Coates keeps offering original thoughts!


And the Post’s Emma Brown gets it right: Can Ta-Nehisi Coates do that?

Over at the Atlantic, Coates keep presenting original subject matter! This practice virtually doesn’t exist within the guild of the modern professional “journalist.”

People, it just isn’t done! Except by a very few folk.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Coates offered posts about the so-called Moynihan Report, Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous, much maligned discussion of race from 1965. In the first of his posts, Coates presented this remarkable passage from Moynihan:

“That the Negro American has survived at all is extraordinary—a lesser people might simply have died out, as indeed others have. That the Negro community has not only survived, but in this political generation has entered national affairs as a moderate, humane, and constructive national force is the highest testament to the healing powers of the democratic ideal and the creative vitality of the Negro people. But it may not be supposed that the Negro American community has not paid a fearful price for the incredible mistreatment to which it has been subjected over the past three centuries.”

As Moynihan implies, the people in question are, on the whole, the greatest achievers in American history. It’s also true that this group has paid that “fearful price” for our brutal history, and continues to do so.

In our view, each part of that story was on display in Emma Brown’s painful, sensational report in Monday’s Washington Post. Brown described the struggles faced by valedictorians from Washington, DC high schools when they head off to competitive colleges.

Brown describes the terrible price these kids still pay in the backwash of our American history. But good God! She also does a beautiful job describing the other part of that story.

Say hello to Sache Collier, 2011 valedictorian at Ballou High, now a junior at Penn State:
BROWN (6/17/13): Collier, the 2011 valedictorian at Ballou Senior High in Southeast Washington, said the first thing she noticed when she arrived at Penn State University was how intently her fellow students paid attention during class.

“It was like, ‘Wow, everyone’s on the same page and everyone wants to learn,’ ” Collier said. “At Ballou, it wasn’t like that at all. I was always trying to get the students quiet.”

Collier had been a star at Ballou, where fewer than one-quarter of students are proficient in math and reading. But she said that her classes largely dealt with the basics: summarizing story plots, for example, and learning how to write complete and grammatically correct sentences.

Only in her senior year, in an advanced English course, did a teacher challenge her to think more deeply. “I feel like it was too late,” said Collier, who took two of the three AP classes she said were available to her at Ballou. “It just wasn’t enough to have that kind of teacher for one year.”

In her first semester at Penn State, Collier took seminars in which professors asked her to synthesize ideas, develop arguments and do original research. It was new to her.

“We had to go into the library all the time and research articles and really, really write,” Collier said. “It was difficult for me because I hadn’t done that in high school. I didn’t have to write a lot. I didn’t really research anything.”

The 2.1 grade-point average she earned that first semester devastated her. She visited writing tutors, talked to librarians and sought out professors during office hours. Now a rising junior, her GPA is 3.38.

“I’m not the type of person to give up,” Collier said.

We thought of both parts of Moynihan’s story when we read that portrait.

Meanwhile, three cheers for Emma Brown, who did great work in this series of profiles. When Collier compares life at Penn State to life at Ballou, what she says is very painful to hear. White “progressives” are generally embarrassed to talk about race, and, to be honest, they don’t really care. They walk away from descriptions like that.

Journalist Brown, and her editors, went right out and told it.

The situation in which Collier rose is the fault of no living person. It’s the fault of our brutal history, which we rarely want to describe and which Collier is rewriting and overcoming, not being the type to give up.

We think Brown’s piece was just sensational. Coates’ work is sensational too.

Are Coates and Brown allowed to do that? We’re just asking, of course.


  1. I'll buy what Bob said, except for one quibble. I think a part of the problem is due to certain aspects of today's educational methods. Here are three examples:

    1. Bob himself has mentioned the lack of textbooks appropriate to students whose reading skills are substantially below their age and grad level. Such texts ought to be available.

    2. Disruptive students. The WaPo article says, "But motivated students said they can get lost in classrooms dominated by disruptive students or students who are years behind and struggling with the basics." I believe it's relatively difficult to eliminate disruptive students today. To take an extreme example, one of the books in the "Little House on the Prairie" series describes a (male) teacher using a horse-whip to drive away some young men who are trying to disrupt the class.* I don't recommend allowing teachers to use weapons, but IMHO teachers could use more ways to prevent disruptive students from hampering their teaching.

    3. It's too hard to get rid of bad teachers. A particular teacher, Mr. B, greatly damaged my daughter in 2nd grade. I learned later that various parents groups had fought to get Mr. B fired. Their only "success" was to get him moved away from their children's elementary school to a different school in the same system. After many years of gross incompetence, Mr. B was finally fired when it was discovered that he was a pederast and had sexually abused some of his young students. (BTW he was teaching racially mixed classes. I was told that he was molesting black boys, although he himself if white.)

    *Farmer Boy had the horse-whipping scene in the third chapter, with background on it in the first two chapters. The "slim, pale, young" teacher is taught by Almanzo's father how to handle a horsewhip so he could keep five big thugs in line. These boys, BTW, were criminal 16 or 17 year old bullies and "everyone was afraid of them. ...They boasted that no teacher could finish the winter term in that school, and no teacher ever had." It is mentioned that one of the teachers they beat "died of it later."

    1. As a teacher I'd just say, yes, at some point, "disruptive students" may have to be removed from the group for the benefit of others. But, you know, in the meanwhile, these "disruptive" ones are our students, too: real people with real needs and desires, and as a teacher, you serve them equally. (In fact, some of the "disruptive" ones may be the most creative and promising in terms of their contributions to the larger group, over time). So, what to do? Every teacher struggles with such questions all the time (well, very nearly all do). That's what makes it a challenging profession.

      Emma seems to have learned from the "disruptive" ones, and I suspect that a few of them learned from her, too.

  2. good take bob. thanks

  3. The crappy schooling Collier describes is hardly unique to predominantly African-American schools, so I don't see what it has to do with Moynihan or Ta-Nehisi's defense of him. (And Ta-Nehisi maybe ought to look beyond Moynihan's published books to his speeches, interviews and his political career before he so completely exonerates him from the racial stereotyping and bias charges against him.)

    It's largely a problem of schools in poor neighborhoods, but certainly not exclusively. I went to a large almost exclusively white suburban high school in a solidly middle class town in the Northeast, supposedly a very good one, and what Collier describes is what I encountered in most of my classes.

    I vividly remember my 12th grade English teacher who had us diagramming sentences and writing "precis" of each chapter of the simplest but heavily bowdlerized Dickens we were given to read.

    And yes, I aced them all pretty much, got into a high quality college on the basis of that-- and crashed and burned my first year because I didn't have any of those study skills, either. I managed to graduate, but just barely.

    So let's be a little careful here about attributing this sad situation to race, OK?