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Debate Over Affirmative Action

Updated May 6, 2022
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Debate Over Affirmative Action essay

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The debate on affirmative action has been a highly argued for decades. It started in 1995 when Bill Clinton implemented his “Mend It, Don’t End It” directive. He decided that it was time for the government to take action in order to expand opportunity for underrepresented groups due to institutionalized discrimination. After Clinton, in the next administration led by President George W. Bush, there was an effort to stifle any attempt towards affirmative action through two amicus curiae briefs filed with the Supreme Court regarding the use of race in admissions at the University of Michigan; both cases failed. Next to take charge was Democratic President Obama’s administration which issued Executive Order 13583. That order, which did not alter the initial Clinton directive, sought to expand the idea of an affirmative action policy. Now, through targeted legislation, affirmative action has expanded its policy to include not only racial and ethnic groups in employment and education, but there is protection for women, people of a certain age, people with disabilities, and veterans. However, the idea of affirmative action is still seen as a source of confusion for the public, especially since the main focus is usually centered on race and not all those protected demographics. The shift of emphasis then portrays affirmative action as a policy for only black people and the conversation becomes distorted in its substance. One area that seems to be furthering the misperception of affirmative action, is the place where students go to receive information. The assigned academic journal takes a look at textbooks and how the wording, along with potential bias, can affect the mindset of the readers it’s trying to inform.

When a student, or any person really, reads information out of a textbook, they expect their course material to be factual, unbiased, and truthful. The entire premise falls on the faith that the author of such textbooks relay the information accordingly. However, as noted in the Journal of Black Studies, a few individuals took notice that affirmative action in textbooks seemed to mirror the discipline of political science, which typically studies institutions and elites as primary decision makers and in essence reinforces values that favor the powerful and perpetuates stereotypes about underrepresented groups. To test their observations, Sherri Wallace and Marcus Allen composed a study that comprised of 32 circulating introductory to American government textbooks that were published between 2005 and 2014. The textbooks were published by nine of the leading publishers in American government and the study used content analysis which is a method that evaluates the symbolic content within the text. This method was used to examine to what extent that affirmative action discussions reinforce myths by virtue of coded language, or use meritocracy via the “equal opportunity” versus “equal outcome” debate. When all was wrapped up, the results of the study showcased that out of 6 categories of code words and phrases, all but one focused more on the interpretation of affirmative action rather than the intent of the actual policy. In the case when phrases of “reverse racism” or “reverse discrimination” were used, the intent of the policy narrowly edged out the interpretation, 57% to 43%. But as mentioned, in every other category, the author of these textbooks showcased how people interpret the idea of affirmative action rather than focusing on the facts of the policy. The category where this is most prevalent in, is when it came to the topic of “quotas, set-asides, numerical goals.” For that, the policy interpretation was at a whopping 91% compared to 9% in focusing on policy intent. Interestingly, that outcome directly supports studies that claim the biggest misconception and myth about affirmative action is that the program is all about quotas, which is both inaccurate and unconstitutional. Other misconceptions that some feel are propagated is the idea that the affirmative action policy emphasizes on “preferential treatment”, creates “reverse discrimination”, gives minorities “special advantages” they no longer need, and gives jobs to “unqualified” candidates over “qualified” candidates.

In conclusion, the study showcased in the Journal of Black Studies is very intriguing as it brings to light the method for how our textbooks are written. To this day, it is something that I, and presumably many others, have never really thought about. We assume that our textbooks are giving us the most accurate, factual, and fair information without any personal agenda. As mentioned in the reading, any bias that may be portrayed in text is not purposeful in nature, but can be perceived that way due to how the information is organized. The structure of presenting the arguments of affirmative action as a “pro and con” debate has its problems. This method gives you the liberal point of view of equal opportunity, then gives you the conservative point of view of the equal outcome, thus making the discussion racially dichotomized without tackling the policy itself and challenge affirmative action myths and meritocracy. Students are then left to form their own opinions on which side is more correct based on the balance of the arguments made by the textbook authors and it can provide insight on where the textbook author stands on the issue when they are meant to be objective. I see this all the time in the media when an event happens, and it is reported as, “Republicans think this, and Democrats think that” without delving into the facts and merits of the issue at hand, which is why some view the media as bias. It seems that this tactic of reporting information has trickled into how textbooks are written. It is disheartening to think of, but unless there is a change in the writing of textbooks, it seems that now we have to be wearier of information we read when doing research on topics, as we cannot take it as face value anymore.

Debate Over Affirmative Action essay

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Debate Over Affirmative Action. (2022, May 06). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/debate-over-affirmative-action/

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