In 1993, U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan penned an essay for The American Scholar titled “Defining Deviancy Down.”
In that piece, Moynihan proffered the thesis “that over the past generation … the amount of deviant behavior in American society has increased beyond the levels the community can ‘afford to recognize’ and accordingly, we have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized.”
Addressing the poor, Moynihan pointed out that social welfare professionals had much to gain financially by re-defining deviance. That’s because “a growth in deviance makes possible a transfer of resources, including prestige to those who control deviant population. This control would be jeopardized if any serious effort were made to reduce the deviancy in question. This leads to assorted strategies for re-defining the behavior in question as not all that deviant, really.”
Failing public schools were not exempt from Moynihan’s scathing critique. “There is good money to be made,” he noted, “out of bad schools.”
To appreciate Moynihan’s thesis, one need only look to New York City’s deplorable public school system. The city spends more per student annually, approximately $25,000 than any other school district in America. (The national average spent per pupil is $10,000.)
Yet, despite all these expended tax dollars, the results have been dreadful.
A National Assessment of Education Progress study released in 2018 revealed that in 2017 “72% of eight graders were not proficient in reading and 72% were not proficient in math.”
In 2019, the overall proficiency of public school students’ grades 3 through 8, were 46.7 percent in English and 42.7 percent in math. (Compare that to the City’s 45 Success Academy Charter Schools whose student body is 94 percent black and Hispanic: 90 percent proficient in English and 99 percent proficient in math.)
But instead of admitting that City schools are failing and introducing proven programs that encourage and teach students to excel and improve outcomes, the Board of Education is attempting to define standards further downward.
The first assault was on the nine specialized high schools that require interested students to take a qualifying exam (i.e., Brooklyn Technical School, Bronx School of Science).
Insisting that not enough minorities are accepted to these “elitist” schools—even though only 25 percent of the student population is white — Mayor de Blasio and his school chancellor, Richard Carranza, wanted to abolish the test and dumb down entrance requirements.
Fortunately, the governor and the state Legislature had a say in the matter and it was quietly Dk’d.
That setback, however, has not stopped the mayor and his minions from pursuing policies that will further hinder all students, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
In late August, de Blasio’s handpicked School Diversity Advisory Group recommended that the Board of Education eliminate its “Gifted and Talented” programs and other academic screening criteria for elementary and middle schools.
The Advisory Group’s reasoning: the admission tests are “exclusionary” because only 18% of Blacks and Hispanics participate in the gifted programs.
In other words, rewarding hard work and talent is somehow “racist.” Hence, judging students based on good grades, test scores, auditions and attendance, should be abolished.
Fortunately, not everyone in public life is happy with the report.
On Sept. 4, City Councilman Robert Cornegy, an African-American, read on the steps of City Hall, a letter he co-signed with 13 other elected officials opposing the recommended admission changes: “Rather than seeing the program as unjust, or an impediment to diversity in our schools,” he said, “we see the programs as a catalyst for helping children succeed, particularly students of color.”
Earlier, he had told The Wall Street Journal, “You’re going to reinvent the wheel again? This is scary as heck for a new family. We are supposed to be dissuading these fears, not exacerbating them.”
While I can only hope that Councilman Cornegy and his confreres stop this latest assault on education standards, it will never stop de Blasio and his social justice warriors from their mission to impose their flawed ideological formulas on the City’s 1.1 million pupils.
They will not give up until standards are defined down enough to ensure all students receive an equally poor education.