Category Archives: Education

A Platform for Activists

This correspondence relates to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Katherine Mangan. The article was highlighted by a picture of four rather grumpy looking young interviewees and headed: What College Activists Want.

From an editor: On 7/16/2020 11:44 AM, Rachel Mull wrote:

Dear Professor Staddon,

Katherine Mangan passed along your email. To answer your questions:

In the past several weeks, racial-justice advocates have gained widespread support for their cause, with sustained calls for change at institutions of all kinds. Colleges are likely to face pressure from student activists and their allies well into the academic year. This article gives Chronicle readers a window into the viewpoints of a few such students.

Additional Chronicle coverage of this movement offers analysis, and will continue to do so in the future. Criticism is the domain of The Chronicle Review [Here is a relatively balanced example.]

Thank you for reading.

Rachel Cieri Mull

Senior Editor

The Chronicle of Higher Education


Dear Rachel Mull:

Thanks for responding. I take your point about newsworthiness, and thanks for the link — which also seems to be promoting the activists’ cause.  My problem is that as someone who has worked in a US university for decades, I see little evidence for many of the claims these kids make and little or no representation of that point of view in CHED.  A couple of examples:

“it was a jarring reminder for Maliya Homer of how vulnerable she felt as a Black woman.” But the question is: How rational is it for Ms. Homer to feel that way on the campus of a university where such events essentially never occur? Does she need a course in statistics? In other words, is it her problem or ours? (Of course, it is a problem for government and law enforcement, but that is another matter.)

Tyler Yarbrough is concerned about Emmett Till, but who isn’t? I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t deplore what happened. I suspect that the frat boys [“a photo emerged last year of fraternity members posing with guns in front of a bullet-pocked memorial sign to Till.”] were just reacting against the pressure to conform (has anybody investigated?). I well remember how I behaved as a college kid in less tumultuous times.

A confederate statue is just a statue; it doesn’t “say” anything. It means different things to different people. Many, myself included, don’t see those statues as anything more than relics of history reflecting the importance of the figure not his virtue.

What do southerners, white and black, really think? If only a minority see these statues as celebrating slavery and a majority see them as reminders of Southern history, then should the  minority, who see them as somehow supporting racism, automatically have their way — never mind the illegality of toppling?

“Among their key demands: Students need more minority faculty, staff, and administrators they can feel comfortable confiding in and seeking advice from.” Knowledge has no color; white kids have sought comfort from black nannies in ages past; why should not black kids do likewise with whites?  Segregating students and faculty by color turns history on its head, and is racist besides.

I could go on. The point is that these are emotional and contentious issues. They should not be presented without a context. Perhaps next time, if you pick four students, there should be two on each side of the debate.

John S.

Possum’s Handy Guide to Wokeness

Rational people in Western society have been puzzled in recent years by a series of disturbing words, some new, some old with new meanings.  Information and analysis is now available to help the ‘unwoke’ to appreciate, if not fully understand, these powerful new concepts. Our account might even interest the occasional ‘wokester’ who has a side-interest in reason. The  guide follows:


This has become a big issue in 2020. It was kicked off by black writer Ta-Nehisi Coates in a June 2014 Atlantic article. Are African Americans worse or better off than if they had remained in Africa with their ancestors ? REPARATIONS: Taking Ta-Nehisi Coates Seriously looks at the pros and cons of the idea.


“Aggression means “an intent to harm”; microaggressions are usually unintentional.  What are they then?  Microaggression, Mens Rea and the Unconscious Mind and It’s All About Power explain and Blinded with Science! If civil speech is violence, what is real violence? reassures the ‘unsafe’.


This paradoxical idea was mooted a few years ago by scholars of race and ethnic studies. Recently it has given birth to the racism vs, anti-racism dichotomy, aka “you’re either with us or against us”. The New Racism, Part I: How ‘Race and Ethnic Studies’ Made Color Blindness a Bad Thing and The New Racism, Part II: The Sociologist’s Toolkit: Justifying Racism Through Language explain what is going on.


Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (appropriately: DEI) have become a new religion among administrators everywhere, from schools and colleges to big business: “demographic diversity is a proxy for perspectival diversity…” says one historian of science. Well, no it’s not: Diversity and Inclusion of Identity Groups Often Means Uniformity and Exclusion of Ideas and  Is Diversity an Enemy of Excellence? explain why.


This has become a popular theme and a very successful book, but as social science (as opposed to propaganda), it is nonsense.  A parody, Did the Hoaxers Do Anything Wrong? shows that white fragility is a meaningless insult.


This has become a biggie. Now systemic racism is everywhere. We all know about individual racism: how is systemic racism different? Does it even exist?  How Real Is Systemic Racism Today? , The New Racism: How activism and pseudo-science have corrupted sociology and Response to Vicky: Is racism everywhere, really?


How can we recognize prejudice? It isn’t always easy.  Is stimulus generalization prejudice, or just an automatic learning process? Offense intended? Or not? gives an example.


A powerful new social-justice philosophy that proves and empowers: “My ongoing general motivation for the past twenty years or so has been to help with the project of unwhitening mainstream political philosophy…” says Charles S. Mills, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center.  For more see…

Response to Vicky: Is racism everywhere, really?

This is a response to a thoughtful comment from Vicky to my blog critical of the supposed ubiquity of racism.  This response turned out to be too long for a comment; hence this new blog. (It also made Psychology Today uncomfortable).

Apropos race differences in IQ and SAT: They do exist, both in the US and in comparisons between white Europeans and Africans.  What they mean is much less clear.  Since IQ and SAT predict college performance, we can expect that blacks will on average do worse in college than whites and Asians, and they do.  Consequently, the pernicious “disparate impact” need not (although it may) reflect racial discrimination.

If a phenomenon has more than one possible cause, you cannot just favor one – as British TV person Cathy Newman did repeatedly in her notorious interview with Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson.  She kept pulling out “gender discrimination” as the cause for wage disparities and Peterson kept having to repeat his list of possible causes – of which discrimination was only one.  Since there are at least two possible causes for average black-white differences in college performance, it is simply wrong to blame one – racism – exclusively.

I believe you agree, since you refer to “hundreds of variables that could each play a role in explaining why someone of very low SES might fail academically.”  Even Herrnstein and Murray say as much in their much-maligned The Bell Curve.  Nevertheless, the late Stephen Jay Gould falsely accused them of just this crime, writing that “Herrnstein and Murray violate fairness by converting a complex case that can yield only agnosticism into a biased brief for permanent and heritable difference.”  Herrnstein died in 1994, just as the book was published. But the accusation dogs Murray to this day, despite the fact that what they actually said was: “It seems highly likely to us that both genes and environment have something to do with racial differences.  What might the mix be?  We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate. (my emphases)” Gould’s mendacious influence lives on as their critics continue to misrepresent Herrnstein and Murray’s position.

The genetic component might well be less than they suspected. African immigrants to the US presumably have a smaller admixture of “white” genes than African Americans, descended from slaves – and their masters.  If “white” genes make you smarter than “black” genes, American-born blacks should do better than immigrants. Yet immigrants seem to do better socioeconomically than American-born blacks. There are many possible reasons for this, of course. But it serves to remind us that statistical differences between groups need not reflect genetic effects.

A more worrying issue is the assumption that racism is everywhere.  At one time, a religious nation accepted as axiomatic that “we are all sinners!”  The idea of sin has fallen out of favor in a secular age, but racism has taken its place.   We are all racist, whether we know it or not.  Vicky writes: “we are all implicitly biased against people of color”.

Are we, really? There are at least two problems with the concept of implicit bias. It appears to be a “scientifically proven” version of sin.  The first problem is: it isn’t scientifically proven at all.  The clever ‘scientific test’ for implicit bias – especially racial bias – has not been, and perhaps cannot be, scientifically validated.  The test is the ‘scientific’ equivalent of telling entrails or reading tea leaves.  (The problem is that you can validate a test for an unconscious process only by showing that it predicts some actual behavior. In other words, to validate implicit bias, you must show that it predicts explicit, overt bias. If there is in fact explicit bias, the test is validated – but then you don’t need it, since you have the actual overt bias. Otherwise, no matter what the test says, you can conclude nothing.)

The implicit bias test also inverts the standard for criminal prosecution. Guilty until proven innocent makes the task for race-baiters so much easier.

We have had a black president for two terms; there are more than a hundred black members of congress and many more state and local black elected officials.  Many beloved icons of sports and entertainment are black. The rate of interracial marriage continues to increase.  The racial situation in the US is infinitely better than it was 40 or 50 years ago.  It is time to stop imagining, or at least exaggerating, racial bias when little exists. Let’s pay some attention to more critical problems, like the development character and citizenship in the young, the roles of men and women, the place of marriage in a civilized society, and a dozen others more important than a tiny racial divide which agitation about an imaginary implicit bias serves only to widen.