Political leaders and the mainstream media feed two enduring claims to the public, who nearly universally embraces both: Doing well in school and attaining advanced education are essential to overcoming any obstacles, and the key to succeeding in school is grit, effort and perseverance.
Education appears significant within race, but not the avenue to overcoming racism. Well educated blacks earn more than less educated blacks, but blacks and whites with the same education reflect significant race disparities favoring whites (Bruenig, 24 October 2014):
Rarely do we admit stunning data on race/education inequity. Blacks with some college have similar employment opportunities as whites with no high school diploma (Closing the Race Gap):
But certainly effort (grit and perseverance) matters more than simple accidents of a person’s birth? Actually, no (Bruenig, 13 June 2013):
We are left, then, with having to admit that the evidence is overwhelming that these are baseless cultural myths (possibly ideals we should aspire to, but certainly not the state of our society): Doing well in school and attaining advanced education are essential to overcoming any obstacles, and the key to succeeding in school is grit, effort and perseverance.
Grit and education narratives serve as veneer for white and wealth privilege.
Anthony Cody has now confronted the relentless and uncritical mainstream media fascination with grit in his The Resilience of Eugenics, linking claims about the importance of grit, the ability to identify students with grit, and the push to instill grit in certain students (brown, black, and impoverished, mainly) with Eugenics.
Cody’s argument has deep roots among many of us who have argued for quite some time that charter movements such as KIPP and grit arguments are not sound educationally, scientifically, or ethically. In fact, we have demonstrated that this entire package of narratives and policies is essentially racist and classist.
Update: Social Class, Home Status, and Education
Matt Bruenig has examined David Brooks’s claims about social class and stereotypes/prejudice, and thus offers even more evidence for the points above.
Bruenig’s first subhead is important for framing:
It is indeed the case that social mobility in the US is very low. This is easiest to see by looking at class-based education disparities, given that education is meant to be the thing that leads to social mobility.*
College attendance rates map directly on to parental income, with only 20% of the poorest children in college at age 19 compared to 90% for the richest children.
But the formula that Bruenig reveals, especially in chart form, is central to clarifying that accident of birth tends to trump significantly effort; life status of adults is built on access, opportunity, and privilege (or disadvantage): Home status leads to educational access and thus ultimately to adult status. [*My argument is that instead of crediting educational attainment as the key to adult success, educational attainment is a marker for home privilege, the valid source of adult success.]
Consider then the evidence:
Bruenig concludes: “Quite naturally then, even for reasons beyond these, a child’s eventual position in the social structure is heavily linked to that of their parents.”
Update 2: U.S. as “self-perpetuating class system”
Matt Bruenig’s Where Is Educational Mobility the Highest? continues to add evidence to the claims made above.
Bruenig’s key points supported by international comparison data:
As regular readers know by now, social mobility in the US is largely a myth perpetuated for political legitimation….
In reality, we live in a self-perpetuating class system where the children of the rich mostly go on to rule over the children of the poor….
So it’s clearly possible not to use education to retrench class. The question is whether we want to actually do what it takes to make that happen.
Please note his charts.
Update 3: Economic and judicial racism
As you can see, white families are much wealthier than black and hispanic families at every education level. More than that, all white families, even those at the lowest education level, have a higher median wealth than all black and hispanic families, even those at the highest education level. The median white family with an education level below high school has a net worth of $51.3k, while the median black and hispanic family with a college degree has a net worth of $25.9k and $41k respectively.
Although there were negligible differences among the racial groups in how frequently boys committed crimes, white boys were less likely to spend time in a facility than black and Hispanic boys who said they’d committed crimes just as frequently, as shown in the chart above. A black boy who told pollsters he had committed just five crimes in the past year was as likely to have been placed in a facility as a white boy who said he’d committed 40.
More recent statistics from the Department of Justice show that the juvenile justice system has continued to treat black boys more harshly. Although the overall number of cases in juvenile court has declined sharply since 2008, blacks still account for a third of cases in juvenile court, far more than their share of the population.
See the interactive chart.
Update 4: College doesn’t equal equity
Racial inequality in economic outcomes, particularly among the college educated, persists throughout US society. Scholars debate whether this inequality stems from racial differences in human capital (e.g., college selectivity, GPA, college major) or employer discrimination against black job candidates. However, limited measures of human capital and the inherent difficulties in measuring discrimination using observational data make determining the cause of racial differences in labor-market outcomes a difficult endeavor. In this research, I examine employment opportunities for white and black graduates of elite top-ranked universities versus high-ranked but less selective institutions. Using an audit design, I create matched candidate pairs and apply for 1,008 jobs on a national job-search website. I also exploit existing birth-record data in selecting names to control for differences across social class within racialized names. The results show that although a credential from an elite university results in more employer responses for all candidates, black candidates from elite universities only do as well as white candidates from less selective universities. Moreover, race results in a double penalty: When employers respond to black candidates, it is for jobs with lower starting salaries and lower prestige than those of white peers. These racial differences suggest that a bachelor’s degree, even one from an elite institution, cannot fully counteract the importance of race in the labor market. Thus, both discrimination and differences in human capital contribute to racial economic inequality.
Overall, these results suggest that employers strongly value a degree from an elite university but also discriminate against candidates with black names. An additional area of inquiry is how these variables work together. For instance, can black candidates close the gap with white candidates when they have a degree from an elite university compared to a degree from a less selective university?
In figure 3, I examine total employer responses across race and college selectivity. These results suggest a tiered pattern of responses: White candidates with a degree from an elite university have the highest response rate (17.5 percent), followed by black candidates with a degree from an elite university (12.9 percent) and white candidates with a degree from a less selective university (11.4 percent),11 and finally black candidates with a degree from a less selective university have the lowest response rate (6.5 percent).12 Thus, a white candidate with a degree from an elite university can expect an employer response for every six résumés submitted, while an equally qualified black candidate must submit eight résumés to receive a response; white candidates with a degree from a less selective university need to submit nine résumés to expect a response, while a similar black candidate needs to submit 15 résumés to receive a response.
Update 5: Access to good jobs
Rich and poor students don’t merely enroll in college at different rates; they also complete it at different rates. The graduation gap is even wider than the enrollment gap.
See the research cited: Downward mobility, opportunity hoarding and the ‘glass floor’
Update 10: Why Didn’t Higher Education Protect Hispanic and Black Wealth?, William R. Emmons and Bryan J. Noeth
College-educated families usually earn significantly higher incomes and accumulate more wealth than families headed by someone who does not have a four-year college degree. The income- and wealth-boosting effects of education apply within all racial and ethnic groups. Higher education may also help “protect” wealth, buffering families against major economic and financial shocks and mitigating adverse long-term trends. Based on two decades of detailed wealth data, we conclude that education does not, however, protect the wealth of all racial and ethnic groups equally.
Compared to their less-educated counterparts, typical white and Asian families with four-year college degrees withstood the recent recession much better and have accumulated much more wealth over the longer term. Hispanic and black families headed by someone with a four-year college degree, on the other hand, typically fared significantly worse than Hispanic and black families without college degrees. This was true both during the recent turbulent period (2007-2013) as well as during a two-decade span ending in 2013 (the most recent data available).
Update 11: The Data Are Damning: How Race Influences School Funding, Gillian B. White
Update 12: Why are working class kids less likely to get elite jobs? They study too hard at college, Henry Farrell [EDIT: It’s a rigged game.]
Not only that, but the earnings gap between poor and rich college-educated kids is huge, and it grows over the course of a career. Right after college, poor kids earn about two-thirds as much as rich kids, on average. But by mid-career, the typical college grad from a rich family is earning close to $100,000, while the grad from a poor family is making around $50,000.
For both the races tested, there was a difference of about 6 percentage points between the response rates for graduates of state schools and those of elite schools. But that gap widens to 11 percentage points when you compare white elite college graduates to black graduates from the state schools. And it narrows to just 1.5 percentage points, within the margin of error, between white state school graduates and black graduates of prestigious schools.
University of Michigan sociologist S. Michael Gaddis, who conducted the study, expected a gap between elite and state colleges, he tells Quartz, and he expected a gap between black and white applicants overall. He did not expect, however, to see that even among elite schools’ graduates, there was a big gap between whites and blacks.
“If we really think that education is the great equalizer, then someone who reaches the pinnacle of that system…should be rewarded pretty equally,” Gaddis says. “I would have been surprised, to be honest with you, to see no gap at all. But to see that the gap for Harvard and the other elite applicants was basically the same was very discouraging.”
We are well past time to confront these issues, and thus, I offer below links to a significant body of work building our case against grit:
My posts on “grit”:
From Ira Socol:
From Katie Osgood:
And (please see the discussion thread):
Note Living in Dialogue post from Lauren Anderson, EdWeek Editor’s Note, and comments:
And a consideration of Anderson:
Got Grit? Dena Simmons