No room for historical revisionism


I’ve been a history buff for years. Growing up in Kentucky, I dealt with people intent on glossing over the evils of slavery. I was born less than 90 years after the Civil War ended, and there are people still intent on re-fighting that war today.

This bit from leaves little room for gloss. Written about a skirmish in Arkansas in 1864,

The Rebels’ treatment of black troops was harsh. No black troops were captured, and those left wounded on the battlefield were brutally killed, scalped, and stripped. The Washington Telegraph, the major Confederate newspaper in Arkansas, justified the atrocity by declaring “We cannot treat Negroes taken in arms as prisoners of war without a destruction of social system for which we contend.”

The men ultimately responsible for this atrocity were Confederate General John Marmaduke, later governor of Missouri, and Confederate General Samuel Maxey, who later represented Texas in the US Senate.

I rather suspect that in the current era, both would have been imprisoned or shot for war crimes. However, in Missouri and Texas, they get elected.

I was in Charleston a few years ago when a tour guide tried to claim that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. That’s a difficult case to make if you look at the newspaper and diary accounts from that time. We’re better off being honest with ourselves about our past and our future.


The Politics of Strange


It’s no surprise that the frontrunners in this year’s presidential election are two of the most unpopular in American history.  How did we get here?

  • The Politics of Ideology:  The American model of government is based on consultation and negotiation — people who can reason together to arrive of mutually acceptable policies.
    • The consultative model is based on placing the interest of “the country” ahead of individual objectives.
    • Ideology places a belief ahead of “country.”  It treats anyone who doesn’t share the belief as an enemy to be overcome, and not as someone whose cooperation is required.  Racism, ISIS, and Naziism are obvious forms of ideology; so apparently is greed.  Any idea or person promoted by one ideology is very likely to be hated by anyone not sharing that belief.  Sound familiar?


  • Mass disenchantment and the decline of the American dream.
    • We’re in an age in which families do not necessarily do better financially than they have in past years and children do not do as well as their parents.  Retirees don’t necessarily have financial security.  College graduates are smothered with debt and those not going to college have an uncertain future.  That’s not a recipe for joy, and people want someone to blame for their disappointment.
    • Frankly, that’s how Hitler got to power and the Jews became the scapegoats for Germany’s misfortune during and after WWI.  Gary Becker won a Nobel Prize in Economics for describing the economic roots of prejudice.  Prejudice reduces competition for jobs, raising wages.  Its a simple idea that contains much truth.

US society is divided into groups that really don’t have much to say to one another:

Large corporations, concerned with free trade and freedom to invest and sell offshore and move jobs to wherever labor is the least costly.  They also seek government subsidies for domestic development.

Small businesses, concerned with taxes and government regulation.  They don’t want their customers’ jobs sent offshore.

Retirees, concerned with the stability of investments and Social Security and with rising healthcare costs.

Unskilled workers, concerned with the threat to jobs posed by buyouts and automation, wage stagnation, and healthcare costs.

Minorities and immigrants, threatened by discrimination.  Wages may be stagnant, but are still better than where they were.  Healthcare is a concern.

Working mothers, concerned with gender discrimination in pay and childcare costs.

That brings us to why neither the Clinton nor Trump campaigns are working well.  Both campaigns have been trying to cobble together groups with conflicting interests to support their candidate — and that’s just naïve.

Trump has created the biggest problem.  Populism has no place in the GOP establishment.  His appeal is to common people who are concerned about their income, job stability and healthcare costs.  The GOP establishment is concerned about protecting big business (including pharmaceutical companies and doctors) at the expense of consumers.  There’s no way to combine those points-of-view that can even remotely make any sense.

Arguably, Trump could have won this election either as a third party or by jettisoning the GOP establishment as soon as he had the nomination.  The Democrats would have had Hillary, and whatever ideologue the GOP nominated would have been profoundly unpopular.  If Trump had not made other mistakes, he could have won that race.  Now, there is a real risk that the GOP will finish third in some states behind both the Democrats and the Libertarians.

Conversely, by dumping Bernie Sanders, Hillary would lose to almost anyone except Trump.  For whatever reasons, she wouldn’t buy into either Sanders or Warren as VP, and the left wing of the party may well stay home in November.

The election is rather like a basketball game in which each side commits stupid fouls in the closing moments.  No one seems really to want to win this fight.

Someone you need to know


He taught a message of the need to help those less fortunate, while coming from a working class background himself.

I’ve heard it said that anyone who wants to understand education, student achievement and race relations needs to understand his work.

This Sunday I get to speak at a memorial service for him, a celebration of his life.

I wish I didn’t have to do that; I wish he were still here.  There’s so much more to learn.

Robert L. Crain, TC Expert on Desegregation, Is Dead at 82

A passionate believer in school integration who applied the most rigorous criteria in assessing its benefits

Robert L. Crain

Teachers College sociologist Robert Crain, who conducted some of the earliest large-scale quantitative studies demonstrating the positive impacts of school and neighborhood desegregation, died in March at age 82.

Crain, along with Jomills Braddock, Willis Hawley and James McPartland, was among a small group of pioneering sociologists who worked to convince the federal and state governments not to roll back the racial protections that had been accorded blacks through the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v Board of Education and the subsequent passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He is perhaps best known for his various contributions to research on the benefits of school desegregation for students and society. For example, much of his work added weight to Perpetuation Theory, which predicts that young people who attend racially segregated schools are likely, as adults, to hold jobs in segregated workplaces and to live in segregated neighborhoods.

“Bob was a true champion of racial equality who played a key role in getting desegregation research established and recognized and then building a body of knowledge on desegregation’s impact.”
— Amy Stuart Wells

Crain also gave expert testimony in numerous court cases on desegregation, including on behalf of plaintiffs in Connecticut’s famous Sheff v. O’Neill case, who charged that the state’s system of separate city and suburban school districts had created racially segregated schools and violated their children’s rights to equal opportunity. His books and articles were also frequently cited, including Tuttle v. Arlington County School Board, a Virginia case which considered whether an “oversubscribed” public school may use a weighted lottery in admissions to promote racial and ethnic diversity in its student body.

“Bob was a true champion of racial equality who  played a key role in getting desegregation research established and recognized and then building a body of knowledge on desegregation’s impact,” said Amy Stuart Wells, TC Professor of Sociology & Education, who was Crain’s doctoral student. “He was doing this work at a time when very little desegregation had occurred because of all the foot-dragging.”

In a meta-analysis titled “Perpetuation Theory and the Long-term Effects of Desegregation,” published in the Winter 1994 issue of Review of Educational Research, he and coauthor Amy Stuart Wells drew on findings from 21 studies to refute the notion, increasingly embraced in policy circles at that time, that school integration had been a failure because it had not produced immediate academic benefits.

“Because educational achievement alone does not solve the problem of economic inequality, school desegregation must do more than raise black students’ test scores,” Crain and Wells wrote. “It must also break the cycle of racial segregation that leaves blacks and whites worlds apart. In our study of network analysis, we are inspired by the old adage that who you know is as important (or even more important) in social mobility as what you know; we believe, therefore, that the lawyers and civil rights advocates of the 1940s and 50s knew what they were talking about. The social network advantages of desegregated schools for African-American students is real, even though it could not be measured in time to satisfy policymakers who have lost sight of the original goals of desegregation.”

Crain, who retired in 2004 as TC Professor of Sociology & Education, was unabashed in his belief in the rightness of desegregation.

“He really shone in working with you one on one, thinking through the complex problems…We had to send our computer programs with our research data to the center in those days and get back these giant dot matrix outputs. He’d roll up his sleeves and work with you on it.”
— Will Jordan

“I remember analyzing a big data set, and I saw some small correlations on the race of kids, integrated settings and achievement,” recalls Will Jordan (Ph.D. ’93), Associate Professor of Urban Education Policy, Organizational, & Leadership Studies at Temple University.  “Bob said, it’s small, but it’s a pattern. The black kids are doing better, the white kids aren’t hurt by it. But even if that weren’t true, we should still desegregate. So he felt there was a moral imperative toward equality in education, and the fact you’re not hurt is just gravy.”

Yet his research was scrupulously rigorous in seeking to correct for any factors that could unduly exaggerate integration’s benefits.  In studies of American inter-districts – eight urban-suburban areas nationwide (including Boston, St. Louis and Hartford) that enable students to move across district lines with the specific aim of attending integrated schools – he compared subsets of students who had been either admitted or denied admission via a lottery.

Similarly, Crain emerged as an expert on magnet schools, which became the mechanism of choice for school integration during the 1980s and 90s, because the student bodies of magnet schools in Manhattan were composed of the top 6 percent of performers taking a test, the bottom six percent and a random selection of those in the middle.  The random assignment of students to integrated schools both in Hartford and New York City provided contexts that made these settings the best places to study effects on students.

“The lottery selection enabled him to control for the self-selection factor — the idea that if you put your kids on a bus to go across town, you’re by definition a more involved parent,” says Wells. “By controlling for that, his findings were even more robust.”

Robert L. Crain was born into an impoverished family in Louisville, Kentucky.

“He and I were both Southerners who either witnessed or experienced prejudice and segregation,” said Prudence Carter (M.A. ’95), Jacks Family Professor of Education and Professor of Sociology at Stanford University, who will  become Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California-Berkeley this coming June. “I can’t help but think that motivated him in his work.”

Crain earned an undergraduate degree in math and engineering from the University of Louisville in 1957, studied math at the graduate level at the University of North Carolina, and received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1964.

“Bob was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, because the University of Chicago then was creating a new, mathematical branch of sociology, and he was able to get in on the ground floor,” said his wife, Nan Guptill Crain, Professor of Music at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

“He and I were both Southerners who either witnessed or experienced prejudice and segregation. I can’t help but think that motivated him in his work.”
— Prudence Carter

Peter Rossi, a professor at the University of Chicago, hired Crain first as a doctoral fellow and then as an Assistant Professor of Sociology in 1963, a post that for the next five years he held concurrently with a position as Senior Study Director at the National Opinion Research Center. In 1968 he became Associate Professor in the Department of Social Relations at Johns Hopkins University, the same year that he published his classic text, The Politics of School Integration: Comparative Case Studies; (1968), which frames decisions to desegregate by 15 northern and southern cities as being rooted in the economic, social, and political structure of the community. He left in 1973 to serve for five years as Senior Social Scientist At the Rand Corporation, returning to Hopkins in in 1978 as Principal Research Scientist at the university’s Center for Social Organization of Schools. In 1982, he coauthored another landmark book, Making Desegregation Work: How Schools Create Social Climates, and three years later joined TC’s faculty.

“Bob was an unfailingly generous scholar, educator and guide. He blazed trails, he listened patiently, he carried himself humbly, and he always found something to laugh about. He had a big heart to go with his great brain.”
— Xavier de Souza Briggs

He is universally described by former students as the classic absent-minded professor – dressed in tweed blazer and rumpled oxford shirts, often with a pen left uncapped in the breast pocket, with predictably disastrous results.  He was known as an especially committed advisor who was generous in creating research opportunities for students and strongly supported advisees through the dissertation process. In addition to Wells, Jordan and Carter, his students over the years included Xavier de Souza Briggs, Professor of Sociology and Planning at MIT and currently on leave serving as the Ford Foundation’s Vice President for Economic Opportunity and Markets; Carter M. Stewart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.

“Bob was an unfailingly generous scholar, educator and guide,” said Briggs. “He blazed trails, he listened patiently, he carried himself humbly, and he always found something to laugh about. He had a big heart to go with his great brain.”

“I’ll be forever indebted to Bob for involving me in the Yonkers Project on Families and Communities, which he co-PI’d,” says Carter. “It was my first year as a graduate student, and it gave me the richest possible experience in interview design, survey design and field experience.”

“He really shone in working with you one on one, thinking through the complex problems,” Jordan recalls. “There was an old gym on upstairs in Thompson Hall in those days, and sometimes, because I worked fulltime at TC, I’d go up there in the middle of the day and grab a ball and shoot around. He’d often join me in his blazer and wingtips. Also, we had to send our computer programs with our research data to the center in those days and get back these giant dot matrix outputs. He’d roll up his sleeves and work with you on it.”

Crain saw the field he helped create take some daunting turns. Beginning in 1974, when the Supreme Court ruled that federal judges could not order desegregation remedies that send students across urban-suburban district boundaries without substantial, hard-to-document evidence that the suburban districts actually create racial segregation, through to the Court’s 2007 decision that that public school systems could no longer seek to achieve or maintain integration through measures that take explicit account of a student’s race, policymakers largely ignored the thrust of his research findings. Yet he continued to produce a body of research that, on a broader level, has remained central to discussions of race and educational equity.

“I once came back from a data collection project where I’d done lots of interviews with white people who just didn’t get the importance of integration,” Wells recalled. “I was venting about that, and he said, ‘Amy, the problem with most people is that they’re not sociologists. They don’t look at the macro level, so they don’t understand the structural inequalities, the patterns that get repeated.’ And I tell that story to my TC students, because it really gets at the importance of what we, as sociologists, do and how we can contribute.” – Joe Levine

Published Friday, Apr. 8, 2016

Cops, Brain Injuries and Bullets


tulsa_cnnA different look at the role of traumatic brain injury in police shootings.

One (possibly more) of the victims of recent police shootings had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).  Several bloggers who are victims of TBI are now expressing fear of interacting with police — fear that they too might be killed.

Traumatic brain injury can affect sufferers in a variety of ways.  Some common effects include:

  • Speed in processing instructions
  • Reaction time to stimuli
  • Emotions

What appears to have happened is that a police officer in a confrontation gives an order to someone who does not respond to the order promptly.  The officer interprets the non-reaction as hostility and it escalates from there into a shooting.

TBI patients may not react promptly, and the non-reaction indicates nothing more than that they are having trouble processing the instructions.  They don’t deserve to die for that.  They are already suffering enough.

However, as is often the case, there’s another dimension to this picture that no one has discussed.  Think about the problems of undiagnosed or under-diagnosed concussions.  Police themselves often have military or athletic backgrounds, and we are only now coming to terms with concussions in sports.  The VA has a history of overlooking concussion injuries in vets (1), and finally released the Concussion Coach mobile app to help vets with deal with concussions in 2014 (2, 3).

Further, police can and do sustain head injuries and concussions on the job.  In a recent case in Norfolk, Virginia, a police recruit died after suffering head blows during training (4).

In the case of a Seattle officer who stomped on the head of a person in handcuffs, the officer was exonerated of wrong doing after a determination that he had sustained a low level concussion that affected is actions (5).

The problem with concussions is that they often present little or no external appearance of damage.  Why is that a problem?

  • A lot of people still believe that, in the absence of external injury, a claim of concussion is just a convenient excuse.
  • Fellow officers may see the cop claiming a concussion as a malingerer, and reporting a concussion might affect future promotion opportunities.
  • Fear of stigma can cause both civilians and officers to shun seeking treatment.

Here’s the point:  we probably have a lot of officers walking around with undiagnosed or untreated concussions that are affecting their thinking, emotions, reaction time and behavior.  Administrative reforms as in Norfolk are designed to protect prisoners, but there is no effort to screen officers for brain damage.

So we can have situations in which an impaired officer is confronting an impaired civilian.  Just how much good is going to come from that?

To fix a problem, you have to get to root causes.  And its not all about racism, as we have had black officers shooting black suspects.  Its time to look deeper at causes, and TBI should be considered as one of them.



  1. Alvarex, Lizette, “War Veterans’ Concussions Are Often Overlooked,” The New York Times.  August, 25, 2008.
  2.  Peterson, Hans, “Help with Concussions in Veterans Hands Today,”  Veterans Administration,  17 April 2014.
  3. Veterans Administration.
  4. Kulbarsh, Pamela, “Concussions: More Than a Smack Upside the Head,”  21 June 2012.
  5. Thalen, Mikael, “Seattle Police Chief Says Concussion Made Officer Stomp Handcuffed Man’s Head,”, 4 June 2014.