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And in keeping with this version of the racial calculus, we see institution after institution eliminating or changing testing requirements, from the University of California to the Boston public school system.

The idea that this is the anti-racist thing to do is rooted in the idea that there is something in black culture that makes standardized testing inappropriate. After all, Kendi certainly doesn’t think the problem is with black genes. We also assume that no responsible person thinks these are genes, and it can’t be that all black children grow up in poverty because to say it is racist, to deny the accomplishments of so many blacks and to contradict simple statistics.

So apparently it’s about being a black person. Kendi doesn’t elaborate on what this cultural setup is, but there is reason to assume from what he and many like-minded people have writing and saying that the idea is that black people for some reason don’t think “that way”, as black thinking favors pragmatic engagement with real life demands rather than the disembodied abstraction of test questions.

But there is a small step from here to two horrible places.

One is the idea circulating in mathematics pedagogy circles that being precise, embracing abstract reasoning, and focusing on finding the real answer is “blank,” which brings us straight back to the idea that the school is “white”.

The other is the idea that black people are just not as quick to embrace as other people.

Yes, I know – multiple intelligences, “energy” and so on. Taking an abstract reasoning test is just one way of indicating intelligence, isn’t it – but people, really? I submit that few beyond a certain circle will ever truly believe that we need to destroy these tests, which were expressly designed to eliminate bias.

One of Kendi’s suggestions, for example, do we assess black children instead on how they express themselves about the situation in their neighborhood and their “desire to know”. But this is a notion dictated by educational practice, again with nuances of the idea that being a grind is “white”. I insist that it is more and more black to ask why we cannot seek black children to improve on tests, and almost phrenological to propose that it is racist to submit a black person on an abstract cognitive proficiency test.

To get more black students to the best schools, we should focus on spreading free test prep programs, as they have long existed in New York City, to black communities. We should resist the elimination of gifted pieces as “racists”, given that they sent quite a few black children to the best high schools, for example in New York at the time. Teaching black children to work together should be even more of a meme than it has become since Treisman’s study. And the idea that school is “for white people” should be traced, confronted and erased, reified and made as cold as drunk driving and smoking have been.

Man, that was a right-wing conservative masterpiece, right? Of course not. Many would consider these prescriptions unsatisfactory because they are not intended to wave a finger in the face of white America. But doing this is often quite antithetical to improving the lives of black people.

Do you have any comments? Send a note to McWhorter-newsletter@nytimes.com.

John McWhorter (@JohnHMcWhorter) is Associate Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University. He is the author of “Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever” and, most recently, “Woke Racism”, to be released in October.




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