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The other thing Wright gets wrong

The idea of a racial learning style is a bogus concept that cheats us all.

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A few weeks ago, I found myself in a fascinating conversation with a Ghanaian colleague about the ways that people learn. As she noted, most education at universities and secondary schools in Ghana occurs via rote: the teacher says something, then the students write it down. When I suggested that Ghanaians might benefit from more interactive instruction, however, she looked skeptical.

"Ghanaians don't learn that way," she said. "They have a different style."

I thought of this exchange as I read the recent remarks by Sen. Barack Obama's controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. "Black learning styles are different from European and European-American learning styles," Wright said in recent speaches, citing research on left-brain versus right-brain modes of development. "Different does not mean deficient."

But the racial learning styles that Mr. Wright invoked are the opposite of the ones that my Ghanaian friend attributed to students here. That should make us deeply skeptical of the learning-style concept when it's attached to an entire race.

And make no mistake: it attached to an entire race. At some American schools of education, future teachers are told that black children learn more easily in groups, not alone; that they prefer to move around the classroom, rather than to sit still; that they are more emotional than cerebral; and that they tend to react impulsively, compared with their more staid white peers.

That might be true, in the United States. But Ghanaians are black, too, and they don't behave anything like the theory predicts. So it's absurd to attribute these qualities to race, or to imagine that black kids can't learn unless they're taught in a "black" way.

You might reply, Africans to learn that way, too: they were collective, dynamic, and emotional. But then missionaries and colonial governments weaned them off their natural learning style, substituting the cold and rational individualism of the West.

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