How to Field the Strongest Team

Robert L.Taylor

October 29, 1990|By Robert L. Taylor

EVEN A HASTY glance at the varsity teams in any American university or any American high school will demonstrate that a disproportionate number of the basketball players are black and an equally disproportionate part of the ice hockey team is white, and that no steps are contemplated to correct those disproportions.

The imbalance exists in the first place and is acquiesced in the second for an excellent reason: Blacks in general play better basketball than whites and whites play better hockey than blacks; and since a school's coaches are chosen with the intention of fielding the strongest possible team, the players are picked entirely on the basis of ability, without consideration of race.

The intention is to field the strongest possible team. How long has it been since the faculty in an American school has been chosen to field the strongest possible team? In some instances, it is chosen to achieve a mathematically precise racial and ethnic balance, quite heedless of the intrinsic talents of the candidates; in others, to assure a requisite number of teachers with masters degrees in education from sociologically acceptable sources, equally heedless of the sad reality that many M. Ed. holders know everything conceivable about education except how to teach.

Here especially the comparison with hockey is apposite. Would an Olympic coach choose a player because of the distinguished provenance of his physical education degree, or because he played hockey well? What can we expect of an educational system in which we choose a goalie more rationally than we choose a principal? If racial quotas are the way to go, why don't we go that way in sports?

Our students are ignorant, but they are not stupid. When their teachers are chosen so ignorantly and so perversely, they understandably conclude that excellence of education is not important to those who are making those choices. They are not sharpened to strive for excellence themselves, since excellence is clearly not regarded as of first importance.

All quotas are abhorrent to excellence; and that includes exclusionist as well as inclusionist quotas. When the Vienna Philharmonic plays the Radetsky March each New Year's Day with its flagrantly all-male personnel, the sheer improbability that there does not exist in the entire Vienna Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area one woman instrumentalist superior to some of the men who saw apathetically away makes it evident that the first concern of the administration is not the excellence of the performance but the subordination of women -- a kind of sexual apartheid.

And who looks on benignly at this exclusion is old Mr. Benignity himself, Walter Cronkite, perfectly willing to compromise with apartheid if it is perpetrated in a sufficiently gemuetlich way.

To say that there will never be enough minority teachers who can meet strict standards is the most despondently racist statement that one can possibly make. Yet that is precisely the statement that one does make in setting up a quota system for the teaching staff that one scorns to use for the athletic teams.

It is not impossible for blacks to qualify if strict standards are set; if they are adhered to, blacks will qualify. It is the slackening of standards to meet their supposedly inferior qualifications that does the damage.

Some years ago I taught a night school course in business-letter writing, with a final exam that required the students to write letters to cope with five problem situations.

Obviously an examination of that kind had to be graded on a subjective basis. Determined not to be influenced by my recollection of the blandishments of a pretty woman student or a sycophantic man, I would bring the blue books back to my office unread and have my secretary type out the answers on plain paper, identified only as A, B, C, etc., shuffling the books after each question so that the A answer to Problem 1 would not be written by the same person as the A answer to Problem 2. Having graded the letters blind, so to speak, I transferred the grades back to the blue books, thus discovering for the first time who had written the excellent letters, who the middling letters and who the rotten letters.

On one occasion I found that indisputably the best letter on one fiendishly tricky problem had been written by a black woman in her twenties with no particular administrative experience.

What purpose would have been served had I made all the questions easy and resolved to hand out at least one gratuitous A to a black student? This young woman's considerable achievement would have been wiped out.

I am very glad that I graded that examination as I would have staffed a hockey team -- by setting a high standard and sticking to it impartially. And if we genuinely want superior education we had better apply that standard to our educational establishment.

Mr. Taylor is a retired bank executive.

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