Disparities Biden tried to put on the record (Sept. 25)

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Last month, Democratic presidential front-runner, Joe Biden, was accused of racism after a town hall meeting hosted by the Asian & Latino Coalition in Des Moines, Iowa. (The host group was made up of Asians and Latinos, but the audience Biden addressed was mostly White.) Newspapers across the country quoted Biden saying, “We should challenge students in these schools…We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as White kids.”

Here, Biden’s tongue slipped. He said “White kids” when he meant “wealthy kids,” but Biden caught the error, corrected himself, and the audience applauded. But a New York Times headline said: Biden says “poor kids” are just as bright as “White kids,” and Biden was accused of assuming “Whites” had superior intelligence.

Then I watched the video footage of Biden in Iowa and discovered there was a sentence missing from the quote in print. Right after Biden said “we should challenge students in these schools,” he mentioned that “these schools should have advanced placement programs.”

That sentence makes a big difference.

According to a University of New Hampshire study, the availability of advanced placement courses decreases as schools get smaller and farther from major cities. The study found rural students have considerably less access to AP courses than their peers in more urban areas: 47.2 percent of rural school districts have no students enrolled in AP courses, compared with only 20.1 from town districts, 5.4 from suburban districts, and 2.6 from urban districts.

Maybe, in Iowa, Biden tried to address something the Democratic Party’s 2016 nominee ignored.

At the recent Democratic presidential debate, an ABC News moderator informed Biden that she wanted to discuss inequality in schools and race. She set up her question by reminding Biden of comments he made 40 years ago against reparations for slavery, then asked what responsibility Americans had to repair the legacy of slavery?

Biden stumbled through his answer, and after the debate, Biden was attacked for insulting Black parents. Biden began by admitting there was institutional segregation, but it was addressed by the federal government. He listed his education proposals such as tripling the amount of money spent on poor schools and increasing teachers’ pay. Then Biden mentioned support systems and bringing in the help students need. Biden stated, “the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. We have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. We have to make sure that every child (three, four, and five years old) goes to school not daycare. We need to bring social workers into the homes to help [parents] deal with and raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio…Make sure the record player is on at night, make sure they hear words. A child coming from a poor background will hear 4 million fewer words by the time they get to school.”

But Biden was off the mark here.

A study at Stanford University tested the language processing of 18- and 24-month-old toddlers. By 18 months, children in different socioeconomic groups display dramatic differences in their vocabularies. By age 2, the disparity in vocabulary development has grown significantly, and by 3 years of age, there is a 30-million-word gap between children of the wealthiest and poorest families.

Biden tried to put this word gap in the public record, but the public laughed at him for mentioning a record player in the 21st century, and completely ignored the problem Biden was trying to resolve with the outdated device.


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