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Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell
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Cheering Immaturity


A graduating senior at Hunter College High School in New York gave a speech that brought a standing ovation from his teachers and got his picture in the New York Times. I hope it doesn't go to his head, because what he said was so illogical that it was an indictment of the mush that is being taught at even our elite educational institutions.

Young Justin Hudson, described as "black and Hispanic," opened by saying how much he appreciated reaching his graduation day at this very select public high school. Then he said, "I don't deserve any of this. And neither do you." The reason? He and his classmates were there because of "luck and circumstances."

Since Hunter College High School selects its applicants from the whole city on the basis of their test scores, "luck" seems a strange way to characterize why some students are admitted and many others are not. If you can't tell the difference between luck and performance, what has your education given you, except the rhetoric to conceal your confusion from others and perhaps from yourself?

Young Mr. Hudson's concern, apparently, is about what he referred to as the "demographics" of the school— 41 percent white and 47 percent Asian, with blacks, Hispanics and others obviously far behind. "I refuse to accept" that "the distribution of intelligence in this city" varies by neighborhood, he said.

Native intelligence may indeed not vary by neighborhood but actual performance— whether in schools, on the job or elsewhere— involves far more than native intelligence. Wasted intelligence does nothing for an individual or society.

The reason a surgeon can operate on your heart, while someone of equal intelligence who is not a surgeon cannot, is because of what different people actually did with their intelligence. That has always varied, not only from individual to individual but from group to group— and not only in this country, but in countries around the world and across the centuries of human history.

One of the biggest fallacies of our time is the notion that, if all groups are not proportionally represented in institutions, professions or income levels, that shows something wrong with society.

The very possibility that people make their own choices, and that those choices have consequences— for themselves and for others— is ignored. Society is the universal scapegoat.

If "luck" is involved, it is the luck to be born into families and communities whose values and choices turn out to be productive for themselves and for others who benefit from the skills they acquire. Observers who blame tests or other criteria for the demographic imbalances which are the rule— not the exception— around the world, are blaming whatever conveys differences for creating those differences.

They blame the messenger who brings bad news.

If test scores are not the same for people from different backgrounds, that is no proof that there is something wrong with the tests. Tests do not exist to show what your potential was when you entered the world but to measure what you have actually accomplished since then, as a guide to what you are likely to continue to do in the future. Tests convey a difference that tests did not create. But the messenger gets blamed for the bad news.

Similarly, if prices are higher in high-crime neighborhoods, that is often blamed on those who charge those prices, rather than on those who create the higher costs of higher rates of shoplifting, robbery, vandalism and riots, which are passed on to those who shop in those neighborhoods. The prices convey a reality that the prices did not create. If these prices represent simply "greed" for higher profits, then why do most profit-seeking businesses avoid high-crime neighborhoods like the plague?

It is painful that people with lower incomes often have to pay higher prices, even though most people are not criminals, even in a high-crime neighborhood. But misconstruing the reasons is not going to help anybody, except race hustlers and politicians.

One of the many disservices done to young people by our schools and colleges is giving them the puffed up notion that they are in a position to pass sweeping judgments on a world that they have barely begun to experience. A standing ovation for childish remarks may produce "self-esteem" but promoting presumptuousness is unlikely to benefit either this student or society.

To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His Web site is



2 Comments | Post Comment
I enjoy your writing and would be interested in your thoughts on Malcom Gladwell's "Outliers". He makes a reasoned argument that society often makes arbitrary distinctions that can result in lifting some while leaving others behind. Ultimately, society suffers because it often excludes many who are equally capable (he uses several examples of individuals whose opportunities, while taken advantage of, were not of their doing). I mention this in regard to your commentary, because the young man mentions "luck" and you mention "test scores". HOW those test scores are used is a "distinction"; and it is possible that that distinction may exclude members of society whom Gladwell would say, "...are good enough...". Again, I would be interested in your thoughts on this book.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Scott Corner
Tue Aug 10, 2010 2:50 PM
Once again the good doctor hits the target in the bulls eye. He says succinctly what I have recognized over a lifetime of observing the passing American scene, but didn't have the intelligence and skill to put it together in an understandable fashion.
At 70, I've noticed how false so many things are in our society; especially the corruption of our very words with which to convey ideas. If we don't soon have a national reconciliation about true values that have stood the test of time, we are going to fall as surely as Rome did.
I've lived a great life largely because of the hard work and sacrifices of former generations who had for the most part a "no excuses" mentality and figured that for the vast majority, most folks get what they deserve. There is no question that nearly all ethnic and racial groups in America experienced discrimination, sometimes very draconian in nature. But as the great Dr. Martin Luther King said, we are all born equal. And that is somewhat true, but the full truth is that if one is born into a group or family that venerates hard work, patience, education and hope for the future, that person will not remain equal, but will have immensely better tools to face the future. The unhappy child born to a family of indolance, "do yo own thang," and the "I want it now" attitude IS NOT EQUAL AND IS CONDEMNED TO RECEIVE ONLY THAT WHICH FATE ASSIGNS HIM.
Dr. Sowell for priesident!!! He's one of our clearer thinking national LEADERS.
Bless him,
Paul Schlatter
Comment: #2
Posted by: paul schlatter
Sun Aug 15, 2010 1:27 PM
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