Online resource
August 1, 2023
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An Illusion of Equity

The Legacy of Eugenics in Today's Education

Public education plays a crucial role in crafting a nation's future. In the United States, education reform policy, particularly the reliance on large-scale, standardized testing, is a growing topic of national conversation and concern. An Illusion of Equity: The Legacy of Eugenics in Today's Education demonstrates how centuries of propaganda have led us to accept the idea that test scores indicate something so valuable about human beings that they should be used to organize society.

Drawing on decades of experience as an educator, author Wendy Zagray Warren unpacks the origins of this practice, inviting us to probe the ideologies underlying testing procedures and score interpretation and to evaluate the rationale for using test scores as the sole markers for academic achievement. From the beginning, large-scale tests have produced scores divided by race and class. Initially, these results aligned with the eugenic ideology of its creators. Warren shows that while the rhetoric used to justify test-based policy has changed, the model used to produce test scores remains much the same. Therefore, so do the outcomes of test-based policies, which continue to reproduce and reinforce the existing social hierarchy of the United States.

The hope of equity lies in educators charting new paths and scholars around the world who are dreaming new educational paradigms into being. Ultimately, Warren invites policymakers, educators, and parents to explore the richness of possibility when education is designed around the belief that every child is worthy of the opportunity to thrive.

About the Author

Wendy Zagray Warren is a consultant for the Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights, a NYC-based nonprofit, and is director of the Forestry Outreach Center at Berea College. Her work has been published in journals including Phi Delta Kappa and anthologies including Becoming a Holocaust Educator and What Does it Mean to be White in America?


"This book is a genius thing. Though Warren would balk at the term "genius," having uncovered the violent and exclusionary use of the term, but still. This is the work of a brave practitioner, a teacher who investigates the system that misled her. As a parent, I'm changed by this book. I'm rethinking the kind of education I want for my kids. The book is a bracing, shattering, and crucial read. Anyone who cares about education, education policy, equity, or kids should read this. I hope it becomes required reading for anyone designing curriculum, education policy, school administrators. Warren lays out a history of violence and intentional exclusion; she also lays out a path—if we are brave enough to take it—to get our schools back on track to teaching kids in a way that honors their humanity and results in, get this, better education."—Lulu Miller, co-host of Radiolab and author of Why Fish Don't Exist

"Written in an accessible and engaging style, this book asks us to face, as its author did, the atrocities humans have committed under the auspices of objectivity and righteousness. Refusing systematic racism disguised as scientific process and progress, Warren challenges us to recognize the ostensibly objective practice of standardized testing as violent and deadly, to reject the testing premises and practices that destroy human lives, and to work instead toward justice in education."—Alison Cook-Sather, author of Co-Creating Equitable Teaching and Learning: Structuring Student Voice into Higher Education

"Wendy Warren has written a compelling account highlighting the harm cause by our test-based educational policies, which, whether intended or unintended, support a false linear hierarchy of intelligence, merit, ability and/or worth. Starting from testing's modern roots in eugenics, Warren illuminates the through line to the present, from little-known historical facts to testing's impacts upon real people. Readers will better understand why the multi-billion-dollar testing industry's house of cards is slowly beginning to, and should, collapse."—Jay Rosner, Executive Director of The Princeton Review Foundation

"Warren's book provides a weapon to confront the meritocracy myths, such as standardized tests, which continue to hinder improvement. While Eugenics' mismeasurements of human intelligence were deemed invalid in the last century, their resurgence is alarming. With meticulously researched facts, she describes the origins of educators' over-reliance on standardized testing. Relevant research shows that the learning styles, emotional intelligence, and mental development of all students are not assessed justly. Warren calls to action anyone who believes public schools are community institutions worth investment."—Jacqueline G. Burnside, Professor of Sociology at Berea College

"As educators struggle with the disconnect between standardized test results and student learning and potential, An Illusion of Equity is the book we have been waiting for. Warren explores the historical roots of conditions that encourage us to expect and accept unequal results by exposing the ideas upon which the testing model was constructed. By revealing threads we can pull to unbind our education system from the smoke and mirrors of testing, Warren envisions a future where schools are relationship-centered ecosystems of mutual thriving. There is hope."—Jacqueline Battalora, author of Birth of A White Nation: The invention of white people and its relevance today

"Wendy Zagray Warren's carefully researched, enlightening book is an important contribution to this country's debate over systemic inequities. No doubt her thesis that the American system of educational testing has historical roots in eugenics, Nazi ideology, and white supremacy, will unnerve and disturb. But it is precisely the kind of challenging, heartfelt analysis that demands our attention and, hopefully, action. From decades of experience as a classroom teacher, Warren's love of students shines through and should motivate all of us to reimagine and strive for a system that values, respects and nourishes each child."—Deborah Lauter, executive director of The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights

"Our nation's system of required standardized academic tests was built on a mountain of good intentions designed to cure inequities, raise academic performance, and improve our nation's economic competitiveness. In An Illusion of Equity: The Legacy of Eugenics in Today's Education, Zagray Warren takes both the origins of these intentions and their real impact to task, exposing deeply systemic flaws in their logic and consequences—which are serving to reinforce (rather than cure) the problems they set out to solve. This work is deeply provocative and the arguments and concepts it raises need to be brought to the table as we consider the future of standardized testing, and of public education itself."—Jason E. Glass, commissioner and chief learner of the Kentucky Department of Education

"Every teacher, parent, administrator, and policymaker concerned about the proliferation of high-stakes testing in American schools needs to read this book. Through the eyes of a teacher, Warren tackles the veneer of 'norm referencing' and 'cut scores,' and shows how a historically rooted, racist, classist ideology has infused education with profoundly harmful, multi-generational consequences. This work makes visible an infrastructure of human worth and ability that has long been obscured, to our mutual detriment."—Anne Gibson Winfield, professor at Roger Williams University and author of Eugenics and Education and Education in America

9781985900028 : an-illusion-of-equity-warren
Online resource
August 1, 2023
$40.00 USD

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An Illusion of Equity

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Aug 2023 - University Press of Kentucky
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