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Walter Williams
Walter E. Williams
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Equality in Discipline


George Leef, director of research for the North Carolina-based John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, authored a Forbes op-ed article titled "Obama Administration Takes Groupthink To Absurd Lengths." The subtitle is "School Discipline Rates Must Be 'Proportionate.'" ( Let's examine some of the absurdity of the Obama administration's take on student discipline.

Last January, the departments of Justice and Education published a "guidance" letter describing how schools can meet their obligations under federal law to administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin. Its underlying threat is that if federal bureaucrats learn of racial disproportionality in the punishments meted out for misbehavior, they will descend upon a school's administrators. If schools cannot justify differentials in rates of punishment by race or ethnic group, they will face the loss of federal funds and be forced to undertake costly diversity training.

The nation's educators can avoid sanctions by adopting a racial quota system for student discipline. So as Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, predicts, "school officials will either start disciplining students who shouldn't be, or, more likely, will not discipline some students who ought to be." I can imagine school administrators reasoning this way: "Blacks are 20 percent of our student body, and 20 percent of suspensions this year have been of black students. In order to discipline another black student while maintaining our suspension quota, we will have to suspend some white students, whether they're guilty or not." Some administrators might see some injustice in that approach and simply ignore the misbehavior of black students.

Leef cites Manhattan Institute's Heather Mac Donald, who wrote in City Journal ( that "the Departments of Education and Justice have launched a campaign against disproportionate minority discipline rates, which show up in virtually every school district with significant numbers of black and Hispanic students.

The possibility that students' behavior, not educators' racism, drives those rates lies outside the Obama administration's conceptual universe." She quoted Aaron Benner, a black teacher in a St. Paul, Minn., school who abhors the idea that school officials should go easy on black students who act up because (as a "facilitator" said) that's what black culture is. "They're trying to pull one over on us. Black folks are drinking the Kool-Aid; this 'let-them-clown' philosophy could have been devised by the KKK." Benner is right. I can't think of a more racist argument than one that holds that disruptive, rude behavior and foul language are a part of black culture.

If Barack Obama's Department of Justice thinks that disproportionality in school punishments is probative of racial discrimination, what about our criminal justice system, in which a disproportionate number of blacks are imprisoned, on parole or probation, and executed? According to the NAACP's criminal justice fact sheet, blacks now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million people who are incarcerated. Blacks are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. The NAACP goes on to report that if blacks and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rate as whites, today's prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50 percent (

So what to do? For example, blacks are 13 percent of the population but over 50 percent of homicide victims and about 46 percent of convicted murderers. Seeing as the Obama administration is concerned about punishment disproportionality, should black convicts be released so that only 13 percent of incarcerated murderers are black? Or should the Department of Justice order the conviction of whites, whether they're guilty or not, so that the number of people convicted of murder by race is equal to their number in the general population? You say, "Williams, that not only is a stupid suggestion but violates all concepts of justice!" You're absolutely right, but isn't it just as stupid and unjust for the Obama administration to seek punishment equality in schools?

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



6 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... When people look for justice and equity, it does not mean they expect perfect justice or equality... The worst disease you can give to any child is the sense that they cannot win, and will never get a fair deal in life... It is terrible to think on the other hand of how many young men are believed by their mothers, and no one else... The idea so common that mothers alone can raise sons into adulthood has made players or criminals in vast numbers... No father will believe the lies of a son with near the credibility as a mother... No mother wants to believe her child is bad; so her defense of him makes her seem stupid, makes all women seem stupid, makes all authority seem stupid...It is not the ideal family that has a father... All families have a father, and by father I do not mean some oversized little boy... The example of a true adult and mature male is essential, and in many households it is missing...
What do you think it is like for such children in school, where teachers may have influence, but little power???...No one can look with ease at the effects of poverty on the poor, and you say it, both the victims and perpetrators of crimes, are poor, living amid violence...Can anyone tell the value of life to such people??? Their lives are certainly not worth much to them...Can I say I am all that better??? I may have killed at one point in my life... I certainly risked my life for a paycheck, and I worked where others did die for a wage... For my retirement today I suffer the aches and pains of many injuries, but to bear those injuries when new- was necessity... For most of the working class, brutality is too understandable, entirely common, and the milk of human kindness has long since drained into a remourseless earth... We cheer as grown men beat each other's brains out in boxing matches...Underlying all our desparation in this dog eat dog, rat race world red in tooth and claw is a great deal of brutality toward nature, toward our own nature, toward women, and toward children... Forget the lack of progress of this specific class...Show me the general progress of our society from the natural to the spiritual... It is false...
If you think your life is hell, if you think your job is hell, I won't deny that it is hell, but only point to prison if you do not like the hell you are in... Brutality cannot be judged by humanity... When those living in a real hell, working themselves into an early grave to support their pain and poverty hear that those in prison enjoy three squares, medical treatment, and cable tv, they feel rage pound between their temples... How can this be possible??? Why as well as separation from society can we not see our criminals tortured??? Consider that black people actually have a greater life expectancy in prison than out and you get a sense of the poison of poverty...
Does it ever seem strange when quite normal people show themselves capable of horrific brutality??? If you scratch people already bearing a grudge against what all intelligent people recognize as a great injury, you cannot be surprised at the result...Consider that what people talk about doing they will do, and people arming themselves for violence are capable of it, and I agree that people should be armed, and should defend themselves; but at some point people are capable of psychic self defense in their homes and workplaces, and the prospect of it is truly horrific... The violence of the hood is not all that far from the heart of the heartland...
Look at the lives of the poor with open eyes and you can easily see they are not deprived of money alone, or even deprived of a great deal of money, but of almost everything meaningful regardless... Consider what if...If they got a minimum of support from the commonwealth, but instead of being demeaned for it, it was treated as their right as it most certainly is... If they were given all the education that is their due, not as if punishment, but as much as would be of use to them... If as part of their education they were taught the respect that is their due for their contribution to this country, this economy, and society...If they had lives away from the crime that makes a home among the poor...If the ease and beauty of wealth were not forever in their faces as a spur to their envy... Mostly, if the laws of this society encouraged intact neclear families, and did not penalize fathers too poor to raise their children, but gave them all support necessary without moral judgement, and only recognizing the results of not doing so; then many things might be different... Which is to say: Nothing will change; nothing will be better, and we can fill our prisions with blacks and other poor people where they do nothing for their own support or our own improvement...
Do we want to fix these people??? We might need to fix ourselves... We might want to look at our own lives for the corrupting effects of wealth and envy...Whether in school, or in society, it is clear that poverty is such punishment that the threat of punishment is no greater threat..It is common enough to mistake power for freedom, and any slave might do this; but the facts are that while relatively more powerful in ones life, no master can be free of slavery, so masters and slaves are both the prisoners of their system that denies essential meaning to each...Wealth finds its meaning in the poverty and in the desparation of the poor, but in this the price of wealth is too high for any society to bear...What can the wealthy do with their money other than outrageous crimes to put themselves outside the common run of mankind??? All they have to make wealth the ultimate of good is to see the extremes of poverty everywhere around them and witness what social cripples it makes of people... Is it worth it since this must make them fear the loss of wealth all the more???
Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Tue Apr 15, 2014 6:15 PM
Sweeney, your BS isn't even worth reading, and I doubt if Prof Williams reads it. Take a timeout for a few months.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Derel Schrock
Wed Apr 16, 2014 6:03 PM
Hey Derel: I'm with you regarding Mr. Sweeny--almost all of the time. I usually scan his post and find his rants as mostly hyperbole--usually just to take a contrarian view for the sake of being contrarian. Remember I strongly believe in the "right of the individual to go for it in life." As I was scanning Mr. Sweeny's post, I found this time he makes quite a bright and profound case on blacks, impoverished single-parent children, criminals, and a philosophic perspective for looking at this issue deeper and with more expanse.

Now Mr. Sweeny does not address anything Professor Williams says in his post, and is off onto his own tangent. And, he turns the mirror of responsibility back on to us as society--as if society is responsible for single-parent children, or the disproportionate number of black criminals imprisoned compared to whites, and the need for "more support
from the commonwealth" (another way of saying more government entitlements and hand-outs).

Sweeny did write this: "Consider that black people actually have a greater life expectancy in prison than out, and you get a sense of the poison of poverty...Do we want to fix these people? We might need to fix ourselves...Whether in school, or in society, it is clear that poverty is such punishment that 'the threat of [further] punishment' is no greater threat...[And when this becomes so] common enough to mistake power for master can be free of slavery, so masters and slaves are both the prisoners of their system."

These thoughts and words ring loud and true--irrespective of who said them. It just so happens that it was Sweeny.
I think they have value and are worth a moment of pause and contemplation.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Rick Martinez
Thu Apr 17, 2014 12:11 PM
If a survey of criminals in prison and kids needing discipline in school, I bet it would show that virtually all would be products of families on welfare. Babies having babies do not have a spouse and do not know how to bring up children or to help them in their school work. And it is all about being cool, getting high, having all the perks that working people have and not at all about the children. Welfare has destroyed the poor people's lives more than being poor and without has.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Arnold Uribe
Thu Apr 17, 2014 2:58 PM
If it's go to jail or pay a fine of 1K whose going to jail? If it's go to jail or get a good lawyer whose going to jail?
Its about the havalots and the havenots. Jails and prisons are full of white folk too. And i read that more than 50% of folk in prison have serious mental disorders and should be on psycho meds and in a mental institution which since they shut down so many mental institutions they now most all go to jail and prison.
Comment: #5
Posted by: steveM
Thu Apr 17, 2014 10:14 PM take a long while to read what you write and longer time to understand. Now i understand and it was very good points you make.
Comment: #6
Posted by: steveM
Thu Apr 17, 2014 10:17 PM
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