Charles Murray is a Big Fat Ignorant Racist
or — “He’s the poster boy for racist pseudoscience”
or — “He can’t write his big fat way out of a paper bag!”
Meet Charles Murray, co-author of the infamous 1994 book The Bell Curve, which, like 19th century phrenology or creationism, sought to use pseudoscience to rate and rank human intellectual ability by race and class.
Scientific racism has a humiliatingly half-witted history. Stephen Jay Gould slammed The Bell Curve and prior incidents of racist scientific confirmation bias in a New Yorker article and later book, The Mismeasure of Man.
The book I use for Freshman English readings, They Say / I Say, includes an adapted essay from Murray’s 2008 book Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality. The reading is entitled “Are There Too Many People Going to College?”
W.W. Norton, the textbook publishers, should provide a more informative introduction to Murray’s essay than the simple paragraph listing the titles of his major publications and role as a “libertarian.” Most students don’t know who or what libertarians are. Nor do they know that most libertarians would never claim Murray as one of their own.
W.W. Norton should note that the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Murray as a white nationalist. Norton especially should take care to note Murray’s true background and motivations because as the publisher advertises, They Say / I Say is “the bestselling book on academic writing — in use in more than 1,500 schools!”
Hundreds of thousands of students a year from all over the world are being exposed to Murray’s thinking via this first-year college writing text.
According to Murray, only a small percentage of those students who are paying too-high fees for their textbook and are being assigned to read his poorly-written, half-baked musings — should be in college.
I always thought Murray’s ideas were horrific and poorly-sourced and reasoned, but I didn’t fully realize how dreadful a writer he was until our class started working in new, more empathetic and engaged ways this semester.
This is the opening sentence to Murray’s essay:
To ask whether too many people are going to college requires us to think about the importance and nature of a liberal education.
Right. Thanks, Charles.
He then asserts,
Full participation in any culture requires familiarity with a body of core knowledge.
Charles, the only reason students do not seek out your residence so they can leave gift boxes with dog feces on your front doorstep is that you’re such a lousy writer they don’t get that you are saying “White people like me are so much smarter than you!” over and over again.
Along with “I’m going to prove how much smarter white guys like me are, and show you that only we [us fine white older gentlemen] should get a great ‘liberal arts’ education. But since more people are getting four-year college degrees — they’re really not worth anything anyway.”
One thing never mentioned in your 10,000 word excerpt, Charles, was that many four-year (and two-year) colleges do teach students how to read, think, and write.
Something that your undergraduate institution, Harvard, clearly failed to impart in your case, Charles.
And your graduate institution, from which you have such a valuable Ph.D. — the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — well, you know what they say about Political Science, Charles. It’s not a science.
Charles, I have given the little brown, black, yellow and female students in my class, these little students with “foreign” sounding names and clearly alien appearances such as dark, almond-shaped eyes or dark, curly hair or even … hijabs … an extra credit assignment.
“Look up John Stuart Mill and find out what Mills’ Methods are and write up a brief explanation in your own words.”
Because you so grossly, gravely misused Mill in your gaseous racist classist 10,000-word ignoravaganza.
Murray, you are safe in your ivory American Enterprise Institute tower, safe to scoff at Trump and #MAGA, safe to make anti-Semitic comments about Bernie Sanders and heaven forbid, call black intellectuals by any foul name you choose — men and women who are by a hundred thousand times your better — since that is the way you view the world, Charles — a miserable, unhappy, benighted word of false equivalence, fake “meritocracy,” ignorance and hatred.
If you ever had to truly work and compete, Murray, you would crumple up like a cum-filled tissue and cry in the corner.
If ever a day of hardship came your way, Murray, you would scream, writhe, and tear your hair like Antigone but fold up like her weak-willed sister.
But no — really — Murray works incredibly hard to use his superior intellect for the betterment of mankind. He also associates with only the highest quality of other intellectuals.
I must summarize and interpret the fundamental arguments in Murray’s “Are Too Many People Going to College?” essay since his paragraphs are like this:
We unpacked this in class. What is Murray actually saying?
In plain English as opposed to rococo bass-ackward Murrayspeak:
College is fun and a valuable place to grow up, but most people don’t need to have fun and growing up isn’t important for nonpersons. Nonpersons just need to work to make someone rich (“make a living”) until they outlive their usefulness (to the rich).
That’s what he’s saying and he continues to be hosted on college campuses across America in Barnum-circus-like environments, his books continue to be published, and he gets paid heaven knows how much to write one lousy article a month for the American Enterprise Institute and cross-tweet with Bill Kristol.
Don’t get me wrong. Murray’s writing is littered with gems of racism, glittering flawed parallel sentences weighed down by false assumptions, and independent bursts of pompous pseudointellectual assertions. I just can’t cover them all in a single article.
Nor is Murray worth the time. He really does not get it.
“Not many people enjoy reading for hour after hour, day after day, no matter what the material may be. To enjoy reading On Liberty and its ilk — and if you’re going to absorb such material, you must in some sense enjoy the process — is downright peculiar.”
By “liberal education,” all Murray really means is “stuff that I, personally like.” It isn’t even “stuff” he particularly seems to comprehend (hence my assignment so students could investigate what a genuinely brilliant man like John Stuart Mill might actually have contributed to the advancement of learning and science).
“All students need to learn the iconic stories,” Murray says. “Remembering facts is much easier than making inferences and deductions.”
In the 90s, Murray used flawed interpretations of IQ tests to “prove” intelligence differences between races and purportedly, genders. Just yesterday, Murray was pushing SAT/ACT tests for every American high school student. As a person who has worked directly for educational testing and textbook companies, I have learned that the development processes for these tests are grossly flawed and they’re worth much less than their basic cost, much less the educational decisions that are based, falsely, upon them.
Just yesterday, Murray was sending out missives via Twitter promoting more guaranteed cash for the bloated educational testing “not-for-profits.”
Murray doesn’t know what education is; he lacks any knowledge of what occurs in curriculum development at any school, from the traditional four-year residential “liberal arts” college to a technical school or regional university. He speculates endlessly on the “revolutions” of distance education; he thinks education is “knowledge transfer” (much like most Silicon Valley technocrats and actual libertarians).
“Suppose we have before us a young woman who is in the 98th percentile of academic ability and wants to become a lawyer and eventually run for political office”
This is the type of student who should attend a four-year liberal arts college, Murray concludes.
Well, see here, Murray — I was that student with a few differences. I had no interest in law or politics. I should have gone into science but as a socially-adept person, disliked being ostracized, thought to be a “geek” or “nerd” and wanted dates. I wanted a happy marriage and a family. Unlike your voluminous examples of students who incorrectly self-select themselves into four-year college careers with curriculum they can’t handle, I thought that after graduation from high school, a good path would be to attend the local community college and become an administrative assistant. I knew I had a careful eye for detail and liked to work with others to help them.
That was until I started getting hundreds of brochures and invitations to every college and university in America. I didn’t score 98% on the SAT. I had a perfect score. Years later, I got a nearly perfect score on the GRE and did get perfect verbal and analytic scores on that test with, sadly, a 98% on the graduate quantitative (math) portion.
Charles, I just should have studied harder.
I selected the college that had the two most important criteria to me: 1) they offered me a full four-year scholarship and work-study assistance; and 2) it was the school where my mother, the lady who redesigned Mr Magoo and won Academy Awards and Cannes Golden Palms, had very much wanted to attend.
So I did pretty okay there, at Scripps College in Claremont, CA (a “women’s college where then as now the MRS is a good outcome along with a BA).
And then some stuff happened to me, Charles. Because the thinking of men like you has made this the real legacy of our Western “liberal arts” lifestyle. There is not only a rapist on every college campus (high school and middle school, too), there is a racist and there are people who are just plain mean and filled with hate. Every office, every neighborhood. They are, in the words of my great mentor Carol M. Bly (one of so many) “The Bully Who Rules the World.”
I think we need a little bit different core history curriculum, Charles.
And we very much need a different core “liberal arts” curriculum. On that, we do agree although I doubt you could even understand the subject matter, just to take a phrase from your lexicon. You know how you’ve invested hundreds of thousands of words explaining how such a large number of people just can’t cut the intellectual mustard you spread on your lousy white bread?
I see you for what you are. You score in the lowest percentile of being a fully-realized human.
You can’t see me — or anyone else — for what they are because of what you were born into, because of who you are, because of the very deprived life you have led.
Just as you have invested a lifetime in “proving” others to be less intelligent or less capable as yourself or others you believe to be your peers, you have never had the opportunity to learn what humanity is and can be.
No one who thinks like you or acts like you will advance anyone anywhere, much less to space or to a new, healthier way of living.
I believe pity and condescension to be very negative emotions and ones that I try to avoid. It could be easy to pity you and I see your weaknesses. Yet I also see where you are strong. Your words play to other people’s weaknesses and fears. But you lost your game before you ever set a word down to paper or sought to jigger test results to show a “curve” that was never there.
A week after you die no one will remember your name. You will be as dust. You aren’t even Ozymandias. You’re the court jester.