Monday, July 19, 2010

How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm…?

Ross Douthat explains that the reason for white anxiety — the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, and anti-Obama hysteria — is because there aren’t enough white kids from Kansas being admitted to elite citadels of learning.

Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities. Unsurprisingly, they found that the admissions process seemed to favor black and Hispanic applicants, while whites and Asians needed higher grades and SAT scores to get in. But what was striking, as Russell K. Nieli pointed out last week on the conservative Web site Minding the Campus, was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.

This was particularly pronounced among the private colleges in the study. For minority applicants, the lower a family’s socioeconomic position, the more likely the student was to be admitted. For whites, though, it was the reverse. An upper-middle-class white applicant was three times more likely to be admitted than a lower-class white with similar qualifications.


This breeds paranoia, among elite and non-elites alike. Among the white working class, increasingly the most reliable Republican constituency, alienation from the American meritocracy fuels the kind of racially tinged conspiracy theories that Beck and others have exploited — that Barack Obama is a foreign-born Marxist hand-picked by a shadowy liberal cabal, that a Wall Street-Washington axis wants to flood the country with third world immigrants, and so forth.

Among the highly educated and liberal, meanwhile, the lack of contact with rural, working-class America generates all sorts of wild anxieties about what’s being plotted in the heartland. In the Bush years, liberals fretted about a looming evangelical theocracy. In the age of the Tea Parties, they see crypto-Klansmen and budding Timothy McVeighs everywhere they look.

So the solution to all this rage against the pointy-headed elites who are turning our children into gay Socialists is to do a little affirmative action and turn those nice wholesome strapping Christian farmboys into gay pointy-headed elitists through Socialist indoctrination. I see.

I agree that it would be good for everyone to have an equal opportunity to get into college if they so choose to go. I also think that one of the reasons there might be a lack of admissions from those areas might have nothing whatsoever to do with the students and their skin color but with the education they received back home. For instance, if they come from a state where the textbooks are telling them that Darwin’s theory of evolution is on the same level as the fables in Genesis or that Phyllis Schlafly and Newt Gingrich are more important figures in the history of our nation than Thomas Jefferson, then perhaps that might explain why the admissions offices in some private colleges and universities are a tad leery of admitting applicants from those states.

The solution isn’t just affirmative action for students from RFD states. It’s making sure that kids get a good education no matter what socio-economic background they come from, and that isn’t determined at the admissions offices in Cambridge or Princeton.