A little over a month ago, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made headlines with his comments about whether or not African Americans benefit as a whole by being admitted to the University of Texas, where they, “Don’t do well,” versus slower track schools where they, “Do well.” He further remarked that, “One of the briefs pointed out that most of the Black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they are being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”
Needless to say, Justice Scalia’s remarks weren’t well received. They sparked numerous discussions within the African American community and within education circles. Among the problems with Justice Scalia’s remarks were:
• They were much too broad and shortsighted. There are in fact African American youth who are ready to step in and compete at faster track schools. Regarding Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), the challenge is promoting an awareness of these disciplines and subsequent career options to these students. In lower income, inner-city communities, the challenge is different. There, there is an abundance of underutilized and wasted intellectual talent and ability, which if properly cultivated could compete at these so called faster track schools. The challenge there is harvesting that talent.
• They did not take into consideration that African Americans have a rich history in STEM, most of which is unfortunately only discussed during Black History month.
• Based upon what is now known, the success of individuals in a given field, in this case STEM , is not a function of their skin color, but of their cultural heritage, and the specific environments in which they are nurtured as described in the many works of Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers and David and Goliath for example.
A positive of Justice Scalia’s remarks is that they provide opportunities to discuss that: African Americans have a rich history in STEM, and also that younger generations can get involved and thrive in these fields. These are discussions that should be had not strictly during Black History month, and not only at large summits and conferences such as the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference. Lastly Justice Scalia’s remarks provide the opportunity to shine the light on current efforts to get African American youth involved in STEM. Examples are the efforts of the Patriots Technology Training Center, and the opening of Johnson C. Smith University’s new multi-disciplinary science center. An expanded version of this article can be found on Open Government TV, which extensively covers stories involving minorities and STEM.