Wendy Davis Opponent Getting Education Policy From a White Supremacist?

Wendy Davis (left) is running for governor against Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (right)

After unsuccessfully mansplaining equal pay for three weeks, Greg Abbott, the Republican frontrunner for Texas governor, finally changed the subject by citing the work of conservative libertarian scholar Charles Murray, a "white nationalist" who opposes universal pre-K. "Oops" doesn't quite cut it, but this is more than a simple gaffe. Using Murray's research could lead Republicans toward education policies that rely more upon eugenics than on equality.

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Murray a “white nationalist” who uses ” racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.” The difference between Murray and a cross-burning white supremacist is that his sheets have a higher thread count, and Abbott is not alone in using Murray’s discredited research. Paul Ryan cited Murray when he blamed poverty on lazy black men.

When top Republicans cite someone whose research “proves” white men are intellectually superior to women and minorities, it is probably because they agree with his conclusions. As in 2012 when Republicans kept parsing rape, citing Murray reveals an emerging conservative belief that not everyone can be educated.

This would reverse a generation of egalitarian Republican policy started by George W. Bush, who said he wanted “high standards for all our children and all our schools.” Leaving aside their miserly opposition to equitable and sufficient education funding, Republicans have tried since the 1990s to prove that they could “fix” schools that predominantly taught black and Hispanic students.

The problem is that they tried to use standardized tests to achieve this, which makes as much sense as trying to grow by measuring yourself against a wall. Hold everyone to the same standards, and they will magically achieve them, closing the achievement gap. This is proof by assertion, a “build it and they will come” trope.

We built it, but they didn’t come. Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig and Jennifer Jellison Holme at the University of Texas at Austin discovered that three factors predict—with alarming accuracy—test results and therefore school ratings: the child’s race, ethnicity and class. In fact, Dr. Vasquez found that Texas had become more segregated than before we set out to close the racial achievement gap, especially when you considered the growing population of Texans who spoke Spanish as a first language.

From this we might conclude—as many Republicans seem ready to—that certain people just aren’t “college material.” This new breed of Charles Murray-citing Republicans apparently believes that the truth is self-evident and that we are not created equal. In the face of overwhelming patterns in test scores, a belief that sufficient instruction and support can lift any mind into the light seems hopelessly naïve. We’ve tried that, they will argue, and we’ve failed.

Liberals argue that we have to address inequality, and while I agree with that, we also have to question whether we are measuring progress with the right yardstick. Maybe standardized tests that consistently demonstrate higher achievement for wealthy whites than poorer minorities prove not a disparity in innate ability but in unequal opportunity. This is exactly why we need universal pre-K, not to mention expanded access to summer school opportunities and better prenatal care. Now is the time to put out more ladders, not pull up the few we have.

And we need to stop substituting accountability for equity. As a Texas Democrat, you won’t catch me saying this often: George W. Bush was right. We need to hold everyone to the same high standards regardless of their skin color, zip code or tax bracket. There is nothing Americans cannot do if given the resources and opportunity. But we cannot measure our progress with tests that don’t tell us anything we can’t learn from the census.

The danger of justifying petty public policies by referencing the work of a racist is that taxpayers might give up on forming a more perfect union. The entrenched racial achievement gaps are not cause to forfeit this fight. The war is just, but that doesn’t mean we are fighting it the right way.

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