Once again, a study claims to have discovered a genetic basis for a complex social outcome — in this case, why students succeed or fail in school. Published in the July issue of Developmental Psychology, the journal of the American Psychological Association, this “gene discovery” by lead author Kevin Beaver, a criminology professor at Florida State University, follows a long and racist tradition of attributing genetic causes to alcoholism, intelligence, unemployment, criminality, and even the fear of snakes.
Throughout the history of class society, the ruling class has used religion or pseudo-science to cast exploitation, oppression and injustice as inevitable. The field of genetics, in particular, has been repeatedly hijacked by slave-owners, captains of industry, and Germany’s Third Reich. It’s not surprising that this despicable ideology has emerged once again, this time by capitalists who promote education reform.
True social scientists know that both human behavior and social organization are driven by infinitely complex factors. Beaver, however, claims to have discovered genes (the molecular units of DNA) related to “impulsivity” and “violent tendencies” and thereby “influence” whether an individual will graduate from high school and go on to college.
To create the illusion of legitimacy for their findings, the study gives the genes technical-sounding names: DAT1, DRD2, and DRD4. (By avoiding the more obviously outrageous claim that genes “determine” an outcome, researchers leave themselves an escape route if and when future critics show there is no correlation between such genes and the designated outcomes.
Racism: Bosses’ Tool
The bosses’ use of prestigious journals and big-name academics to legitimize Nazi ideology is nothing new. In 1969, Berkeley Professor Arthur Jensen was invited to submit an article to the Harvard Educational Review to prove that black children fail in schools because of their genes. In the early 1970s, William Shockley, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, claimed that the color of people’s skin could tell you how smart they were.
In 1994, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray followed suit with The Bell Curve, a best-selling package of racist propaganda, distortions, and lies. Wherever these racist pseudo-scientists showed up to speak, the Progressive Labor Party led thousands of students and faculty to shout them down and prevent them from spreading their poison.
Although racists tend to hide after being attacked in mass struggles, their falsehoods remain alive today. Chief among them is the concept that genes define individual abilities and tendencies. This bogus claim hides the real cause of inequality under capitalism: racist and sexist discrimination. If people’s genes stop them from becoming aeronautical engineers or pediatricians, rotten public schools get a free pass. Using genes to blame the victims is a doubly racist assault on black and Latino children, since it justifies spending less on segregated schools while painting the children as innately unintelligent.
The fundamental illusion may be that genes determine any traits at all. What Genes Can’t Do (2003), by the cell biologist turned philosophy professor, Lenny Moss, shows that the concept of a “gene” is used to mean different things, and that there is no one-to-one correspondence between genes and traits. Indeed, geneticists like Richard Lewontin (The Triple Helix, 2000) have demonstrated that even the concept of a “trait” is ambiguous.
Thus “genes” for “traits” is a double house of cards, though most biologists cling to these illusory fictions. Their field rewards them for doing so. Top academic publications favor conclusions that hide the fact that the profit system decides who is allowed to succeed or fail.
Bosses Attack Students and Teachers
The implications of this academic bias are lethal. Like ancient rulers who used the Bible to trap slaves into accepting their subjugation as part of a larger plan, today’s capitalists use pseudo-science to veil the racist neglect that pervades education. Failed students are portrayed as hopelessly handicapped and beyond help. It is a small step from there to consign such “flawed” segments of the population to joblessness, poverty, and ultimately elimination.
Teachers, often with leadership by members of PLP, have joined with parents and their students in fighting against further cutbacks in school funding and for smaller class sizes. They are also confronting ruling-class schemes to blame teachers for the failures of the bosses’ schools.
These fights must be sharpened to defend black and Latino students from the hopeless feeling that they are doomed to unemployment and prison. While any victories in reform struggles are limited and temporary under capitalism, an unrelenting fight against racism and sexism will help create the working-class unity we need to build toward communist revolution.
Only when the world’s workers — under the leadership of the communist PLP — seize power from the capitalists through revolution, will we rid ourselves of false science, miseducation, racism, sexism, and imperialist war. We need to become millions and millions. Join us.
The Rulers’ Bind
The capitalist ruling class has a contradiction on its hands. On the one hand, it needs to slash spending on schools and other services even more to free up funds for its widening imperialist wars. On the other, the schools are so bad that the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is complaining that high school graduates are ill-equipped to serve as the bosses’ cannon fodder. In a March 2012 report for the CFR by Joel Klein (former head of New York City’s public schools) and Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State under George W. Bush), they warn that the horror that passes for schooling in the U.S. is robbing the ruling class of its needed military might. They don’t care that millions of our children suffer from miseducation. Their sole concern is that the U.S. imperialists’ control of critical resources is in jeopardy.