CHAUTAUQUA – Wall Street Journal opinion columnist Jason Riley is a fan of economist Thomas Sowell.
Both are articulate. Neither pulls punches.
Focusing his Aug. 8 Advocates for Balance at Chautauqua, or ABC, presentation on Sowell, Riley touched on public-charter schools in big cities, policing, voter-id. laws, school choice, and critical-race theory.
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“Today’s public-charter schools, which often have predominantly low-income black and Hispanic student bodies,” Riley said, “are not simply doing a better job than traditional-public schools with the same demographic groups. In many cases, inner-city charter students are outperforming their peers in the wealthiest and whitest suburban school districts throughout the country. In New York City, for example, the Success Academy charter schools have effectively closed the academic-achievement gap between black and white students.”
“The educational success of these charter schools undermines theories of genetic determinism, … claims of cultural bias in tests, … assertions that black students must be seated next to white students in order to learn, (and) the presumption that family-income differences explain differences in educational outcomes,” he said. Nevertheless, support for charter schools has decreased among some who have “moved sharply to the left on education.”
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“Many of today’s activists go about their business with the assumption that the only real problem facing the black underclass is white racism. A good example of this is the recent focus on policing in black communities,” Riley said. “Do racist cops exist? Absolutely. Do some cops abuse their authority? Of course. But are poorer black communities so violent because of racist cops or police brutality? And will reducing police resources improve the situation?”
“If police use of lethal force is a problem … , it is clearly a secondary problem to civilian use of lethal force against one another,” Riley said. “Young black men in Chicago, or Baltimore, or St. Louis may indeed leave the house every day worrying about getting shot, but not by a cop. Will reducing police resources really solve the problem? And is that what people who live in high-crime neighborhoods really want? Fewer police?”
Riley recalled a 2021 Minneapolis ballot measure that “would have reduced police funding, defunded the police.”
“Not only was the initiative defeated. It was most strongly opposed by black residents of high-crime areas who want more policing, not less. And the black residents of Minneapolis are not outliers here. They’re typical,” Riley said. “Efforts to defund the police are being pushed by activists and liberal elites who claim to be speaking on behalf of low-income minorities. But as the polling shows, they are mostly speaking for themselves.”
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Distinguishing the beliefs of “most blacks” from the beliefs of “most black intellectuals, most black elites,” Riley said “black intellectuals don’t represent most blacks any more than white intellectuals represent most whites. … Most blacks, for example, support voter-id. laws and school choice while most black elites … oppose those things. Conversely, most blacks oppose racial preferences in college admissions and … defunding the police, while black elites are in favor of those things.”
Citing two such people, he said, “If you think (they) represent the views of most black people, you need to get to know more black people.”
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“Think about the current debate we’re having over critical-race theory, racial propaganda in schools. These ideas were once relegated to college seminars. Now they’re entering our workplaces through diversity training, and they’re entering our elementary schools through the New York Times’s 1619 Project, which attempts to put the institution of slavery at the center of America’s founding, which is absurd. Slavery existed for thousands of years, in societies all over the world, long before the founding of the United States. More African slaves were sent to the Islamic world than were sent to the Americas. Slavery still exists today in parts of Africa,” Riley said. “What makes America unique is not slavery. It’s emancipation. It’s how fast we went from slavery to Martin Luther King to a black president. The economic and social progress of black Americans in only a few generations is something historians have described as unmatched in recorded history. That’s what distinguishes America.”
Does that mean there isn’t more work to do? Not at all, and Riley didn’t suggest otherwise.
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“These facts about slavery are well known to serious thinkers, to most historians, but where are these serious historians right now? A few have come forward,” Riley said. “But why are serious historians so afraid … The reason they are so afraid is … they will be called racist. They will be called sexist. It might damage their academic careers. They could be fired. They could be deplatformed. Social-media mobs could come after them, and so forth.”
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ABC was formed in 2018. Its mission is “to achieve a balance of speakers in a mutually civil and respectful environment consistent with the historic mission of Chautauqua” Institution. ABC is its own Section 501(c)(3) organization, legally separate from the institution.
Dr. Randy Elf’s Aug. 20, 2020, ABC presentation, on “How Political Speech Law Benefits Politicians and the Rich,” is at
COPYRIGHT ç 2022 BY RANDY ELF