Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Representation in Education and Employment:

From Rev. Jeremiah Wright's Speech to the NAACP:

Different does not mean deficient.... Dr. [Janice] Hale showed us, that in comparing African-American children and European-American children in the field of education, we were comparing apples and rocks. And in so doing, we kept coming up with meaningless labels like EMH, educable mentally handicapped, TMH, trainable mentally handicapped, ADD, attention deficit disorder.

And we were coming up with more meaningless solutions like reading, writing and Ritalin. Dr. Hale's research led her to stop comparing African-American children with European-American children and she started comparing the pedagogical methodologies of African-American children to African children and European-American children to European children. And bingo, she discovered that the two different worlds have two different ways of learning. European and European-American children have a left brained cognitive object oriented learning style and the entire educational learning system in the United States of America. Back in the early '70s, when Dr. Hale did her research was based on left brained cognitive object oriented learning style. Let me help you with fifty cent words.

Left brain is logical and analytical. Object oriented means the student learns from an object. From the solitude of the cradle with objects being hung over his or her head to help them determine colors and shape to the solitude in a [carrel] in a PhD program stuffed off somewhere in a corner in absolute quietness to absorb from the object. From a block to a book, an object. That is one way of learning, but it is only one way of learning.

African and African-American children have a different way of learning. They are right brained, subject oriented in their learning style. Right brain that means creative and intuitive. Subject oriented means they learn from a subject, not an object. They learn from a person. Some of you are old enough, I see your hair color, to remember when the NACP won that tremendous desegregation case back in 1954 and when the schools were desegregated. They were never integrated. When they were desegregated in Philadelphia, several of the white teachers in my school freaked out. Why? Because black kids wouldn't stay in their place. Over there behind the desk, black kids climbed up all on them.

Because they learn from a subject, not from an object. Tell me a story. They have a different way of learning. Those same children who have difficulty reading from an object and who are labeled EMH, DMH and ADD. Those children can say every word from every song on every hip hop radio station half of who's words the average adult here tonight cannot understand. Why? Because they come from a right-brained creative oral culture like the [griots] in Africa who can go for two or three days as oral repositories of a people's history and like the oral tradition which passed down the first five book in our Jewish bible, our Christian Bible, our Hebrew bible long before there was a written Hebrew script or alphabet. And repeat incredulously long passages like Psalm 119 using mnemonic devices using eight line stanzas. Each stanza starting with a different letter of the alphabet. That is a different way of learning. It's not deficient, it is just different. Somebody say different. I believe that a change is going to come because many of us are committed to changing how we see other people who are different.

Now perhaps Rev. Wright is right that black children have different cultural upbringings, that yield different learning styles. I'm skeptical about many of his particular theories, but the notion that differences in pupils' culture affect education surely makes sense. And I also agree, of course, that "different" does not inherently mean "deficient."

But "different" — especially substantially different — may well mean less successful at some things, and more successful at others. "[L]ogical and analytical" is pretty important in lots of fields, and not just because the European-American-founded "educational learning system in the United States of America" says so. So if Rev. Wright is correct, that this strongly undermines the oft-heard claim that disproportions (even including substantial disproportions) in the representation of various ethnic and racial groups in education or employment is strong evidence of discrimination. Perhaps it's just that some "ways of learning" (especially associated, for instance, with the culture of Asians, Jews, or whites generally) are conducive to success in one field and other "ways of learning" are not.

Now of course it's also possible that different cultural "ways of learning" yield equally effective results, and that the disproportions in representation are caused solely by racial or ethnic discrimination, or by the system's relying on irrelevant differences in "ways of learning" rather than on actual success or knowledge. But why should we think this is so? Why should we assume that "logical and analytical" approaches will inherently yield no better and no worse results as their "[r]ight[-]brain[ed]" "creative and intuitive" "[s]ubject[-]oriented" alternatives?

UPDATE: I've corrected a couple of what seem to be transcriber errors in the block quote.