Democracy And The Inevitable Erosion Of Standards: Racist Tests Edition


Democracies are born from elite (hierarchical) societies and for a time can and do retain much of their elitism, but since democracy is premised on egalitarianism (“We hold these truths…”), and egalitarian systems cannot tolerate inequalities caused by elitism, all elite notions but one must erode. The one that remains is brute unthinking strength, of the rabble and of the “strong man”.

Forgive the length of this excerpt (pp. 18-19). It is mandatory that you should read it.

The next time you see lightning and hear the accompanying thunder, you can easily estimate the distance between yourself and the lightning by using the following method.

When you see a lightning bolt, start counting the seconds until you hear the thunder. Divide the total number of seconds by five. The result is the approximate distance to the lightning. Thus, if you counted 10 seconds between the flash of the lightning and the sound of the thunder, the lightning struck about two miles away.

How does the method work? It’s simple. The speed of sound in air is about 1,125 feet—approximately one-fifth of a mile—per second. The speed of light is approximately 186,000 miles per second. The light and sound created by the lightning bolt originate at the same time, but because the speed of light is much greater than the speed of sound, we see the flash of the lightning before we hear the rumble of the thunder.

When you count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder and divide the total by five, you are in fact estimating the distance in miles—one mile per five seconds—that the sound traveled since the lightning flash.

[Answer this question:]

Which of the following is a fundamental assumption of this method of estimating the distance between an observer and a bolt of lightning?

A. The wavelength of light is much shorter than the wavelength of sound.
B. The speed at which light travels is so great that the time required for the light waves to reach the observer is essentially zero.
C. Sound waves are more strongly affected by atmospheric conditions than are light waves.
D. The speed at which sound and light travel varies proportionately

Some people will answer this (not terribly well-posed) question correctly and some incorrectly. Suppose, as happened, this question was administered to a group of public school teachers and that it was discovered a much larger proportion of white and Asian—pale races, or of “no color”, let us say—got the right answer than did teachers of non-pale races (“of color”). According to a news report, “Hispanic and black applicants had a passage rate only 54 to 75 percent of the passage rate for whites.”

Some thing or things caused this “disparity” or “discrepancy.” It is called a disparity because egalitarianism demands that members of any subgroup should score the same, in mean or distribution, as any other subgroup. Subgroups are based on age, sex, race, sexual desire; anything, really.

It was asserted that the cause of the disparity was “racism”. Now what could that mean? Maybe there is some subtle phrasing or wording that people of color recognize as denigrating? Say “count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder and divide the total by five” is, among of color communities, known to be demeaning. Grant this. Then, either people of color cannot also recognize the plain English meaning of that phrase or they can. If they cannot, then it has to be explained why people of color cannot read plain English, regardless of whether it contains hidden “code words”.

If people of color can distinguish the plain language meaning, then there should be no problem answering the question at the same rates as people of no color. Unless you accept the theory that the phrase is so flagrantly racist that people of color lose their ability to reason and so purposely (or not) answer the question incorrectly. The reader is invited to peruse the other sample questions to see whether this theory is plausible (if anything, the opposite is true).

There are only two possibilities left: people of color do not have the same ability to answer the question as people of no color (we are speaking on average, of course), or that people of color come to the test with less education, and that lack of education was caused by (at least) racism. Egalitarian theory insists that the first explanation cannot be right. All subgroups are equal by definition. The second theory, racism causes lack of education or ability, must therefore be true.

Suppose it is. Let none of us question egalitarianism! To emphasize, we are supposing as true all are equal and that racism (inside or outside the test environment) has caused people of color to score less well. But then enters a new problem. The knowledge contained in the test questions were deemed important for teachers and students to know.

The test was used to measure teaching ability. But the scores showed that people of color are less able to teach. Egalitarianism demands that this not be so, and therefore racism and not differing ability must be the reason. Teachers of all races have equal teaching ability (in distribution) by definition. Since racism cannot be eliminated, the only possible solution is to eliminate the test. A judge so ordered.

Remember we are granting racism. Racism really did, we say, cause the disparity. Only a racist could deny this! Even so, eliminating the test cannot eliminate the disparity. It can only hide it. That means teachers unable to do their job are being put in front of kids. It is true that these teachers are not inept because of their own lack, but because of racism, but regardless, they are still inept.

We have finally reached the point where I prove the contention which opened this article. Ineptness is intolerable. Egalitarianism won’t stand for this kind of language. (I’m willing to bet some of you cringed when reading this technical word.)

So the real and final solution is to argue the test was never that important after all. The material was not necessary for teachers or students to know. Standards are overrated. The news report said “the burden shifted to New York to prove that [the test] measured skills that were essential for teachers and therefore was justified in having a racially unequal outcome…District Judge Kimba Wood said the state hadn’t met that burden.” (Wood was a Reagan appointee.)

Elitism chipped away, brick by brick. Readers (able to pass the sample test linked to) will recognize this is only one of thousands of instances of the decline of excellence. Standards are removed for women in the military, for women in fire departments, for college students, for married people, for policing; science, art, music, literature, everywhere. Chip, chip, chip.

Solution? Remove egalitarianism. But that can’t happen until egalitarianism’s final “victory”.

Update Best of class? In Dublin, [Ohio] 222 grads tie. “Roughly 20 percent of all graduating seniors at Dublin’s three high schools were awarded valedictorian status.”


  1. Judge Wood got this one exactly right:

    Instead of beginning with ascertaining the job tasks of New York teachers, the two LAST examinations began with the premise that all New York teachers should be required to demonstrate an understanding of the liberal arts.

    Assuming that all NY teachers should have been inculcated with a broad understanding of the liberal arts is a theory, on the same level that “diversity is good”. In fact, if there is going to be a test, the test should have been criterion-referenced just as Judge Wood decided. Not only is she right on the merits, she’s also right on the law (Griggs v Duke Power).

    Effective teaching, like psychotherapy (see Dodo Bird Verdict), is a talent, an art, that cannot now and never will be conferred by college professors.

    On the other hand, your observations about disparate impact and “egalitarianism” are spot on.

  2. I have often noted that the use of translators for Spanish speaking people in America clearly says these people are too stupid to learn English. Yet somehow, that is thought of as compassionate and not racist. It’s evil and demeaning is what it is.

    This is an attempt to make permanent, needy, helpless “victims” so the leaders can own them and treat them as badly as they wish. Seriously, as long as some liberal says they care, a person can live in squalor and still believe the liberal cares.

    So much for caring about valedictorian status. I suspect older employers will automatically trash resumes with that noted, realizing these are coddled, spoiled, uneducated persons who will make lousy employees.

    The only possible outcome from this is massive deaths in medicine, law enforcement, highways, etc. When your doctor feels good about himself, that’s wonderful. The fact that he cannot tell flu from anthrax, that’s a problem. The driver veering toward you across the center line felt good about his driving abilities even if he couldn’t pass the driving test without severe watering down. I feel very sorry for those who will be forced to live through this mess. Egalitarianism is a cruel, cruel belief used to hurt people so a few can be in power. For those who follow it, my sympathy to your children and grandchildren, and yes, your parent(s) did indeed cause this in the name of fairness. Sorry your life will be so deplorable because of it.

  3. Scotian

    G. B.
    I see why a criterion referenced (an odd name) method is useful for the general driving licence since the number of drivers is open ended. However, the number of teaching positions is limited and thus I don’t see the comparison. What method does the judge think should be used in hiring? Some sort of quota system and lottery? Also shouldn’t the same criteria be used in assessing the judge’s decision? That is, shouldn’t evidence be supplied that the legal decision does not adversely affect the teaching profession, since this is demanded of others? Clearly too much power has been given to judges. Here is another example of legal overreach in the education system.

  4. David in Cal

    IMHO, eliminating these tests actually hurts poor blacks. Why? The black teachers, who are less qualified, on average, tend to teach poor black students at a greater rate than non-black teachers do. Poor black students wind up with worse than average teachers. Sadly, poor black parents are often not able to teach their children what a deficient teacher fails to teach. Thus, the erosion of standards works especial hardship on poor black children.

  5. Scotian

    I love it Briggs! When I teach like that the students get the vapours. I’ve always claimed that if you want to know what works in education check out the military. Methods, not necessarily subject matter.

  6. John B()

    The judge probably got 8 and 9 wrong

    Concerning question 3, entirely homophobic because it concerns “straight relationships”, The answer should be A), the Pizza joint that would not cater a gmarriage.

    Question 4 is a “Denier” question since it’s premise is totally wrong: “Many systems in the living and physical worlds have mechanisms that use feedback to help maintain equilibrium”

    Question 5 is definitely racist

    Question 11 is a “denier” question since there were no droughts in the past that resulted in Climate Refugees

    I got 13 wrong

    Question 14 is where Freddy Prinz ripped off “Puerto Rican Jew”

    Objective 17 and 19?
    Question 17 and 18? could be rewritten as a 50-year update to JFK speech.

  7. Scotian: two points..

    First, selecting based on aptitude is even more important when the slots are limited, assuming a meritocracy. Since not all can be accommodated, if the goal is to maximize productivity, go with the best first. Ask the selection committees at Oxbridge. It’s the inverse of a socialist view of individuals as interchangeable parts.

    Second, it’s not Judge Woods’ job to determine the selection method, thank heavens. We have entirely too many of that kind of judge in America as it is. It’s her job to interpret the law, and the law is clear (viz., Griggs v…).

    Perhaps the reason that the state did not present compelling evidence that knowledge of liberal arts subjects is a predictor of teaching ability is because there is no such evidence. I’d be surprised if they can even define “teaching” in a way that doesn’t offend the unions with the notion of teacher evaluation (and dismissal) based on student achievement, much less determine how to predict it.

    Having said that,

  8. 🙂

    Having said that, I completely agree with Briggs’ point about adverse impact.

  9. I haven’t looked at the questions, but it seems there’s a basic fallacy in the egalitarianism argument–assuming everyone of a group is exactly at the mean, rather than knowing that some individuals will be better, some worse, some exceptionally better, some exceptionally worse. Why isn’t the egalitarian argument applied to professional sports, with a quota of short pale men on each pro basketball team. Why don’t we celebrate Larry Bird as an argument for exceptionalism and note that in track and field, the pigmentation sorts out by distance?

  10. Ray

    “Standards are removed for women in the military”
    Expecting women to meet the same physical standards is sexist. The women that took the Army ranger course were given 3 chances to pass, unlike the men who only got 1.

  11. PS–my wife, who refuses to do any math more difficult than 2+3=5, answered the question correctly. She thinks the difficulty of people answering the question correctly is due to the awkward wording of the question, that is to say the difficulty is not one of logical analysis or math ability, but reading ability. And that may arise from a poor education, not an innate lack.

  12. John B()


    I remember when “Pat Paulsen” tried to “level” the playing field in basketball for short white guys by lowering the basket to where he could dunk the ball.

    First he demonstrated the system without anyone else on court.

    Then (I believe) he went up against Wilt Chamberlain. Pat had forgotten about ball handling (no pun intended).

  13. Scotian

    G. B.
    The judge appears to have ruled against your first point.
    Second point: the law is an ass. Also precedent is not the same as law.

    I’m not sure what you mean by liberal arts subjects. Do these exist anymore? You seem to be saying that it is not appropriate to test for knowledge of the subject matter that is taught because it is a separate skill from teaching technique. Surely both are required. The subject knowledge should be tested first for the simple reason that this is the easiest to do. The other is tested during supervised practice teaching and during a probationary period on the job. I would also claim that subject knowledge is the rate limiting step as you cannot teach what you do not know and it is easier to pick up technique on the job than depth of knowledge. It must be acknowledged that there are those who can never face a class but they will wash out quickly.

  14. Johan

    Answer D in your lengthy quote had me confused, until I looked up the original
    The speed at which sound and
    light travel varies proportionately
    with the distance they travel.

    So, the deeper question is, why didn’t anyone else notice this?

  15. The “Puerto Rican Jew” wasn’t Chico and the Man’s Chico. He was Welcome Back Kotter’s Sweathog Juan Epstein.

  16. joeclark77

    I think it’s racist because… something about not using the metric system? Hispanics and blacks, as higher evolutionary forms of man, are fully gone over to the metric system. Therefore, posing a question that uses the archaic concepts of “seconds” and “miles” is obviously just a gimme to low-brow whites (especially conservatives) who haven’t gotten with the program yet. QED.

  17. Scotian: I’m not defining liberal arts subjects because I’m responding to the published reports on the matter. I don’t propose to attempt that definition in a comment thread, thank you. As to whether they exist, of course they do. Whether they are taught? A different question, amigo. And I would say that in most American undergraduate programs, the answer is no.

    If I “seem” to be saying that it’s not appropriate to test the subject matter to be taught, you can only say it “seems” that way because I did not say that. Of course it’s “appropriate”.

    But yes, knowledge of subject matter most certainly is separate from the ability to teach that subject. Argumentum ad absurdum, I doubt Stephen Hawking could teach 7th grade science very well. Subject matter expertise is necessary, but not sufficient. As you say, both are required. You can test for one, but the other is a bit more slippery.

    ” It must be acknowledged that there are those who can never face a class but they will wash out quickly.” I do not acknowledge that is the case in this country, Sir, and it especially not the case in deep blue states like New York. And that is at least partially why NY state was attempting to rely on a screening test.

    And yes, the law can be an ass Mr Bumble, but the alternative… much worse than an ass and more like a viper. And I can assure you one thing, a US District Court judge is in no position to overrule the SCOTUS. Judge Kimba Wood did her Constitutionally-mandated job and did it well.

  18. Sengendragon

    Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

    We’ve been living out the logical consequences of 1789 ever since.

  19. The question is a measure of reading comprehension. It’s not a measure of scientific knowledge. More than one answer in the multiple choice is correct scientifically. (One question is too vague to know whether it is correct or not.)

    So let’s say you have excellent scientific knowledge. The position you’re applying for is to teach science. You are also an excellent motivational teacher. (Something the test can’t measure.) If you’ve spent most of your life learning what you’re interested in, which is science, and as a result your English skills are below par, because you didn’t pay much attention to Emily Bronte, John Keats or the Catcher in the Rye — maybe you thought that was all nonsense — you’re less likely to do well on that question perhaps. I suppose it comes down to what you’re tying to test. All the (imported) Asian students in my school, back in the day, were brilliant at all things scientific and mathematical, but they did very poorly in anything English language related.

  20. John B()


    Re: Puerto Rican Jew

    It was part of Freddy Prinze’s standup act
    not Chico and the Man

  21. Will: I agree completely. I have a degree in science and in reading the questions, I had a difficult time deciding which answer was “correct”. It depended on how I read the questions. Perhaps the problem with the test is it is too vague or not measuring what it is supposed to.

    I also agree you cannot teach people to teach. Only those who really love to teach and have the ability to get their ideas across make good teachers. You can’t test for it either. There are people who always see the best in kids and that seems to bring out the best in the kids. Others want to see the best, but the kids know it’s fake. I am always amazed how a person can help kids learn by simply loving what they are teaching and believing that the kids will pick up on this. I’m not one of those and I know it. I truly admire those who are excellent teachers.

  22. Opps. I missed two questions (without the essays), I’ll have to stop reading this blog. by the way: Awe come on = -1/e**11 (sorry couldn’t get the superscript to work in the transfer here.)

  23. Briggs


    It was a mistake. I hit the wrong button. The post you tried to comment on will appear tomorrow. I can’t recall the emails, however.

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