One of the giants of contemporary political science, James Q. Wilson, has passed away. His writing displayed insightful commentary on areas of public policy--crime ("broken windows"), poverty, bureaucracy (the classic book), bioethics, marriage, and ethnic politics, plus a book on snorkeling,co-authored with his wife. I happened to use his Bureaucracy book last spring, originally published in 1989. Wilson taught us what questions to raise in examining political institutions. Some of his writings for the Claremont Institute can be found here. An appreciation of his work by Shep Melnick is here.
It is not to damn him with faint praise to say that Wilson was likely the nicest and the wisest President of the American Political Science Association. I can still recall the headshaking and denunciations of his presidential address, on "The Moral Sense."
Addendum: A conversation from 1987 with Wilson, conducted by Steve Hayward mostly.
Not intentionally of course. But by inflating the test scores of its incoming students, Claremont McKenna College provides ammunition for critics of race and ethnic preferences in admissions. How can we trust colleges to provide honest information? Won't they skew data about race to make the case for preferences? John Eastman's brief in an upcoming preferences case lays out this argument well.
In the meantime, a legal blogger has raised the possibility of law school deans serving jail time for falsifying student data and, biggest bonus of all, US News being charged with fraud for knowingly publishing false information.
U.S. News itself may have committed mail and wire fraud. It has republished, and sold for profit, data submitted by law schools without verifying the data's accuracy, despite being aware that at least some schools were submitting false and misleading data. U.S. News refused to correct incorrect data and rankings errors and continued to sell that information even after individual schools confessed that they had submitted false information. In addition, U.S. News marketed its surveys and rankings as valid although they were riddled with fundamental methodological errors.
From today's WSJ:
New York City on Friday released for the first time a database ranking nearly 18,000 public schoolteachers based on their students' test scores, a historic move that lifted the curtain on one measure of quality in the classroom.
How can it be that teachers are only now being evaluated on the basis of their work output? A teacher's job is to instill knowledge of a subject in their pupils. It seems only rational that their performance would be judged on the basis of how much knowledge they instill. By what standard have they been measured up to this point?
Of course, the answer is that they haven't been held to any standards whatsoever. That fact is reflected by the teachers' and union's zealous opposition to the evaluation database. The unions have a lucrative public monopoly over education and teachers are immune from discipline based on their performance - neither group have an interest in subjecting themselves to criticism, implementing objective standards of performance and upsetting the status quo.
I've written on American educational exceptionalism before and have been heavily critical of unions and public school unaccountability. The education bureaucracy surely sees any form of comparable evaluation criteria as one step in the direction of market competition in American education. Competition would certainly favor private, parochial schools - to the fiscal and political detriment of unions and to the utter dismay of liberal secularists. These cultural, political and economic factors are the true motivations behind America's public education policies and the opposition witnessed to teacher evaluation databases.
Of course, you say, but Harry Jaffa corrects Obama's SOTU misquotation precisely, in Charles Johnson's interview with him:
Professor Jaffa noted that this quotation leaves out a great deal. The 93-year-old Jaffa recited the full statement from Lincoln's speech, "The Nature and Objects of Government, with Special Reference to Slavery" (July 1, 1854) by memory:
"The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities."
Notice the difference? The emphasis is on the need to have done, not on government doing the action. "That distinction was missing from his quotation," Jaffa explains. Yet Obama has repeatedly invoked this misleading Lincoln quotation on both the campaign trail and during his presidency.
Johnson is the go-to guy for reporting on all things Claremont, including the recent admissions scandal. He is working on more stories on the scandal, one that could result in further resignations, including that of the President, who has effectively undermined the conservative scholars at the College.
Charles Johnson tracks Claremont McKenna's race preferences admissions policies with the scandalous inflation of SAT reporting to US News and the world. Once again we see how a perverse policy of preferences leads to further unethical conduct. The issue for Claremont McKenna is not the superb quality of its teaching and much of the research--it's rather whether its key administrators (its Dean of Admissions resigned) based the College's policies and altered its identity for the sake of a higher standing in US News.
Did the President create a culture of cheap ambition? The Administration could have further played up its Government and Economics programs and been happy with a major national niche. Perhaps the prominence of conservative scholars in those departments made such a strategy distasteful, though.
I think of all the couples with advanced degrees who have remarkably successful children, and I wonder how other kids can enjoy such success. Charles Murray has long made this a theme of his. The full account can be found in The New Criterion. "Many [in the new elite] have never worked at a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day, never had a conversation with an evangelical Christian, never seen a factory floor, never had a friend who didn't have a college degree, never hunted or fished." Here is the excerpt from today's WSJ:
The members of America's new upper class tend not to watch the same movies and television shows that the rest of America watches, don't go to kinds of restaurants the rest of America frequents, tend to buy different kinds of automobiles, and have passions for being green, maintaining the proper degree of body fat, and supporting gay marriage that most Americans don't share. Their child-raising practices are distinctive, and they typically take care to enroll their children in schools dominated by the offspring of the upper middle class--or, better yet, of the new upper class. They take their vacations in different kinds of places than other Americans go and are often indifferent to the professional sports that are so popular among other Americans. Few have served in the military, and few of their children either.
Worst of all, a growing proportion of the people who run the institutions of our country have never known any other culture. They are the children of upper-middle-class parents, have always lived in upper-middle-class neighborhoods and gone to upper-middle-class schools. Many have never worked at a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day, never had a conversation with an evangelical Christian, never seen a factory floor, never had a friend who didn't have a college degree, never hunted or fished. They are likely to know that Garrison Keillor's monologue on Prairie Home Companion is the source of the phrase "all of the children are above average," but they have never walked on a prairie and never known someone well whose IQ actually was below average.
From the full article, his conclusion:
The upper middle class in general, and the new upper class in particular, will continue to do well. But they will no longer be living any resemblance of what used to be called the American Way of Life. They will be the class on top in the same way that all complex societies have had a class on top, with nothing exceptional about it. We are perilously close to being in that world already....