Category Archives: Books

“The Teacher Wars” in Paperback!


Dear readers, friends, and colleagues, 

Today my book, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, is available in paperback. I’m so grateful for how the book has been received. The hardcover debuted last September at #8 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. I was asked to speak about the book on the radio with Terry Gross and Leonard Lopate, at colleges, book festivals, union events, and in front of organizations that support tougher accountability for teachers. 

Along the way I learned so much from the debates the book sparked. My goal has never been to engage in “the teacher wars,” but to help end them. The problems we face today in child poverty, teacher training, and school segregation have their roots in history. And it is only when we understand the past that we can effectively struggle to transcend it, not by blaming teachers, but by remaking public policy in order to build a diverse, intellectually engaged teaching profession. 

The New York Times called The Teacher Wars “meticulously fair and disarmingly balanced.” The New Yorker called it “engaging,” and the San Francisco Chronicle “thorough and nuanced.” But the emails I’ve received from readers have meant just as much to me. Here is one that made my day: 

“I admire your well-researched, analytical approach to controversy, shifts in policy, hysteria, and overreactions. The recommendations you suggest in the epilogue are notable for their intelligence and for being unbeholden to any union or political agenda. From a nine year veteran of public education who has experienced more than a few of the challenges you articulate, thank you. Your book is a wonderful service to those who care about understanding public education.” - Jeremy Blaustein

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the paperback, and if you enjoy it, that you’ll recommend it to others. 


On Giving Away the Ending

IMG_0879Half way through “Among the Ten Thousand Things,” a superbly written novel of middle-aged infidelity, author Julia Pierpont fast-forwards several decades and reveals what has happened to each of the central characters. This takes place in a 12-page interlude, after which the narrative picks up where it had left off. Justifying this breach of structural convention, Pierpont writes, “The end is never a surprise. People say, Don’t tell me, Don’t spoil it, and then later they say, If I’d only known.”

The drama in the first half of the book concerns whether Deb, a college dance teacher and former professional ballerina, will leave her long-philandering husband, Jack, an artist. Their two children have become aware of Jack’s affair with a young sycophant, something Deb had known about for months, but had convinced herself she could get over. Now she is forced to decide whether teaching her children about the value of commitment and self-worth and dignity is worth disrupting her own comfortable life.

The fast-forward answers the question of whether Deb and Jack stay married. And for me, it presented a problem. After reading it, I lost interest in finishing the book. I put it down and didn’t pick it up again for over a week.

I’m glad I did, because it is a pleasure to read Pierpont. She is strongest and most cutting when in the milieus of Jack and Deb’s work. One of my favorite sequences takes place in the second half of the book, when Jack visits an Arizona college that has commissioned a sculpture from him. Forced to attend a dingy reception in his honor with grad students and faculty, Jack knows, “A reception was an evaluation he hadn’t wanted, his career laid out in rows of weak, sweet supermarket wine, prepoured a third of the way, his worth measured in cheapie plastic cups on a tablecloth made of hospital gown…He neighed every time, on cue.”

Yet the majority of the latter portion of the novel, after the fast-forward, takes place in coastal Rhode Island, where Deb and the children have escaped Jack’s perfidy to a rundown vacation home. Deb is ostensibly deciding whether to stay with Jack, but we, the readers, already know the choice she will make. These scenes, though expertly crafted, were too familiar: teenage Simon’s assignations with a lunch counter waitress, 11-year old Kay’s anger at her warring parents, Deb’s flirtation with her husband’s friend. This is the stuff of ten thousand other bourgeois narratives. I missed the sharpness of the scenes that took place in New York City, shaded by unrealized artistic ambition. In her twenties, Deb had been a corps member with the City Ballet, never ascending to soloist, and had used her first pregnancy as a way to gracefully let go of the career she had prepared for since childhood. Now, teaching a group of Barnard undergraduate dancers, she is wary: “To encourage them would feel like a lie, because really, she didn’t approve, wanted to whisper in their ears: Quit now. Better off spending time in economics or history, pre-med, pre-law, pre-anything. To watch them try depressed her.”

Unlike Deb, Jack seems to be an original and uniquely talented (though not totally successful) artist, which is one reason why Deb fell for him. Her struggle is realizing, as Pierpont memorably puts it, that how good someone is at admirable work does not necessarily correspond with how good they are as a human being — how worth loving and sacrificing for. This tension between admiration and commitment propels the plot, so while I admire Pierpont’s audacity in “giving away” the ending halfway through, I can’t ultimately support it. The book’s strongest themes recede in its second half and give way to a far less fascinating story.

On My Favorite Books, and the Similarities Between Journalism and Teaching

Thanks to Kaylen Ralph of The Riveter for asking me some really thought-provoking questions in our interview about The Teacher Wars.

You come from a family of pubic school educators. Did you ever consider becoming one yourself? How did you end up in journalism?

I’ve known since I was a very little girl that I wanted to be a writer, and since about third grade that I wanted to be a journalist. My parents subscribed to The New York Times and Newsweek, and my heroines were the female op-ed columnists of the 1990s, like Anna Quindlen. My path into the profession was fairly typical. I worked on my high school and college newspapers, did internships in daily journalism and magazines, and then moved to Washington, D.C. after graduation and worked at a small political magazine, The American Prospect. I learned so much at the Prospect, working alongside Ezra Klein, Ann Friedman, Adam Serwer, and a lot of other writers and editors I am still proud to call friends and colleagues. We were really idealistic about doing political journalism that was as much about policy and big ideas as it was about personalities.

Who are some education reporters you admire? I’m thinking of Athelia Knight’s Pulitzer-nominated series about life in McKinley High School from 1987. Who inspired you while you were training as a journalist?

When I first started reporting on education at the Prospect, in 2007, I read The Children in Room E4 by Susan Eaton. It’s a fabulous book that combines journalism, legal writing, and history to explain how school segregation impacts real kids in Hartford.

The Big Test is an intellectual and cultural history of the SAT by Nicholas Lemann, which also tackles the contemporary debate over how standardized test scores should be used in college admissions. Lemann is a journalist who writes fantastically compelling narrative history featuring real people. He was someone I thought about a lot as I wrote my own book. What he also does really well is situate education within American politics and culture. I tried to do that in The Teacher Wars. The school reform debate can become consumed in minutae, and it’s always a challenge to remember to zoom out. Schools are social institutions within larger economic and political systems.

Just as teachers aren’t paid enough, many would argue that journalists aren’t, either. Do you think there’s a connection between the two roles? Why are they both undervalued?

I am very lucky, as a journalist, to feel fairly compensated for my work at this point in my career. Though I do admit in the book that my first full-time job in journalism paid $21,000–less than an entry-level teacher earns! I was lucky to come from an upper middle-class family and to not have student loans. So I could afford to work for very little, at least for awhile.

The downward pressure on journalists’ pay is driven by technological change and the collapse of the advertising-driven profit model that has sustained the industry since the 19th century. So far, stagnant teacher pay has been driven by different forces, such as austerity policies in the public sector, and also by pay scales and ladders that require people to work for many decades before reaching a decent salary.

Some people believe, or even hope, that technology will exercise a similar pressure on teaching, by making online learning more viable, requiring fewer teachers, and then causing more competition and allowing for higher teacher pay. I’m skeptical because I think, ultimately, parents will demand real live teachers for their real live children. People used to think the television and the VHS would transform public education. They did not.

I feel optimistic about both journalism and teaching. In a way, they are both service professions aimed at creating a more knowledgeable public. The world keeps getting more complex and the technology for disseminating information keeps improving. This is good for both education and journalism. Both jobs require smart people–teachers and journalists–to analyze and translate all this information.

Taken at face value, the title of your book has connotations of internal strife amongst teachers…do you think this is a problem? Do teachers have a “we’re in this together” outlook outside of their union?

The title is certainly open to interpretation. My way of thinking about The Teacher Wars is that we’ve always been debating, arguing, and fighting about the role of teachers in American public life, dating back to the birth of our common schools system in about 1830. There is not one war with two sides. It’s a melee! And everyone is drafted in this battle, from teachers to parents to politicians to social scientists to students themselves.

Read the whole interview.

Jacob Riis, School Reformer

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Essex Market School, the East Side. By Jacob Riis, ca. 1888-1895.

I just caught this poignant essay at the New York Times about How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis' 1890 exposé of day-to-day life in New York City tenements. Bill de Blasio mentioned Riis during his inaugural address, and the book — which depicted urban squalor through vivid, flash photography (a new technology at the time) — is credited with sparking the movement toward modern sanitation laws and housing regulations. 

What's less well known is that Riis' exploration of poverty in New York City turned him into an education reformer — one who sounded a whole lot like today's teacher accountability hawks. His follow-up to How the Other Half Lives was a volume called The Children of the Poor. Here's a litte excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Teacher Wars (Doubleday, Sept. 2014), about the familiar arguent Riis made in that book:

Riis acknowledged the systemic constraints on immigrant children’s lives. The United States lacked strong anti-child labor laws and relied mostly on overextended local charities, many with a proselytizing religious mission, to provide the poor with health care and jobs training. There was no public support for sanitary affordable housing and far too little government funding for truant officers who were supposed to encourage child workers to enroll in school. (In New York City, Riis found that a paltry 12 officers were responsible for tracking 50,000 absent children between the ages of 5 and 14, many of them homeless.) Nevertheless, like today’s accountably reformers, Riis considered teachers the determining factor in whether a child escaped poverty. He wrote that schools are “our chief defense against the tenement and the flood of ignorance with which it would swamp us. … it is the personal influence of the teacher that counts for most in dealing with the child. It follows it into the home, and often through life to the second and third generation, smoothing the way of sorrow and hardship with counsel and aid in a hundred ways.” 

Are American Schools Anti-Intellectual?

Over at The Daily Beast, I review Amanda Ripley's new book, The Smartest Kids in the World, which reports on why schools in Poland, Finland, and South Korea are out-performing American schools:

For all our national hand-wringing about standardized testing and teacher tenure, many of us immersed in the American education debate can’t escape the nagging suspicion that something else—something cultural, something nearly intangible—is holding back our school system. In 1962, historian Richard Hofstadter famously dubbed it “anti-intellectualism in American life.”

“A host of educational problems has arisen from indifference,” he wrote, “underpaid teachers, overcrowded classrooms, double-schedule schools, broken-down school buildings, inadequate facilities and a number of other failings that come from something else—the cult of athleticism, marching bands, high-school drum majorettes, ethnic ghetto schools, de-intellectualized curricula, the failure to educate in serious subjects, the neglect of academically gifted children.”

It would be comforting to think that since Hofstadter’s time a string of national reform initiatives—A Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Common Core—has addressed these issues. And though there has been some progress on the margins, journalist Amanda Ripley is here with a riveting new book, The Smartest Kids in the World, to show us exactly why, compared with many of their peers in Europe and Asia, American students are still performing below the mark.

Read the whole piece.

The New New Fatherhood

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 2.33.45 PMThe old "New Fatherhood" was about mainstream, middle-class American men redefining masculinity to encompass spending more time talking to, playing with, and caring for children. Today at the Daily Beast, I write about the New New Fatherhood, as depicted by the sociologists Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson in their important book Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner CityThe study is a follow-up to one of the books I recommend most often: Edin's Promises I Can Keep, which pretty much demolished the myth of the "welfare mom."

The new book questions the stereotype of the "deadbeat dad." It describes how low-income fathers love and yearn to spend time with their children. But instead of seeing "quality time" as an add-on to the traditional expectation of the father as provider — as in the New Fatherhood ideal — single dads in economically depressed neighborhoods have argued that quality time and emotional connection are a fair substitute for earning and contributing financially to a child's core needs. This is the New New Fatherhood.

I write:

"The problem with this vision of 'doing the best I can' is that it really isn’t good enough. It leaves all the most difficult responsibilities of parenthood, financial and disciplinary, up to mothers. Edin and Nelson conclude that 'lower-class fathers have tried to bargain for a wholesale reversal of gender roles,' in which dads are the 'soft,' emotional parents and moms are the tough, pragmatic ones. If this were true, however—if poor fathers were becoming traditional “moms”—they would be living with their children and performing all the domestic labor involved with their care and feeding. This, of course, is not the case. In Edin and Nelson’s study, the vast majority of single dads are noncustodial parents and seem to prize buying their children ice cream or watching TV with them—the fun stuff—over helping with homework or taking them to doctor’s appointments.

Make no mistake: this isn’t only a poor-people’s problem."

Read the whole piece.

The Woman Upstairs and the Pedagogy of Love

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 11.36.40 AMLike, I think, a lot of women readers, I have lately been discomfited by Nora Eldridge, the protagonist of Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs. Nora is pushing 40, single, and childless. She has several close friends, throws fun birthday parties, and makes “serious” art in her spare bedroom. She is also a devoted caretaker of her elderly relatives, and quite good, even excellent, at her elementary school teaching job. Nevertheless, Nora’s placid life is disturbed, from the inside out, when she becomes obsessed with the Shahid family, an artistic, intellectual couple and their precocious young son, who is in Nora’s third-grade class. The Shahids represent for Nora all she has missed out on: marriage, motherhood, and a career in the arts. She stews in a jealous rage toward these people, even as she attempts to attach herself to them; to vicariously experience a life so much richer and more satisfying, the book tells us, than her own.

What’s so bad about Nora? It’s not, as some reviewers have implied, that she is unlikeable in a way female characters ought not to be. The problem is that Nora is a stereotype. Messud has written her as a minimally-updated (Nora has a job, after all, and a sex life) version of a nineteenth century Old Maid: a caricature made nearly revolting by her alone-ness; a sort of leech on the breast of (re)productive womanhood. This is perhaps most deeply, disturbingly felt in a scene in which Nora, with only a moment’s hesitation, crawls into bed to cuddle with 8-year old Reza Shahid, acting “so like his mother,” almost leeringly enjoying the affection of another woman’s “beautiful” child.

Perhaps these characterizations bothered me all the more because Nora is a public school teacher. The founding thinkers of the American Common Schools movement, Horace Mann and Catharine Beecher, explicitly conceived of teaching as a job for spinsters. Teaching could ease the stigma of being unwed. It allowed single women to “homemake” inside the classroom, caring for children, just as the Calvinist God supposedly predestined all women to do. Historians call this the “pedagogy of love”—the idea that it is more important for female teachers to act as surrogate mothers to their students than it is for them to actually impart academic knowledge. Of course, many great teachers are warm and caring. But the sexist assumptions behind the pedagogy of love are so problematic—they have been such a barrier to rigorous public education, and to the professionalization of teaching—that it is disturbing to see these ideas reproduced so unquestioningly in the novel. Beneath her carefully cultivated professionalism, Mrs. Eldrige, it turns out, is really just a frustrated, barren woman.

And Messud traffics in another outdated 19th century conception of the female teacher: that she is good at her job because she is, herself, childlike. We know from Nora’s first-person narration that she considers herself stuck in the “dutiful daughter” stage of life; she is consumed by her own housewife mother’s disappointments and expectations, and more interested in deciphering her parents’ marriage than in taking the risk of being in a long-term relationship herself. In a weird inversion of reality, Nora had left a high-paid, jet-setting consulting job—money and prestige hadn’t mattered to her—to study art and then become a teacher. (In real life, of course, people do Teach for America and then go work for Goldman Sachs or McKinsey, rarely the other way around.) When a mother of one of Nora’s students “says that I get kids, part of me puffs up like a peacock, but another part thinks she is calling me crazy. Or that, at the very least, she’s separating me from the tribe of the fully adult. And this, in turn, will explain…why I don’t have children of my own.” Nora confirms the thesis. “I’m like the children,” she admits. “My motivations and my reasons aren’t always clear.”  

Irrational, unpredictable — even obsessed and crazy, under a surface of stable independence. That is Messud’s vision of the single, childless woman. It made me sad and scared and angry. Sad for Nora. Scared to ever become like her. And angry on behalf of all the single women leading impressive and rewarding lives, who have to confront these stereotypes day in and day out, and who might expect something richer, and more unexpected, from one of our leading novelists.

In Defense of Daisy

DaisyAh, Daisy — the glamorous, self-absorbed cipher at the center of The Great Gatsby. She has come in for a lot of hate from critics of the book and film. Richard Brody judges actress Carey Mulligan "overmatched by the part." Ester Bloom says Daisy is "a drip." Critisizing Fitzgerald's novel, Kathryn Schulz argues the Daisy/Gatsby/Tom love triangle is "psychologically vacant." She accuses the author of making a "travesty of his female characters–single parenthesis every one, thoughtless and thin," thus ignoring the vibrant women's movement of the 1920s. 

I don't think so. Daisy isn't awful, she is trapped and scared — and that is how Mulligan plays her, timidly. Raised a debutante in Louisville, she is expected to marry as a teenager, and she does, to the alcoholic, racist, chronically unfaithful Tom Buchanan. Daisy hasn't had the chance to go to college, or travel the world in the army, as the male characters have. She has a baby before she becomes an adult, and thus is hardly prepared to be an attentive mother. If there are opportunities out there for Daisy to live a more exciting, fulfilling life, she is only dimly aware of them. Is it any wonder she idealizes her first, adolescent romance, with a sweet young officer? Her brief affair with Gatsy is probably one of the only things Daisy has ever done fully by choice. Look at her wrists, bound by diamond cuffs. She is shackled by her own privilege. When she finds out her newborn is a girl, she can only hope the child will turn out to be "a beautiful little fool." Why? Because Daisy is smart enough to know how awful her predicament is, as an old money daughter and wife with few culturally acceptable options for independence. It would be easier, she thinks, if her own daughter could be simple-mided; if she could accept the role she was born into without coming to understand its severe unfairness. There's a reason why, in the film, director Baz Luhrman keeps drawing our attention to Daisy's massive diamond engagement ring. She has been acquired by Tom and is weighed down by men's expectations for her. Even Gatsby is in love with a chimera Daisy more than the real woman; as he tells Nick toward the end of the book/film, he wants her because she has always been "a nice girl;" the kind of girl who could help him his advance his climb from poverty into the upper class. 

Some of the most powerful feminist depictions in art are the ones that show us how bleak life was for women before feminism, or for women who couldn't or didn't embrace feminist ideas. (Think: Anna from Anna Karenina or Lily Bart from House of Mirth. Even Betty from "Mad Men.") By design, all the characters in The Great Gatsby, male or female, are sketches; archetypes of the most cynical, materialistic slice of a cynical, materialistic, lost generation. Nick Carraway could be any Ivy Leaguer with writerly pretentions who gets a job on Wall Street. But I've always found Jordan, Nick's unrealized love interest and Daisy's best friend, one of the more intriguing people in Gatsby. She is a golf star — a famous female athlete! Jordan, with her boyish name, is optimistic and fun-loving; unlike that pitiable, delicate flower, Daisy, Jordan has a life.

In the end, when Daisy runs away with her brutish husband, there is little question that she has made the "right" choice. Marrying a gangster who loves her for her respectability wouldn't have solved her problems. Poor Daisy. She might be a bit of "a drip," but it's not because she's bad at heart. She is the representation of every woman entrapped by beauty, wealth, and femininity. She is a tragic, utterly conventional, child bride. 

Joseph Massad’s Stunningly Ignorant Al-Jazeera Essay on Zionism and Anti-Semitism

I've been excited about Al Jazeera's expansion in the U.S. market, but this poorly-written, rambling essay by Columbia professor Joseph Massad, calling Zionists anti-Semitic, is as bad as its critics allege. Yes: The Israeli government's repeated claim to speak on behalf of all Jews, worldwide, is deeply problematic, especially given Israel's deplorable ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands. But Massad takes this observation and pads it with ignorant misreadings of history and religious belief, as well as a breezy, ahistoric, and anti-Semitic conflation of Zionism with Nazism. I have neither the time nor the inclination to rebut the piece point by point, but here are a few obvious flaws:

1. Massad claims the Jewish longing for Israel dates back only to the 18th century rise of Protestant nationalism in Europe. Hogwash. Much of the Jewish liturgy, dating back two milennia, is built around mourning for the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the hope that we will congregate in the Holy Land in a figurative "next year," returning there permanently after the coming of the Messiah.

2. Massad points out that both Zionists and Christian anti-Semites believed Jews did not belong in Europe. Does it follow that Zionists are as anti-Semitic as Nazis were, as Massad shockingly claims? Of course not. Many disempowered people have created separatist movements. In the American context, think of black nationalism and separatism. Were Marus Garvey or Amiri Baraka adherents of the same ideology as 19th century "Back to Africa" whites, like Lyman Beecher? No. Zora Neale Hurston opposed Brown v. Board of Education, not because she felt blacks were inferior to whites and thus should attend separate schools, but because she believed integration would damage "the self-respect of my people" by forcing them to closely associate with racists. 

3. Massad writes that almost all those Jews who opposed or were skeptical of Zionism were killed during the Holocaust, leaving a monolithic group of rabidly Zionist (and also anti-Semitic?) Jews. In fact, a number of prominent Jews and Jewish organizations remained critical of Zionism after the war; Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt obviously come to mind. In his book The Crisis of Zionism, Peter Beinart discusses how organized American Jewry was actually rather slow to embrace Zionism as a central cause. Massad also asserts that "Orthodox and Reform Jews, Socialist and Communist Jews, cosmopolitan and Yiddishkeit cultural Jews" were opponents of Zionism. In fact, members of all the aforementioned groups were sometimes strongly Zionist, whether they lived in Europe, Palestine, or the United States. For example, many of the earliest Zionist Jewish settlers in Palestine came from European cities and were socialists. They created kibbutzim to reconnect Jews to the land in a communiatarian way. 

Al-Jazeera can do better.

Att. Jason Richwine: You’re Not the First Guy to (Wrongly) Believe Immigrants are Dumb

It turns out that the deliciously-named Jason Richwine, author of an anti-immigration reform paper from the Heritage Foundation, is also the author of a 2009 Harvard public policy dissertation called "IQ and Immigration Policy," which claims that because Latinos are genetically intellectually inferior to whites and Asians, their immigration to the U.S. should be tightly restricted. Richwine has also contributed to a white nationalist website called 

The human brain remains, in many crucial aspects, a mystery to science. So what is IQ? It is a measure of the capacity to learn in the linear fashion prized by Western culture, and we know that it is partially determined by genetics. Yet in the life of the average, individual human, those "innate" genes are vastly, vastly overpowered by the effects of environment: decent nutrition; an emotionally stable, vocabulary-rich home life; physically and emotionally attentive parents; good schools and teachers. Those factors tend to be in shorter supply among high-poverty populations. Claiming that such populations are genetically inferior ignores about a century of research and writing on the malleability of IQ and the proper uses of intelligence assessments.

Alfred Binet, the French psychologist who invented IQ testing, made quite clear that his exams could not draw conclusions about the difference in innate ability between two individuals from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Little has changed. In 1995, after the tempest around Charles Murray's The Bell Curve, Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman summarized what is known about intelligence, race, class, and heritability. The consensus is that IQ can help distinguish between the capacities of "within-group" individuals–for example, two upper-middle class American Jewish girls who attended good public schools and then Brown University. However:

1. IQ supremacists claim IQ is a measure of innate ability. Yet IQ tests are actually achievement exams, which, in Heckman's words, can be "manipulated by educational interventions." If a child is asked during an IQ assessment to memorize and repeat a long string of numbers, she will do a better job if she has an excellent math teacher or if her dad helps her with her math homework at night — if, in other words, she has had the opportunity to gain confidence around numbers.

2. If two race-similar individuals are compared, the person with the higher IQ will often have superior social outcomes. He is more likely to graduate high school or get a high-paying job. Yet the evidence suggests that IQ itself–as opposed to all the other social factors correlated with IQ, like parental income–is responsible for only a small fraction of this difference in achievement. Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but correlation does not imply causation. 

3. IQ is one predictor of success on the labor market, but it is not the only or even the most important factor. Social skills and work ethic are not measured by IQ, yet can be substantially improved through education and training, especially if that training is received in childhood. 

4. We know socioeconomic factors influence intelligence, but our measures of those factors are crude. For example, a nutritious diet increases cognitive function, but we don't know by exactly how much. If we get better at isolating and measuring such effects, it might turn out that genetic intelligence is even less important than we assume. 

One of the books I recommend most often is The Big Test by Nick Lemann. He shows how wave after wave of new immigrants, including white immigrants, were assumed to be innately stupid, in part because of their initial bad scores on IQ exams. This is true even of those groups, like Jews, whom we think of as "smart" today. Here Lemann writes about IQ tests given to World War I recruits, and the way the scores were intepreted by Carl Campbell Brigham, a Princeton psychologist who became an author of the SAT:

On the Army IQ tests, Nordics scored higher than Alpines, who scored higher than Mediterraneans. The test results as a whole were like a photograph of American culture, so faithfully did they reproduce the social order. Officers scored higher than enlisted men, the native-born scored higher than the foreign-born, less recent immigrants scored higher than more recent immigrants, and whites scored higher than Negroes. There were ironclad natural laws at work here, Brigham felt, and he warned that wishful thinkers who pretended otherwise were deluding themselves–writing, for example, "Our figures, then, would rather tend to disprove the popular belief that the Jew is highly intelligent." Brigham's stern conclusion was this: "American intelligence is declining, and will proceed with an accelerating rate as the racial admixture becomes more and more extensive…These are the plain, if somewhat ugly, facts that our study shows." 

The social and cognitive science has improved since then. But somehow, Richwine didn't get the memo, so we keep rehashing these noxious old arguments.

Update: Via Twitter, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross points out that in his dissertation, Richwine does discuss the Brigham research. He concludes that Brigham unfairly discriminated against certain white immigrant groups, since those groups, like Italians, now perform equally to Northern European Americans on today's more sophisticated IQ tests. This is from page 20:

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Richwine recognizes Brigham's bias toward certain white people. Yet he assumes that innate genetic traits are responsible for Latino's lower IQ scores over the past several decades, as opposed to the many socioeconomic realities described above and acknowledged as far-greater predictors of IQ. Richwine writes that since Asians are both poor and do well on IQ tests, this destroys the argument that poverty accounts for Latino's lower scores. Yet poverty is not a monolithic phenomenon. It differs culturally, across the globe, in terms of how much emphasis is put on academic learning. Ex; Until Reconstruction, it was illegal in the American south to teach black people to read. Chinese culture has emphasized success on written civil service examinations for over a millenium. Some Latino teenagers arrive in American public schools nearly illiterate in Spanish; they come from agricultural communities in countries where anything beyond an elementary education is off-limits to the very poor. Comparing Asians to Latinos is thus exactly the sort of "out-group" analysis that Heckman and Binet warned about.