As we all learned several years ago to great fanfare, there's a dude named Roland Fryer over at Harvard teaching Economics. He collaborated with the Freakonomists, Levitt and Dubner and made quite a name for himself. Isn't it a wonder that we haven't heard much of him lately, or are we just watching the stupid channels?
I was just rolling back in some of the blog and found a couple posts that mention him. But it was this one in particular that leads me to think that maybe his current is the last project dealing with race he'll take on that gets any traction. He has an attractive and impressive site over at Harvard and has picked some Progressive subjects that cover a variety of hot topics. With any luck, we should learn some interesting new correlations, but I think the chances for that are slim. What I think is really going on is another generation of institutional patronage.
In The Black Endgame I wrote:
What is the black endgame? At what point does one reach zero marginal utility for blackness? At what point in American history will the need for black politics be obviated? When do African Americans drop the hyphenation?
As some inveterate readers of Cobb know, I have written essays every 5 or so years going back to 1984 entitled 'The End of My Blackness'. And each time I surpass what I thought was black, I find a new reason to reinvest. That's just me, but it's clear that some folks, like Ward Connorly for gratuitous example, have stopped reinvesting. I think the answers to these questions will come all in individual packages - there is no one answer for the nation, but that blackness will fade slowly into distant memory like the sound of a dime going down into a pay phone. People will still talk about 'dropping a dime', but nobody will do that literal thing. People will still talk about 'black community' but it won't exist.
And now Fryer is picking up several blackish subjects. Here's one:
Too many low-income and minority students attend schools that are underperforming. They often have an all or nothing view of success: their typical role models are celebrities or the adults in their community, thus the link between academic success and future opportunities either doesn't exist or "isn't for them".
We need a cultural movement that makes academic achievment something every student believes that he or she cannot live without.
It's interesting the extent to which Fryer's experiments rely on cold hard cash as an incentive. And one has to believe that without his particular input these four programs, in Chicago, DC and NYC simply would not exist. He has insured that there will be money for good grades in middle schools. He's eyeballing the center of gravity and I think his weighing will be very precise. The bottom line is that he will do one of the things that I do with my kids, and one of those things that when I was a kid, I wanted - which was bonus money for good report cards. It's an old middle class idea that millions of families have done and continue to do, but now it's institutionalized through Harvard and Fryer. But how long will the subsidy last?
Presumably once the study has been done and some success has been achieved, there will be proof positive that you can, for lack of a better term, purchase good grades for inner-city kids. Of course it would be done not through parenting but through enrollment in a program administered by a progressive political machine. I wonder if in fact this can actually work. Not just now, but later. You see, my conservative knee is reacting against the proposition that governments can do this, but I'm also assuming that Harvard can, but can they? In fact, can anyone and does it actually work? I mean let's take the stereotype in the other direction shall we?
How effective is a trust fund in establishing academic achievement? How effective is any benchmark used in judging the improvement of poor underachievers as compared to that with rich underachievers? In other words, isn't injecting capital into the education of youth merely buying grade inflation? Were the WASP elites of the bad old days really all that smart, or did they just execute passable academic achievement? When we look at standardized test scores, we're all fairly certain that the highest correlation to high scores is with family income, neh? So what are we actually subsidizing here? Academic bling? Isn't that what an Ivy League legacy is?
I may be a little oversensitive, as the Statistical Morality posts below will show, to those dialogs that engage black Americans through statistical abstractions. Nevertheless, this is certainly a mainstream activity and where would Andrew Hacker be if it wasn't? Where indeed will any economists of race be when the premises of racial equality are finally taken seriously? If we know and accept that genetics means very little and that development and economics means everything else, then we will finally see that this is a cultural and environmental problem and not a moral problem revolving around racism of any kind. That is the breakthrough that Fryer just might provide, and if so, he'll be the last of his kind.
More on Fryer:
- The Future Black Intelligencia
- Acting White, Acting Not
- Black Cultural Transparency: Part 7
- Statistical Morality: The Logic of Life
- Stats and Morals
- More Statistical Morality
- Poppa Was A Rolling Stone