New Education appointee. Undersecretary choice challenges civil rights establishment
Cambridge, Mass. — BY appointing highly regarded Harvard University professor of political economy Glenn Loury to be the new undersecretary of education, William Bennett and his staff are declaring that the battle of ideas in Washington is not yet over. According to government sources, this week President Reagan decided that Loury will be the appointee. If confirmed, he will replace Gary Bauer, who recently became Reagan's chief domestic policy advisor.
Dr. Loury is a black who has openly challenged the political assumptions of the civil rights establishment. While acknowledging that there is ``important work to be done'' in the areas of desegregation, equal opportunity, and voting rights, the real issues for blacks now lie in areas he says black leaders have been slow to face: teen pregnancy, lack of academic achievment, crime and murder rates among black youth, and a ``culture of poverty.''
These problems, he has written, ``can't all be blamed on `white racist America.''' Nor does he believe, 25 years after affirmative action, that lack of opportunity is the issue. ``I've said to black leaders that the civil rights movement is over. The problem today is not opportunity but the ability to take advantage of it - we have to shift the agenda. This isn't 1955 any more,'' he told the Monitor in an interview at his Harvard office. ``Higher education today is open to almost anyone who can finish high school.''
The roadblock Loury describes is a ``pathology'' in underclass black communities nurtured by an outdated civil rights political dynamic based on seeing ``blacks as victims.'' This undermines the motivation for achievement, he feels. The need is no longer for more Supreme Court rulings, black politicians, or federal policies, but for ``moral leadership'' in black communities that will, in spite of any racism, help lead blacks to what they need: ``self-esteem.'' As long as blacks ``depend on preferential treatment,'' he says, they won't experience the self-esteem that comes from ``individual achievement.''
Eminent Harvard sociologist David Riesman greatly respects Loury's views: ``He is a radical thinker - one of the first to talk about black pathology.'' Loury was pushed to the political right, says Dr. Riesman, by ``the ferocity of attacks'' on him from the liberal left.
If confirmed by the Senate, Loury will help shape education policies that reflect these views. He is a strong advocate of ``workfare,'' he told the Monitor - a mandatory education and training component of welfare reform. ``But we need to get to the children of poverty earlier,'' he says. ``By ages 4, 8, and 12. Roughly half of black kids are registered in the dozen largest city districts. We know what goes on there - we see the scores.''
Changing values, behaviors, attitudes is central, he says, as is changing models of success: The ``pathology'' has led away from personal responsibility and accountability. ``We need to say `You are going to take that $3.50 an hour job at McDonald's. It's not the greatest job in the world. But a lot of people who start with jobs like that end up with good work habits.'''
Loury also agrees with Secretary Bennett's emphasis on teaching common cultural values: ``There's nothing to be really ashamed about in teaching the history of Western civilization. I happen to be a descendant of Africa who shares that heritage. I don't find my identity threatened by the notion that I should acquaint myself with its roots and development.''
He doesn't oppose federal spending as vehemently as many neoconservatives. But he agrees federal dollars should be better targeted toward ``mediating structures'' - organizations smaller than government yet larger than the individual family. He will explore the idea of parental choice among public schools, for example.
Some observers expect ideological fireworks at Loury's Senate confirmation hearing. Objections to Loury may arise from the fact that he wasn't part of the civil rights movement and a perception that his writings don't speak for blacks.
``I can't help it if I was born in 1948,'' Loury comments. ``I like to think I'd have marched back then; but I've got to have the freedom to go where my intellect leads me, in view of the opportunities the civil rights struggle made possible.''
Loury grew up in a middle-class Chicago family. His father ``got a law degree the same year I graduated from high school - he took education very seriously.''
Black leader Rep. William Gray (D) of Penn., agrees with Loury's ``pathology'' analysis, but says Loury is wrong in treating pathology as a cause. It's a symptom of years of repression, he says.
Loury counters: ``I don't see the high murder rate among young blacks as a necessary consequence of the history of slavery. When I look at the history of blacks, I don't see this behavior. Migrant black communities in New York City in the '20s, for example, had very low rates of out-of-wedlock births and fewer broken families.''
Loury feels (and Riesman agrees) that the effort to redress the ``enormous inequality'' between blacks and whites in the 1960s led to a variety of social ideas that have been destructive to blacks.
As Loury explains, ``Black sociologists wrote that black girls were having babies out of wedlock as an adaptive mechanism for dealing with the oppression of American society - that it was a Western hemispheric version of traditional African patterns of social organization. I can't subscribe to that. But liberal whites rushed to embrace such views over and against a relatively silent, tight-lipped center in the black community that knew all the time it was wrong.''
Loury also feels recent headlines about racism distort the facts. ``Racism is supposed to be back,'' he says, though the data for it are spotty. ``It's nothing new for younger racial or ethnic working-class kids to use epithets or beat each other up,'' he says.
``Of course there is racism,'' he says. But it isn't exclusive to whites, as the media presents it. In fact, Loury is equally concerned about a less reported issue - black racism: ``[United Nations of Islam leader Louis] Farrakhan has been giving hateful racist speeches across the country to large audiences. Who reports that? Isn't there something condescending about the idea that when black racists talk, we are supposed to `understand' ...?
``Well I don't have to understand. I do understand that if you refuse to extend the same presumption of morality to me, you are denying my humanity.''