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An Attitude Gap
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Parents & parenting; Academic achievement gaps; African Americans
Author: Raspberry, William
Date: Oct 13, 2003
Start Page: A.19

As Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom make clear in their new book, "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning," a significant source of the gap is in the attitudes toward academic achievement that are prevalent in black America, even among the economically successful, college-trained middle class.

For instance, there is the notion that academic success is something almost unnatural -- or at least not a particularly high priority -- for black people. Black students and their parents understand the importance of an academic credential, but often primarily as a ticket to college and good careers. But if that's what it is, then one might as well purchase the ticket at the lowest possible cost: avoidance of challenging courses and performance that is "good enough" rather than the commitment to excellence that eats into social time.

The Thernstroms' examination of the reasons for the gap both in effort and achievement -- including disproportionate TV-watching, uneven public expenditures, disparate teacher quality and an interesting look at the differences between voluntary and involuntary (slave-descendant) immigrants -- occupies the bulk of their book. But in some ways, their most important message is in the introduction.

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