, part two

John’s NYT piece, “Lower Black and Latino Pass Rates Don’t Make a Test Racist”

John’s NYT piece, “Proving Racists Wrong Is Not a Trivial Pursuit”

Glenn’s 1992 Commentary essay, “Free at Last?”

This American Life segment on Glenn and Woody

Mitchell S. Jackson’s Esquire essay, “Looking for Clarence Thomas”

Barry Bearak’s 1997 NYT profile of Ward Connerly


Glenn Loury
The Glenn Show
Race, inequality, and economics in the US and throughout the world from Glenn Loury, Professor of Economics at Brown University and Paulson Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute