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Quotations

  • Simon Blackburn: An Unbeautiful Mind
    Polkinghorne holds the belief that unless some things last forever, everything is futile, a "meaningless empire of accident." This would wipe the smile off the face of many scientists. For science is not good about "forever." It paints a different picture of the world in which we find ourselves. Science teaches that the cosmos is some fifteen billion years old, almost unimaginably huge, and governed by natural laws that will compel its extinction in some billions more years, although long before that the Earth and the solar system will have been destroyed by the heat death of the sun. Human beings occupy an infinitesimally small fraction of space and time, on the edge of one galaxy among a hundred thousand million or so galaxies. We evolved only because of a number of cosmic accidents, including the extinction of the dinosaurs some sixty-five million years ago. Nature shows us no particular favors: we get parasites and diseases and we die, and we are not all that nice to each other. True, we are moderately clever, but our efforts to use our intelligence to make things better for ourselves quite often backfire, and they may do so spectacularly in the near future, from some combination of manmade military, environmental, or genetic disasters.
  • Roger Scruton: The West and the Rest
    "It is thanks to Western prosperity, Western legal systems, Western forms of banking, and Western communications that human initiatives now reach so easily across frontiers to affect the lives and aspirations of people all over the globe. However, Western civilization depends on an idea of citizenship that is not global at all, but rooted in territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty. By contrast, Islam, which has been until recently remote from the Western world and without the ability to project its message, is founded on an ideal of godliness which is entirely global in its significance, and which regards territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty as compromises with no intrinsic legitimacy of their own. Although there have been attempts to manufacture nationalisms both appropriate to the Islamic temperament and conducive to a legitimate political order, they have fragmented under the impact of sectarian or tribal allegiances, usually giving way to military dictatorship or one-man, one-family, or one-party tyranny. Islam itself remains, in the hearts of those who live under these tyrannies, a permanent call to a higher life, and a reminder that power and corruption will rule in this world until the reign established by the Prophet is restored."
  • Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations 1776
    The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were perhaps very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance. But without the disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, every man must have procured to himself every necessary and conveniency of life which he wanted. All must have had the same duties to perform, and the same work to do, and there could have been no such difference of employment as could alone give occasion to any great difference of talents.
  • Kishore Mahbubani: Freedom
    But freedom does not only solve problems; it can also cause them. The United States has undertaken a massive social experiment, tearing down social institution after social institution that restrained the individual. The results have been disastrous. Since 1960 the U.S. population has increased 41 percent while violent crime has risen by 560 percent, single-mother births by 419 percent, divorce rates by 300 percent and the percentage of children living in single-parent homes by 300 percent. This is massive social decay. Many a society shudders at the prospects of this happening on its shores. But instead of traveling overseas with humility, Americans confidently preach the virtues of unfettered individual freedom, blithely ignoring the visible social consequences.
  • Harold Pinter: Nobel Lecture
    There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.
  • Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man
    As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.
  • Earnest Becker: The Denial of Death
    We have to go the way of the grasshopper even though it takes longer.
  • Johnson, Samuel: Rambler # 121 May 14, 1751
    "To learn is the proper business of youth; and whether we increase our knowledge by books or by conversation, we are equally indebted to foreign assistance."
  • Murray Rothbard: Education Free and Compulsory
    It is evident that the common enthusiasm for equality is, in the fundamental sense, anti-human. It tends to repress the flowering of individual personality and diversity, and civilization itself; it is a drive toward savage uniformity. Since abilities and interests are naturally diverse, a drive toward making people equal in all or most respects is necessarily a leveling downward. It is a drive against development of talent, genius, variety, and reasoning power. Since it negates the very principles of human life and human growth, the creed of equality and uniformity is a creed of death and destruction.
  • J. M. Cameron: Review of Becker's Denial of Death
    Life, for Becker, is a desperate business, in which a steady heroism before the terrors of existence is in general the only thing to be commended.
  • Mark Lilla: The Politics of God
    In the end, though, what happens on the opposite shore will not be up to us. We have little reason to expect societies in the grip of a powerful political theology to follow our unusual path, which was opened up by a unique crisis within Christian civilization. This does not mean that those societies necessarily lack the wherewithal to create a decent and workable political order; it does mean that they will have to find the theological resources within their own traditions to make it happen. "Our challenge is different. We have made a choice that is at once simpler and harder: we have chosen to limit our politics to protecting individuals from the worst harms they can inflict on one another, to securing fundamental liberties and providing for their basic welfare, while leaving their spiritual destinies in their own hands. We have wagered that it is wiser to beware the forces unleashed by the Bible’s messianic promise than to try exploiting them for the public good. We have chosen to keep our politics unilluminated by divine revelation. All we have is our own lucidity, which we must train on a world where faith still inflames the minds of men. NYTimes Magaziine, 8/19/2007
  • Richard Fields: The Land of Opportunity
    Immigration to the United States is not a problem. It is a phenomenon. The only way the United States can stop this phenomenon is by destroying the capitalist economy that draws immigrants here. We need to move in the direction of more open immigration, not in the direction of militarized borders fit only for a police state. Though it's been obscured by layers of cynical campaign rhetoric, the issue of immigration comes down to whether we want to restrict individual liberty to native-born Americans or offer it to everyone. If freedom works for us — and it does — what possible moral reason do we have to offer it to those born in San Diego, and deny it to those born inches away in Tijuana?
  • Edward O. Wilson: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, 1998
    On the surface it would seem, and was so reported by the media, that the Rwandan catastrophe was ethnic rivalry run amok. That is true only in part. There was a deeper cause, rooted in environment and demography. Between 1950 and 1994 the population of Rwanda, favored by better health care and temporarily improved food supply, more than tripled, from 2.5 million to 8.5 million. In 1992 the country had the highest growth rate in the world, an average of 8 children per woman. Parturition began early, and generation times were short. But although total food production increased dramatically during this period, it was soon overbalanced by population growth. The average farm size dwindled as plots were divided from one generation to the next. Per capita grain production fell by half from 1960 to the early 1990s. Water was so overdrawn that hydrologists declared Rwanda one of the world's twenty-seven water-scarce countries. The teenage soldiers of the Hutu and Tutsi then set out to solve the population problem in the most direct possible way. Rwanda is a microcosm of the world. War and civil strife have many causes, most not related directly to environmental stress. But in general, overpopulation and the consequent dwindling of available resources are tinder that people pile up around themselves. The mounting anxiety and hardship are translated into enmity, and enmity into moral aggression. Scapegoats are identified, sometimes other political or ethic groups, sometimes neighboring tribes. The tinder continues to grow, awaiting the odd assassination, territorial incursion, atrocity, or other provocative incident to set it off. Rwanda is the most populated country in Africa. Burundi, its war torn neighbor, is second. Haiti and El Salvador, two of the chronically most troubled nations of the Western Hemisphere, are also among the most densely populated, exceeded only by five tiny island countries of the Caribbean. They are also arguable the most environmentally degraded.
  • Murray Rothbard: Rights of Animals
    There is, in fact, rough justice in the common quip that "we will recognize the rights of animals whenever they petition for them." The fact that animals can obviously not petition for their "rights" is part of their nature, and part of the reason why they are clearly not equivalent to, and do not possess the rights of, human beings. And if it be protested that babies can't petition either, the reply of course is that babies are future human adults, whereas animals obviously are not.
  • Dr. Kenneth R. Miller:
    When asked, “What do you say as a scientist about the soul?” Dr. Miller's answer is always the same: “As a scientist, I have nothing to say about the soul. It’s not a scientific idea.” Dr. Mller, a Roman Catholic and biologist at Brown University is the author of, “Finding Darwin’s God” (Harper, 1999)
  • Richard Rorty:
    "...if we can work together, we can make ourselves into whatever we are clever and courageous enough to imagine ourselves becoming.”
  • Richard J. Herrnstein:
    "It is easy to lie with statistics, but it's a lot easier to lie without them."
  • Michael Slackman: Quiet Revolution in Algeria
    In Algiers there is a whole class of young men referred to as hittistes — the word is a combination of French and Arabic for people who hold up walls.
  • Albert Einstein:
    Common sense is nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down by the mind before you reach age 18.
  • Neil Postman:
    "Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see."

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January 15, 2008

The Civil Rights Project co-Founder

The other day while rereading my own archives I stumbled on a "Politic" interview with Gary Orfield from 2003 and I was shocked by the number of illconsidered statements made by this highly respected civil rights worker while answering the questions put to him by the Yale students.

Gary Orfield is no longer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where he was at the time of the interview. He is now at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA where he continues to head The Civil Rights Project that he founded with Christopher Edley in 1996.

All I could think of while reading his responses to the interviewers was that if his thinking, as represented by his statements in this interview, represents the level of thought of the Civil Rights Project in general it's no wonder that the productions of the Project have had so little influence on the on-going struggle for civil rights in our country.

I'll show you what I mean. In response to the first question, "what can be the role of education in mitigating racial inequalities," Orfield had this to say: "The American educational system is all we have. We do not have any [other] kind of social support system in the U.S."

Wow I thought to myself, what would the hundreds of thousands of people working in private non profits throughout the country supporting minority families in our inner cities, as well as in our impoverished rural communities, not to mention the similar numbers of people working in hundreds of federal anti-poverty programs surviving from the sixties, say to this?

No social support system in the U.S.? Perhaps he made this dramatic, highly exaggerated statement to draw attention to the fact there is never enough "social support," whether in society or in one's own family. But why put down the hundreds of thousands of people doing good work in order to make his point?

Further on in his answer to the same question he makes this no less responsible statement that "access to post-secondary education is absolutely critical for any pretense of diminishing inequality." In my opinion he is not only misdirecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of our young people but also giving the wrong message to those within our educational establishment who are already wrongly convinced (probably for reasons of their own job security) that college education should be made available to all. In my opinion it's not so much it shouldn't, it can't.

It is one thing to make the opportunity for higher education available to all. For in fact we still believe in equality of opportunity, and there is still much to be done in this civil rights area in way of multiplying the opportunities available to young people.

But it is another thing entirely to brainwash that "all" into believing that their lives are failures without a college education. For only by lowering achievement benchmarks to ridiculously low levels, as we've done in our high schools,  could college education be made "available to all." And why would anyone want to do that?

A college education worthy of the name will always be available only to some. Conservatives will admit this. Liberals will try to make you believe it isn't so, because they, and I, would like to believe it isn't so. It is.

We know at first hand that too many of those who are pushed onto college will drop out, and that too many of these (although not a Bill Gates and a Steve Jobs) will start life under the stigma of a failed college experience. If they hadn't been pushed onto college they might have done something else, of much more benefit to themselves and to their country.

Still while answering the same question Orfield tells us that education, while formally equal, "is profoundly unequal in racial and economic terms, and it [therefore] reinforces the racial problems we face today."

And he goes on to say that [the] "situation has relatively little to do with the amount of money to spend and everything to do with the social structure in communities and schools."

But then while answering the next question, seemingly oblivious of what he has just said, he says this: [While advocating preschool] "we are not providing any kind of universal access or quality preschool. Smaller class sizes with good teachers at the elementary level especially in high poverty schools really does make a difference that seems to be lasting."

O.K., but quality preschool, smaller class sizes, and better trained teachers cost money, big money. So is this the underlying message of the Civil Rights project? Not too different from that of Jonathan Kozol. Things are bad and they won't get better unless we spend a lot more on our schools, according to Orfield the only "social support" system we have. These sorts of answers didn't encourage me to go rereading the remainder of the interview.

But I did anyway, and Orfield does go on to say some pretty true and important things especially about the richness and depth of experiences that multiracial environments can provide all of us.

Here, for example, in answer to the question, What are the encouraging signs? he says this:

"One of the encouraging signs is that the United States is undergoing a demographic transformation that is just gigantic and irreversible. We can see this in the state of California. The encouraging signs are that young people's attitudes are continually positive about these issues. We have been studying interracial classrooms around the country where they still exist, where re-segregation has not taken place, and we are finding very positive and comparable attitudes among blacks, whites, Latinos, and Asians about interracial experiences. They want them, they value them, and they believe they are transformative.

"We are studying law schools like Harvard and Michigan, and medical schools and other graduate institutions. A lot of people want a multiracial experience and, when they experience it, they find it is very positive for them. We are finding an emergence of multiracial neighborhoods and schools in rural areas, which may have a very different dynamic than biracial transition.

"Regarding Asian teenagers, they are growing up in the most integrated setting of any population probably in the history of the country, which is extremely encouraging. What role are they going to play in the future and in penetrating the tri-racial dynamic in this country of blacks, whites and Latinos? They are going to be a very powerful 10 percent of the population in this century. Are they going to be a bridge of some sort between races or will their racial status evolve into that of whites?..."

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