Some time ago I read a column on the schooling of blacks written by Walter Williams, the black economist at George Mason University, who grew up in the black housing projects of Philadelphia in the Thirties. I have read Williams for years. He is an absolutely reliable witness. He reports that all the kids could read, and that classrooms were orderly and teachers respected. Today, by all reports, in the urban black schools the kids can’t read and chaos reigns. Black kids have not gotten stupider since the Thirties. Something is wrong somewhere.
I read similar stories about chaotic, violent, illiterate Latino kids in American schools, these things being attributed to low intelligence. I live in Mexico, and see nothing even faintly resembling these stories. The statistics agree. (Mexican literacy, CIA FactBook: 95%. American literacy, US Department of Education: 86%) Something is wrong somewhere.
In 1981, I wrote a piece for Harper’s on the overwhelmingly black Catholic schools of Washington, DC, and found them to be exactly as Williams described the schools in his projects: well-behaved, and all the kids could read. The article follows. shortly.
I expected that liberals would applaud a piece demonstrating that black kids could learn far better than they did in the public schools. Instead, fury erupted. The success of the Catholics pointed up the incompetence of the teacher’s unions and the vacuity of accepted social theory. Whatever nits can be picked with the piece, whatever one believes about the relative intelligence of blacks, whites, yellows, and ed majors, it is obvious that black kids could do far, far better than they are doing. Something is wrong somewhere.
Indeed it is. But know what I find most interesting about it? That Harper’s would ever publish anything by Fred, ever. Sure, things were a lot different back in the dim and distant days of 1981; can anyone even imagine Harper’s—or, say, the WaPo, for which Fred also used to write regularly—publishing one word either by or about him today? I sure can’t. It’s kind of jarring to be reminded that they once in fact did. It’s a reminder of just how far Left the Overton window has shifted in thirty years.