A Defense of Poverty-Based Affirmative Action

Short op-ed here, with links to additional pieces at the bottom of the page.

One response to “A Defense of Poverty-Based Affirmative Action

  1. Mr. Levy makes many good points about the differential treatment by various institutions of students from poor backgrounds – I do not know about the things he mentions and assume he’s fairly stating the facts. However, it hardly follows from the fact that just “3 percent of students at our most selective colleges come from the 25 percent of families with the lowest incomes, while 72 percent come from the richest 25 percent of families.”
    It doesn’t follow unless you assume that the students from the poor families are of equal basic capability as are those of the well-off ones. And that required further premise is not very plausible. After all, a main reason why the well-off are well off is that they are capable (many of their parents rose from, relatively speaking, rags to riches, for instance, and if you go back a few generations, by far most of them did.) Mr. Levy should not be in the business of denying the fact of heredity/natural selection. It happens!

    From the further point that the children of poor families do just as well as those from wealthy ones once they get into Harvard and such, we cannot infer the unfairness he’s arguing for either. What we can infer is that the selection committees at those places have done their work well. What would Levy say if the children of the poor at elite colleges did badly? We should point with pride to the elite schools some of whose now-elite students are from poor backgrounds. That was certainly rarely so in centuries past!

    The fact is, good schools are good because they produce good students and have good faculty to make them such. If they can produce even better, or more, good students by further combing the ranks of the relatively poor [of which, by the way, I was one, and financed at the elite-enough U. of Chicago despite it], then more Hoorays! are in order.

    Why should elite schools, “Without reducing standardized test requirements, … give more credit to low-income students for having achieved at a high level despite not having the advantages of enrichment courses, internships and foreign travel”? Surely, they should give, prima facie, the same credit. Of course, potential employers who note that a given fine student came from a poor background and still “made it” might well snap him or her up, for that does argue a level of effort, persistence, or ability way above the normal.

    Whatever, we should not take his arguments as a basis for government-imposed affirmative action. Whatever such action there is should be taken by each college as they consider best. And apparently, there’s been quite a bit already. Good for them!


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