Dear Mr. Grant,
I am a new father and am just as hopeful to raise a good and moral child as your readers. When I look forward to her future I dream of a life full of compassion, hope, and kindness toward others. I am glad that so many readers resonated with your article, "Raising a Moral Child," published in The New York Times. It quickly became the number one emailed article in the Times. It seems you have touched on something deep within folks. It appears that we want to know, as The Who sing, "The kids are alright." Or at least that they will be. I share that sentiment and enjoy reading intelligent and well-researched writing on how to be a better parent because sometimes I mess up with the best of 'em. Your piece provides some good insight into parenting and raising kids with morals (if not ethics at the least). I could see why your essay would be so popular and so engaging. Parent's want their kids to be good and connected and a part of a larger community.
One of the "experts" you citied is J. Phillipe Rushton. You use his study where he, "gave 140 elementary- and middle-school-age children tokens for winning a game, which they could keep entirely or donate some to a child in poverty." Sounds great, sounds like Rushton could teach us a thing or two about positive moral development. Sounds like Rushton could teach us about how to raise kids who help, love, and show compassion to others. Let's look him up. A quick Google search (which I am sure many of your readers did upon pouring over your essay) and...
To be honest, I first read about your piece at Africa Is a Country in the post, "The #RaceScienceFiles: The New York Times edition" by Jessica Blatt. In her excellent piece, Blatt points out that Rushton has a very troubled past and questions his being cited as any sort of expert, let alone one on morality. Rushton, it turns out, was a horrendous racist with very harmful views on Africans and other minorities. That simple Google search I referred to quickly, and easily, brought up his CV of racism. The Southern Poverty Law Center has an easily found file on him, while Wikipedia prominently includes these issues. Yet, you and The New York Times found no issue with putting him front and center in a piece on raising good kids.
I find it hard to swallow Rushton as an expert on morality when he is on record saying some pretty nasty things that undermine your essays thesis. "Blacks have an advantage in sport," he says, "because they have narrower hips -- but they have narrower hips because they have smaller brains." (Found here, via SPLcenter.org)
Rushton goes on to state that,
"throughout the world, Europeans and East Asians (Chinese, Japanese and Koreans) average the highest IQs and socio-economic positions. The lowest averages are found among the Aborigines in Australia and in Africans and their descendants. Intermediate positions are occupied by the Amerindians, the South Asians from the Indian sub-continent, the Maori in New Zealand, and by the mixed race peoples in South Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The same pattern is found on many other social and life history indicators, such as educational levels, earnings, health, accidents, crime, marriage, fertility, and mortality."(Found here, via SPLcenter.org)
He continues, as cited here in the Ottawa Citizen (by Andrew Duffy);
For his part, Mr. Rushton said that while black academic achievement can be improved, and while the IQ gap can be somewhat narrowed, there will never be equality. Parents, he said, easily accept the idea that some of their children are more gifted intellectually or physically than other ones. As a society, he argued, we have to accept the same notion.
As I raise my daughter, and as others educate their children, learning that morality is a part of a community should be a central tenet. Rushton creates a hierarchy of race and ability that only divides and places some at the top and others much further below. Raising a child under these structures can only reinforce issues or race rather than encourage compassion and morality. If we followed Rushton's advice your "moral child" would most likely be a white one.
So perhaps Rushton's conclusions aren't as positive as we would think. How can we trust his statements, and why would we, on childhood morality when he views whole ethnicities of children as lesser merely because of their skin color and region? This is sickening and ignorant on the worst levels. The fact that you would deem this worthy of inclusion, that The New York Times would deem it worthy of publishing, and now that a huge amount of folks are sharing it without knowledge of Rushton's worldview is saddening.
Mr. Grant, you and The New York Times owe your readers a retraction, an apology, or an edit of that piece. Either removing Rushton or adding information on his real views would be the least you could do. Then the readers could decide on whether they would like to use his findings for the children's moral development. If you would really like to make amends, I think writing a piece about the moral failings of racism and how we can raise inclusive and sensitive kids would be a good start.
Racism, as we have seen this week with Donald Sterling, can be sneaky and insinuate itself into hard to evict places. When it comes to our children we need to keep it far away. I thought you would distance yourself from it but that has appeared to be not the case. I have sent you, your representatives and The New York Times many emails, tweets, and comments with no response. It seems you do not deem the issue worthy of your time, speaking to your own privilege to not notice. I ask that you take steps to help us raise moral children by raising your own moral standards. We need better examples than Rushton. Perhaps you can be one by stepping up, admitting fault, and learning.
As I raise my daughter to be accepting and affirming of others, one lesson will be in admitting fault when fault is due. We can't all be perfect but we can say we are sorry and lean into community with others. Mr, Grant, I hope to hear back from you but ultimately hope for movement in the right direction, honoring the morality of children of all backgrounds and seeing their boundless potential.
Jake Dockter, a hopeful dad.
*Jake Dockter notes that this open letter was inspired by and dependent on Jessica Blatt's original article. Jessica Blatt also offered kind assistance on the writing of this piece and Jake is ever grateful. Portions of this letter were published on Jake's blog, greatwhitewhales.wordpress.com on April 21st, 2014.