Taibbi on culture wars in Loudon County, Va.

Loudoun County, Va., on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., is the nation’s richest county. Recently it has been trending Democratic in national elections; Joe Biden got 61 percent of its vote in 2020.  

But last November, along with Virginia as a whole, it rejected Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and supported Republican Glenn Youngkin.  The swing to Republicans in Loudoun was 15 percentage points.

The county’s school system is the battleground of arguments about critical race theory, transgenderism and a sexual assault case on school property.  The great investigative reporter, Matt Taibbi, says almost all these issues have been mis-reported by the national news media.

He is working on a four-part series of articles about Loudon, and has published the first one.   I had originally planned to wait until he finished the series, and link to them, but his first one is interesting and important/.  I don’t know how long he is going to take to publish the others and whether they will be behind a pay wall.  So here goes.

The first article is about the drive to abolish or restructure programs for “gifted” children because such programs supposedly benefit whites more than blacks.  

This isn’t so.  Anything nowadays that’s based on competitive examinations primarily benefits the super-studious children of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and Eastern Asia, just as, a century ago, success in competitive examinations was dominated by the super-studious children of Jewish immigrants.

Loudoun County had a program for gifted children called Academies of Loudoun, and also pays tuition for selected students to attend Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology, the top-rated high school in the nation, in neighboring Fairfax County.  Any graduate of TJ High is practically guaranteed admission to top universities.

Such programs made Loudoun County a magnet for Asian immigrants who worked in high tech industry and were academically ambitious for their children.  A large fraction were dark-skinned people with roots in South India, whose families had been held back by color prejudice in their homelands.

Asians are about 20 percent of the populations of both Loudoun and Fairfax counties.   In 2018, they made up more than half the applicants to TJ High and two-thirds of those accepted.  In contrast, whites were fewer than a third of the applicants and fewer than a quarter of those accepted.  Blacks and Hispanics were fewer than 10 percent of applicants or those accepted.

Taibbi reported that Loudoun County in 2018 changed the criteria for gifted programs to make them more holistic and less dependent on competitive examinations.  The change primarily benefitted whites, not blacks, and at the expense of a particular minority group.  

ThIs is a common pattern where high schools with selective admissions are under attack.

Taibbi thinks there was a swing of Asian-American voters against the Democrats in the recent Virginia elections, and probably nation-wide.

Until now, most Asian-Americans have regarded Democrats as the party of education.  That can change, and it would be politically important.

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The argument for “gifted” programs is not that young people who are good at passing examinations are individually more deserving than young people who aren’t.  Academic achievement is partly a result of the advantages you begin with in life.

 If you’re born with affluent, educated parents who have books in the home, and if your teachers and peers honor academic achievement, you have a head start over someone with equal intrinsic character and ability born with poor, uneducated parents, in a community that doesn’t value academic achievement.

The real argument for “gifted” programs is that all of us benefit when the talented among us are helped to develop their talents as much as possible.  This is not only true in vital fields such as science, engineering and mathematics  It is true of everything.  It is good for all if people with a talent for carpentry are helped to become skilled carpenters.

There are counter-arguments, as Taibbi pointed out.  You could argue that priority should be given to disadvantaged, special needs and at-risk children, because the “gifted” children will probably do all right whether they’re in special programs or not.  Nor can you neglect the needs of average students.

If I had the power to change society, I would make it possible for anyone of average ability to complete high school and get a job at a living wage.  I would make it possible for anyone to get all the education they needed and wanted, but without making their future depend on educational credentials.

 I would re-create the conditions in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s, but without the discrimination against minorities and women that existed back then.

Be that as it may, what we have now is implicit quotas to limit academically over-achieving Asian-Americans.   I don’t blame people of South Indian heritage in Loudoun County if they feel betrayed.  Nor do I think Loudoun County is unique or unusual.

LINK

Loudoun County, Virginia: A Culture War in Four Acts by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

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Update.  Here is a link to the second installment of Taibbi’s Culture War series

Part Two: The Incident.

An Underground Railroad Simulation at an Elementary School brings a long-simmering dispute out into the open, triggering a bizarre series of unfortunate events.

Loudon County Freedom of Information Request #1: The Equity Collaborative Documents.

[Update 12/23/2021]

Part Three: The Holy War of Loudoun County, Virginia.

An opposition group galvanized by revelations of bizarre school policies finds itself on an enemies list.

Loudoun County Epilogue: A Worsening Culture War and the False Hope of “Decorum.”

As the wealthiest county in American found out, political problems can’t just be swept under a rug, or into a parking lot.

The Loudoun County, Va., school board is one of the USA’s craziest examples of race and gender theory run amok.  Matt Taibbi’s reporting made me realize I didn’t know the half of it.

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