Jun 20 • 1HR 10M

John McWhorter – Rejecting the Tokenism of "Diversity"

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Weekly conversations on race, inequality, and more, with Glenn Loury. Bi-weekly appearances by John McWhorter.
Episode details

John McWhorter is back again for the latest installment in our ongoing, nearly decade-and-a-half-long conversation. Let’s get into it.

John starts out telling us about his current whereabouts: a Dirty Dancing-style bungalow in the Catskills. We move on to a developing story out of Princeton, New Jersey, where a group of parents has written an open letter protesting the school district’s “dumbing down” of the math curriculum in the name of DEI. John and I are on the same page on this one: How much longer are we going to pretend that this is doing any good for the students? The way that the Princeton school district went about implementing these curriculum standards was, at best, deceptive. Don’t parents have the right to know how decisions that affect their kids are being made? Of course, DEI is a business, one that has created thousands of jobs for administrators and consultants who spend their days rooting out racism. And as John points out, if someone’s job depends on finding instances of racism, they’re going to “find racism,” whether it’s really there or not. This incentive structure makes John despair. He also suggests that my theory of social capital may provide the conceptual underpinnings for some present-day arguments in favor of affirmative action. But I point out that, while social capital may partially explain disparities in outcome, it doesn’t excuse disparities in outcome. After all, we can see that, some historically disadvantaged groups regularly over-perform when high academic performance is incentivized within their community. But incentives for middling academic performance tend to produce middling academic performance, and I fear that we’re incentivizing middling academic performance in our young black students. Is there a way out of this mess? Is John right to despair? I close on a note of hope from my Brown University and Heterodox Academy colleague John Tomasi.

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0:00 John reports on his rustic Catskills bungalow

2:40 Parents protest Princeton public schools “dumbing down” their math curriculum 

17:11 How much educational transparency is owed to parents? 

25:07 How many DEI initiatives and administrators do we actually need? 

33:50 John: I don’t think we can fix what’s broken in DEI

40:49 Glenn’s theory of social capital may explain (but does not excuse) some disparities

48:56 Cultures of achievement vs. disincentive effects of affirmative action

58:19 What do we know about what kids know about the world? 

1:04:46 Glenn offers some reason for hope from John Tomasi

Links and Readings

John’s NYT piece, “Sometimes ‘Proper’ Speech Isn’t Correct Speech”

The open letter from Princeton, New Jersey parents

Bard College at Simon’s Rock

John’s book, Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America

Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou’s book, The Asian American Achievement Paradox