John McWhorter has an excellent piece in Sunday's Washington Post arguing that the only basis for lowering admissions standards is for socioeconomic reasons.
The question we need to ask, then, is why schools must lower standards to have a decent number of middle-class black students on campus. Over the past few years, a study by the Minority Student Achievement Network of 15 middle-class school districts has shown that black students tend to lag severely even in well-heeled suburbs, despite mentoring programs and well-sensitized teachers.
And one of the main reasons for this is cultural. In the late '60s, partly in response to the racism so much more prevalent then, black teens began teasing peers who strove to do well in school as "acting white." Several academics have examined this sad phenomenon, which is so entrenched in young black culture that one could barely grow up African American and miss it.
"Nerd," a word familiar to children of all races, is one thing. But to accuse a child of "acting white" is to accuse him or her of racial self-hatred. Given a choice between scholarly success and peer acceptance, the typical sixth-grader will choose the latter.
McWhorter's essay reminded me of an African-American guy I knew back in high school. When I went to my 10-year reunion a couple of years ago, I talked to him and he agreed to treat me after I have my first heart attack -- he's a cardiologist.
He was very bright, and was in a number of Honors/Advanced Placement classes in our freshman and sophomore years, but then he dropped out and started taking regular college prep classes. I never really figured out why, but now I suspect that McWhorter may have identified the reason. And I think it's safe to say that our school was not really divided by race, socially speaking.
He still graduated with honors, but it's much easier to blend in in college prep classes than it is in honors classes.
If I remember, I'll ask him when the 20-year reunion comes along.
Thankfully, that's still quite a ways off.