How I triggered Bill Maher by writing about white supremacy and standardized tests

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  john-russell  •  4 weeks ago  •  15 comments

By:   Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray (Alternet. org)

How I triggered Bill Maher by writing about white supremacy and standardized tests
Bill Maher is mad at me.And I've never even met the man.I guess you could say we're from different worlds.He's on the West Coast. I'm on the East. He's a political comedian. I'm a public school teacher.He's a multimillionaire. I can barely make ends meet. What could I possibly do to provoke the ire ...

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



image.png?id=27929325&width=1245&quality=85&coordinates=2%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700 Image via Screengrab Steven Singer and Common DreamsNovember 08, 2021

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Bill Maher is mad at me.

And I've never even met the man.

I guess you could say we're from different worlds.

He's on the West Coast. I'm on the East.

He's a political comedian. I'm a public school teacher.

He's a multimillionaire. I can barely make ends meet.

What could I possibly do to provoke the ire of this man so much so that he took aim at me on his HBO TV show?

As near as I can tell, it started when I wrote a blog.

Then people read that blog.

It got popular and was republished throughout the Internet.

And Maher disagrees with what I wrote.

In fact, the very idea annoyed him as a prime example of namby-pamby liberals taking their agenda too far.

What did I write in the article?

Only that standardized testing is a tool of white supremacy.

In fact, that was the title of the article, which seems to be about as far as Bill read because he ignored any arguments, facts or historical citations in the piece.

On his show, "Real Time with Bill Maher" this week, he posted the title of the article and the graphic that appeared with it when it was republished on commondreams.org.

What he didn't post was my name. I am the author, after all, but I guess that's not important.

The crucial bit was how triggered Bill was by my assertion.

By connecting such allegedly alien concepts as standardized testing and racism, Maher thinks I devalued the meaning of "white supremacy."

Maher never actually examined my claim or what I wrote backing it up. Never mind the arguments I made in favor of my point, the sources I cited, the examples of actual bias or the documented history of standardized testing as a creation of the eugenicist movement.

He was content to speak in a smarmy tone and make a pretty lame joke about what a racially biased test question might look like.

In fact, that's probably why he (and his staff) picked my piece in the first place. They saw it as an opportunity to make a joke and whiffed at it pretty terribly.

Here's the relevant bit of his monologue:

"In 2010 the New York Times used the term "White Supremacist" on 75 occasions. Last year, over 700 times. Now some of that to be sure is because Trump came along and emboldened the faction of this country that is truly white supremacist. It is of course still a real thing. But it shouldn't apply to something like - as more than a few have suggested - getting rid of the SAT test. Now if we find the SAT test is slanted in such a way as to stack the deck in favor of Caucasians, if there are questions like Biff and Chip are sailing a yacht traveling at 12 knots to an Ed Sheeran concert on Catalina - if Catalina is 12 miles away, how many White Claws should they bring? Yes, then maybe. But of course the SAT doesn't have questions like that so it becomes a kind of ludicrous exaggeration that makes lovers of common sense roll their eyes - and then vote for Trump."

And the punch line?

Screen%20Shot%202021-11-04%20at%2012.33.05%20PM.png?itok=mu_8USjq

Queue audience laughter and applause.

Funny stuff I guess.

Not the comedy staff's fake SAT question but Maher's assurance that "The SAT doesn't have questions like that."

Really, Bill?

How about this one?

Runner: Marathon
(a) envoy: embassy
(b) martyr: massacre
(c) oarsman: regatta
(d) horse: stable

It's a real SAT question famously discussed in the infamous 1994 book, The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray - a book that tried to use discrepancies in test scores to prove white people are smarter than black people.

The answer is C, and it relies on a test taker's knowing the meaning of regatta - something more likely to have come up in the daily lives of affluent white students than in the lives of less affluent minority students. If you don't live by a body of water and/or don't have much experience with rowing, you're probably going to fail this question.

It's the same kind of question Maher's comedy team came up with - find something white people are more likely to know than black people - but the Real Time writers just pilled it on over-and-over.

It doesn't take five repetitions of something to make it biased. All it takes is one.

To be fair, my example is from the SAT analogy section, which was removed from the test in 2005. However, that doesn't mean they got rid of the bias.

In fact, the College Board, the organization that develops and administers the SAT, tacitly admits its test is biased.

It now provides an "adversity score" for poor and minority students to adjust raw SAT scores to account for high schools and neighborhoods "level of disadvantage."

In other words, they know that poor and minority kids get lower scores so they're trying to fudge the results to give them a boost.

Which would be entirely unnecessary if the SAT assessedthem accurately in the first place.

They are literally trying to make up for how biased their test scores are.

Consider this.

Total SAT scores range from 400 to 1600 - or from 200-800 in both Math and Reading respectively.

According to 2018 data, combined SAT scores for Asian and White students average over 1100, while all other groups average below 1000. Meanwhile, students with family income less than $20,000 score lowest on the test, and those with family income above $200,000 scored highest, according to 2015 data. And the difference is significant - a 433 average Reading score for those with the lowest family incomes compared to an average Reading score of 570 for those with the highest family income. That's a 137 point difference!

And it holds for racial groups, too. The average Reading score on the SAT was 429 for black students - 99 points behind the average for white students.

However, the College Board is trying to justify this by saying the discrepancy is because poor and minority students are more disadvantaged than white, affluent ones. In other words, it's not the test that is unfair, but American society in providing better resourced schools with lower class sizes and more resources for white kids than children of color.

And while American society IS unfair to the poor and minorities, several studies indicate that the problem is even deeper than that.

The SAT is biased, too.

Several studies ( Roy Freedle of the Educational Testing Service from 2003, Maria Santelices and Mark Wilson from 2010, etc.) find notable differences between the verbal scores of black and white students whose educational background and skill set suggest that they should get similar scores.

Freedle says this is because SAT questions likely reflect the cultural expressions that are used commonly in the dominant (white) society, so white students have an edge based not on education or study skills or aptitude, but because they are most likely growing up around white people.

This makes sense if you examine how test questions are selected for the SAT. In his book How the SAT Creates Built-in-Headwinds, national admissions-test expert, Jay Rosner, explains the process:

"Compare two 1998 SAT verbal [section] sentence-completion items with similar themes: The item correctly answered by more blacks than whites was discarded by the Educational Testing Service, whereas the item that has a higher disparate impact against blacks became part of the actual SAT. On one of the items, which was of medium difficulty, 62% of whites and 38% of African-Americans answered correctly, resulting in a large impact of 24%…On this second item, 8% more African-Americans than whites answered correctly…"

In other words, the criteria for whether a question is chosen for future tests is if it replicates the outcomes of previous exams - specifically tests where students of color score lower than white children. And this is still the criteria test makers use to determine which questions to use on future editions of nearly every assessment in wide use in the US.

But if all this isn't enough to convince you that standardized tests really are a tool of white supremacy, consider their sordid history.

They are literally the product of the American eugenics movement.

Modern testing comes out of Army IQ tests developed during World War I.

In 1917, a group of psychologists led by Robert M. Yerkes, president of the American Psychological Association (APA), created the Army Alpha and Beta tests. These were specifically designed to measure the intelligence of recruits and help the military distinguish those of "superior mental ability" from those who were "mentally inferior."

These assessments were based on explicitly eugenicist foundations - the idea that certain races were distinctly superior to others. In 1923, one of the men who developed these intelligence tests, Carl Brigham, took these ideas further in his seminal work A Study of American Intelligence. In it, he used data gathered from these IQ tests to argue the following:

"The decline of American intelligence will be more rapid than the decline of the intelligence of European national groups, owing to the presence here of the negro. These are the plain, if somewhat ugly, facts that our study shows. The deterioration of American intelligence is not inevitable, however, if public action can be aroused to prevent it."

Eventually Brigham took his experience with Army IQ tests to create a new assessment for the College Board - the Scholastic Aptitude Test - now known as the Scholastic Assessment Test or SAT. It was first given to high school students in 1926 as a gatekeeper. Just as the Army intelligence tests were designed to distinguish the superior from the inferior, the SAT was designed to predict which students would do well in college and which would not. It was meant to show which students should be given the chance at a higher education and which should be left behind.

And unsurprisingly it has always - and continues to - privilege white students over children of color.

Is it an exaggeration to say that assessments specifically designed to favor affluent white people over impoverished minorities still does the same thing?

Is it ridiculous to describe the century long racial and economic discrepancy in test scores as something that supports white supremacy - especially when these results are shown time and again to be a feature of the tests and not just an artifact that recreates economic inequality?

Is it going too far to call out the racism of the SAT and other standardized tests like it when even the College Board admits its own scores are biased?

Does it devalue the term "White Supremacy" to point out real world white supremacy?

But Maher apparently isn't interested in these questions.

After a few moments he moved on to another example of the left gone wild.

But I can't do that because this isn't just a bit for me.

As I mentioned, I'm a public school teacher.

I deal with the impact of standardized testing every day.

I watch my students degraded, depressed and dehumanized by it year after year.

It's become cliche for privileged white people like Bill Maher to get cranky when someone points out real world prejudice.

But for those of us in the trenches, it is an everyday reality.

And that's what triggers me.

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JohnRussell
Professor Principal
1  seeder  JohnRussell    4 weeks ago
Is it ridiculous to describe the century long racial and economic discrepancy in test scores as something that supports white supremacy - especially when these results are shown time and again to be a feature of the tests and not just an artifact that recreates economic inequality?

Is it going too far to call out the racism of the SAT and other standardized tests like it when even the College Board admits its own scores are biased?

Does it devalue the term "White Supremacy" to point out real world white supremacy?

But Maher apparently isn't interested in these questions.

After a few moments he moved on to another example of the left gone wild.
 
 
 
Sparty On
PhD Principal
2  Sparty On    4 weeks ago

Can barely make ends meet?  

His school district has an average salary of about 65k.   Tack on bennies and it's closer to 85k.

Barely making ends meet?

Ridiculous!

 
 
 
zuksam
Junior Silent
2.1  zuksam  replied to  Sparty On @2    4 weeks ago

Also that's the salary they were making in 2015 so if we added a increase of 2% a year for the last 7 years their salary has increased 14% to 74.1k. That's good money in Western PA.

 
 
 
Sparty On
PhD Principal
2.1.1  Sparty On  replied to  zuksam @2.1    4 weeks ago

Never believe a union teacher if they tell you they are underpaid.

Ask them, compared to what?   Then ask them what they are paid.  

They will leave out the fat fringe benefit package they get every time.

That's how they roll .....

 
 
 
zuksam
Junior Silent
2.1.2  zuksam  replied to  Sparty On @2.1.1    4 weeks ago
They will leave out the fat fringe benefit package they get every time

Like the pension that they'll collect for 30 plus years. Also summers off and almost two weeks for Christmas plus every other holiday and spring vacation.

 
 
 
Sparty On
PhD Principal
2.1.3  Sparty On  replied to  zuksam @2.1.2    4 weeks ago

I've educated many a person to the realities of what union teachers really make.

I'll never take away their already negotiated compensation but i'll always educate people to what it really is.

Teacher unions don't like that.   It uncovers their scam of teacher don't make much.

You really want to know who's ripping off school systems all over the country.  Dig into union management compensation.

That will really rot your socks off .....

 
 
 
Jack_TX
Junior Quiet
3  Jack_TX    4 weeks ago

Everybody knows that lower scores for minority students aren't limited to the SAT.  They are across the board, on nearly every test at both the state and national level.  But he's not going to mention that because it dissipates his smokescreen.

The largest purveyors of the real-world prejudice in question are the educational system in general and specifically classroom teachers continually lowering standards for minority students.

If he doesn't want to watch his kids be depressed, maybe he should teach them something instead of calling "504" whenever a kid has difficulty.

And yes, educated people get irritated when they hear bullshit whining and pathetic attempts at avoiding responsibility.

 
 
 
Sean Treacy
Professor Expert
4  Sean Treacy    4 weeks ago

good for Maher for pointing out the ridiculousness of  one of these  "hard work and objective thinking" is white supremacy type arguments that are so demeaning to minorities. 

 
 
 
zuksam
Junior Silent
5  zuksam    4 weeks ago

"The answer is C, and it relies on a test taker's knowing the meaning of regatta - something more likely to have come up in the daily lives of affluent white students than in the lives of less affluent minority students. If you don't live by a body of water and/or don't have much experience with rowing, you're probably going to fail this question."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Come on how many white kids go to a school with a rowing team ? He thinks white people all have Lake or Beach Houses, certainly it favors Rich 20,000+ a year Private School Students but that also excludes 99.9% of White Kids. I think this "Teacher" has forgotten what his job is supposed to be, if you're afraid they won't know the answers you better start teaching them that's why they go to school and that's what you get paid for.

 
 
 
Sparty On
PhD Principal
6  Sparty On    4 weeks ago

Like many people, regardless of color, i only knew what Regatta meant because of constant study of English Vocabulary.    Not my favorite thing but i did it.

I also learned what words like; Colloquial, Facetious and in Incongruous meant.   I wonder if those are words of only white privilege as well

 
 
 
zuksam
Junior Silent
6.1  zuksam  replied to  Sparty On @6    4 weeks ago
Like many people, regardless of color, i only knew what Regatta meant because of constant study of English Vocabulary.    Not my favorite thing but i did it.

Exactly ! We go to school to study and learn the things we're not taught or exposed to at home or around the neighborhood. Nobody I knew growing up was Sailing in a Regatta on weekends, I learned that word and many others and what they meant by reading books. We didn't have smart phones or computers and I didn't have a TV in my room or Cable TV at all but what I had was a Library Card and I used it.

 
 
 
charger 383
Professor Quiet
7  charger 383    4 weeks ago

What is wrong with being smart, studying in school, behaving yourself, working and reaping the rewards? 

 
 
 
Sparty On
PhD Principal
7.1  Sparty On  replied to  charger 383 @7    4 weeks ago

What is wrong with that is, the kids who didn't do the work, now need an excuse because they've chosen to go through life fat, stoned and stupid.

 
 
 
Greg Jones
PhD Expert
7.1.1  Greg Jones  replied to  Sparty On @7.1    4 weeks ago

And we'll always have some whiny white liberals making excuses for them and implying that certain minorities are too stupid or lazy to learn and succeed in life.. 

 
 
 
Tacos!
Professor Expert
8  Tacos!    4 weeks ago

What are testers supposed to cover, then? Are they only supposed to ask questions about inner city ghettos? Would that make people happy?

I think you can know what a yacht or a regatta is without being a wealthy white person. I have no personal experience of those things, but I still know what they are. Why? It’s not because I’m white. White people aren’t born with inherent knowledge of yachting and polo and more than black people are born knowing more about drugs and crime.

“Demarcus and T-bone each have two grams of crack . . . “ Is that what this writer would prefer?

The whole complaint and all of its arguments are racist and stupid. That was Maher’s point.

Aside: I notice there is no complaint about the horse option. Why not? I wonder.

The whole thing is dumb. These tests are a measure of how educated the test-taker is, and are intended to be predictive of how they will perform in school. As it turns out, they tend to do a pretty good job of that.

 
 
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