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Kagan was right on social promotion

Yesterday's curtain-raiser on the Supreme Court nomination hearings that start today for Elena Kagan held an interesting nugget. When she was deputy director for domestic policy under President Clinton, Kagan favored a policy that would prohibit social promotion in schools. This was cited in the story as a case of insensitivity on racial matters. Baloney. Kagan was right.

Social promotion is a well-meaning but flawed policy. The idea is to keep students with their peer group even if their academic achievement doesn't warrant passing to the next grade. Christopher Edley, who worked in the White House with Kagan, is noted in The Post's story for opposing a social promotion ban because research had shown that it would be counterproductive for poor, minority students.

So, stroking the self-esteem of children trumps ensuring that said children are properly educated. What ends up happening is that schools pump out class upon class of ill-prepared students who can neither read nor write at grade level. That is, if they don't drop out first. And they soon learn that world that cares more about their ability to produce than their self-esteem.

I doubt this issue will come up at Kagan's hearings. But if it does, I'll have her back on this one.

By Jonathan Capehart  | June 28, 2010; 12:22 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Something I can agree with you on. All this coddling feel good stuff is just a fantasy and leaves people ill prepared for the real world.

Posted by: Pilot1 | June 28, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Capehart, you write "Social promotion is a well-meaning but flawed policy." I would argue substituting "affirmative action" for "social promotion" in that assertion as well.

The two issues differ in complexity and scope but leaving aside a philosophical defense of AA, simply evaluate AA on its effectiveness in promoting the fortunes of minority students versus its counterproductive tendency to place students in academic situations where they struggle leading to increased drop out rates are well documented.

If you reconsider your position on AA, let us know Mr. Capehart. Since you are on the left, you should not be afflicted the epistemic closure virus affecting the conservative pundits.

Posted by: bbamin | June 28, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Bbadmin is way off base in conflating AA with social promotion. Social promotion advances individuals who have not demonstrated mastery (or perhaps even competency) in their studies -- they are, to use a perhaps outdated phrase "not worthy" of promotion on merit.

Leaving aside the moral and/or ideological arguments for or against, AA simply gives a competitive advantage to qualified individuals who belong to groups that have historically been denied equal opportunity.

Posted by: Ralphinjersey | June 28, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Ralphinjersey makes a fair point and if AA policies actually meant aggressive recruitment at HBCU job fairs, special outreach to HB Sororities and Fraternities, targeted advertising and marketing efforts to the Hispanic community or any other historically excluded community, it would not be controversial and supported by most Americans.

But AA usually means overlooking or bending a standard for admission in light of historical exclusion rather than evidence of any flaw or taint to the current policies, systems and characters in the process be it employment or admission to an educational institution.

Bending that standard is akin to "individuals who have not demonstrated mastery (or perhaps even competency) in their studies". Now I don't use the term "not worthy" as I am not debating the moral or ethical dimensions of AA. Simply does bending the standard promote the fortunes of those who are intended to benefit from it or not. A simple example would be graduating with honors from George Washington Law School (admitted without AA) or being admitted to Harvard Law (admitted with AA) and dropping out.

Posted by: bbamin | June 28, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

Of course it won't come up in the hearings. The Democrats won't bring up any of her controversial opinions, and the Republicans aren't about to critize her for agreeing with them.

The real issue is why is the federal government involved in the education of America's children?

So, what exactly is the purpose of this column?

Posted by: Hazmat77 | June 29, 2010 8:01 AM | Report abuse

Social promotion is unfair to students.

Posted by: rlj1 | June 29, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse

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