Saturday, July 20, 2024

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: Neglected Considerations

Anyone planning to take affirmative action in order to ameliorate injustice should first consider that numerous handicaps, many equaling or exceeding the impact of those presently qualifying, are being ignored.

Consider the following examples, then ask: A. Should affirmative action be extended to these and similar classes of people? B. If not. why not? C. Does the abundance of overlooked and/or hidden handicaps make fair administration of affirmative action impossible to effectuate?

Physical Attractiveness

In a study entitled "What Is Beautiful Is Good," researchers from the American Psychological Association experimentally documented a phenomenon they referred to as the "physical-attractiveness stereotype." Investigators showed photographs of attractive, average, and unattractive people to university undergraduates. The students were asked to rate the people in the photos on various personality traits and behavioral tendencies, based solely on their appearance in the pictures.

The finding were that compared to unattractive people, attractive people were assumed to possess a higher number of positive traits. The students rated them confident, strong, assertive, candid, warm, honest, kind, outgoing, sensitive, poised, sociable, exciting, and nurturing (Dion, Berscheid, and Walster 1972). Startling as these results may be, the physical-attractiveness stereotype is robust. It has been replicated in several different experimental paradigms (Feingold 1992). Aristotle was right when he observed, "Personal beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of introduction."


Weight is another, often overlooked, physical characteristic associated with discrimination and unfair treatment. Research on attitudes toward overweight people has shown they are often perceived as lazy, unintelligent, slovenly, and unattractive (Grover, Keel, and Mitchell 2003). Several studies have demonstrated that such negative attitudes toward obese individuals may contribute to discrimination in the work place. Specifically, obese people are not hired as often as people of normal weight (Roe and Eickwort 1976); are less likely to be promoted (Larkin and Pines 1979); and often report being discriminated against by managers and peers (Rothblum, Brand, Miller, and Oetjen 1990).

Short Stature

Height, particularly in men, is another physical attribute associated with negative stereotypes and discrimination. A 1992 study by researchers from Michigan State University demonstrated that short men are often judged inferior to tall men in several personal attributes. People tend to judge taller men as more socially attractive, higher in professional status, more masculine, more athletically inclined, and more physically attractive than short men (Jackson and Ervin 1992). Similar studies have found that short men often experience discrimination in professional settings. For example, short job applicants are not hired as often as taller applicants (Bonuso 1983); short employees earn less, on average, than taller employees (Loh 1993); and short political candidates lose elections more often than taller candidates (Gillis 1982).

Some Of The Other Factors

Social psychological research also indicates that people with red hair are often stereotyped as "clownish" and "weird" (Heckert and Best 1997). Negative stereotyping based on language and dialect (i.e., Southern accents, ebonics) also is a common occurrence (Anisfield 1972). Additionally, children who wear brand-name clothing and shoes are judged "popular," "wealthy," and able to "fit in with their peers" compared to children who do not wear name brands (Elliot and Leonard 2004).

What does such research have to do with equity in the classroom? The answer is "Everything." If unattractive, obese, or short people, for example, experience discrimination in a broad setting, it is very likely that they experience similar discrimination in an educational setting. So shouldn't fair share educators be prepared to apply compensatory measures for any student victimized by prejudice? Why should some students qualify for fair share treatment just because their particular group has more political muscle?


Instead of focusing on skin color or other group differences, perhaps educators should embrace the character-based vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. If they have the freedom to do so and if they can overcome the natural human tendency to stereotype, perhaps they should focus on each child's individual humanity, rather than his or her race,ethnicity, or what have you. After all, in the end, isn't character, not group membership, the most important quality of all?



Tuesday, July 16, 2024


School "leaders" make a show of concern over whether or not students are prepared to "meet the expectations of the workplace." Truth is, most aren't. But not for the reasons "leadership" officially fusses about.
In reality things like a graduate's math skills, or their reading level, are of marginal concern. What really matters is making graduates ready to meet the expectations of the REAL workplace. That means educators must make sure the kids are ready for things like this:

1. Working for ever-smaller portions of the profits while corporate chieftains make ever-more  preposterous amounts of money.

2. Being discarded like 4-day-old leftovers whenever it serves 'corporate' interests.

3. Seeing the corporation's future put at risk by senior staff preoccupied with quarterly reports.

4. Seeing their jobs vanish overseas whenever it benefits the bottom line.

5. Watching their health benefits shrink or disappear.

6. Having their pension funds suddenly evaporate.

7. Being unable to take the time to pee while the CEO can pee all day long in his own bathroom.

8. Being over-supervised, but utterly uncared for.

9. Lacking the resources to do the job, but the boss gets a new helicopter.

When students are prepared for the likes the above they will, in fact, be far better prepared to "meet the expectations of the work place." Okay, not every workplace. But far too many.

Friday, July 5, 2024

RAISING A TEEN: finding that elusive balance


Raising a teen is a challenging proposition. And a prime reason is the parental tendency to overestimate how much of their control remains. Parents tend to base their judgements about that on past experience.  A past in which they had a high degree of control. But that control slips away in ways which are not always obvious. And even when they are noticed, parent's tend to underestimate the degree of loss. That can have disastrous results. Here's a tale illustrating this point.

My wife and I watched neighboring parents try to deal with their daughter's adolescence. Both rather rigid, church going conservatives, they foolishly tried to maintain the same control or her that they had when she was younger. But as they did so the girl persisted in doing things they disapproved of. They then tried even harder to enforce the rules. But, impelled by social pressure and hormonal secretions,  the girl rebelled even more. When they urged her to study more, she studied less. When they forbid her to drink she got hammered — and smoked marijuana in the bargain. When they forbade her to ever see a boy friend again. she clandestinely did so anyway. When she repeatedly phoned the same forbidden boyfriend, they confiscated her cell phone. She secretly secured another.  That the young man was African-American, she white, intensified the rebellion.

The struggle climaxed when the girl became pregnant to the very boy her parents had forbidden. Worse, the boy turned out to be abusive, punching her in the stomach upon learning she was pregnant. The girl didn't tell her parents. But she did brake off the relationship, set the cops on her abuser and secretly secure an abortion. (Something her parents also would have forbidden — had they known.)   

This control struggle produced bitterness and estrangement between parents and child. The costs of their over-zealous parenting far exceeded the benefits. Yet the parents remained relatively oblivious of the fact that modern teens have a great deal of control over their own lives. They simply couldn't grasp that the degree of control they sought was inappropriate, counter productive and well-nigh impossible to enforce. Instead they blamed modernity.

Teens from functional homes with realistic teen limits usually avoid doing things that might seriously embarrass or disappoint their parents. But this is something the adolescent, not the parent, must choose to do. Remember too, parental advice can be as unrealistic as Arab advice to rainforest dwellers about surviving sandstorms. Remember too, teens often ignore even the best parental advice. As a German proverb reminds: "Everyone knows good counsel except those that have need of it." 

Parents must keep in mind too that teen brains are incompletely developed. Cognitive development is still ongoing.  This mental immaturity, especially when accompanied by new hormonal surges, can result in risky behavior. That quite properly worries parents. But trying too hard to eliminate teen risk-taking is risky too. The trick is learning when, and how much, to loosen control. Finding that elusive balance. That's the trick. And that is much, much more difficult than properly folding a fitted sheet.