Kashawn Campbell

Predictably, many regard the Kashawn Campbell story as proof of low school standards. But I would argue that the underlying problem is grade fraud, which is a different issue.

I’ve been writing about grade fraud for college admission for a while now. Wait, you say, that’s a link to a KIPP piece. Well, yeah. Charters are among the worst offenders in grade fraud, which is the tacit admissions directive enabled by Top Ten % or eligibility in the local context plans: the kids with the best grades in their schools are guaranteed entrance to the public universities.

The policy rewards compliance more than ability, as I’ve also written; I routinely see bright kids with low GPAs in every type of school. If we are going to lower standards to bring in underrepresented minorities, far better to find the brightest ones—which aren’t necessary the ones with the best grades. And when I complain about this, some folks say some version of “Well, what’s wrong with rewarding hard work?”

Well, what’s wrong with it, eventually, is Kashawn Campbell. The people who value grades like to believe that the difference between an A and a B is nothing more than effort, when in fact, teachers can give whatever grades they like, with only a few restrictions that limit how low we can drop a grade. None limit our ability to give an A.

So the people blame crappy schools, because of course the only thing that prevents Kashawn from learning is a school that wanted the easy way out. And if we’d have Common Core, then we would have known Kashawn didn’t know anything. This line of thinking ignores the fact that California state tests almost certainly showed that Kashawn didn’t know anything—assuming, that is, he took the standard tests (more on that later). And then you have the affirmative action complainers—this group, I generally agree with but I am coming to the point of finding college admissions so revoltingly corrupt that affirmative action for blacks and Hispanics seems almost benign compared to the contortions universities go through to bring them in under alternative means.

But that’s not what interested me.

No, I’m wondering why the reporter, Kurt Streeter, who is African American, hinted at so much. Some details are so instructive that I can’t figure out why he didn’t go further or, more typically, leave them out.

What details? Well, the big one I wonder about: is Kashawn brain damaged? (Or, as a National Review commenter said in summarizing this essay, perhaps he is not neurotypical?)

“When I delivered him, I thought he was dead,” said his mother, Lillie, recalling the umbilical cord tight around his neck. “He was still as stone but eventually he came to. Proved he was a survivor. Ever since, I’ve called him my miracle child.”

Umbilical cord around the neck is pretty common and doesn’t usually lead to brain damage. The “still as stone” bit makes me wonder, though, if he was oxygen starved during birth.

He filled his dorm room with Cal posters, and wore clothes emblazoned with the school’s name. Each morning the gawky, bone-thin teen energetically reminded his dorm mates to “have a Caltastic day!”

“It was clear that Kashawn was someone who didn’t know about, or maybe care about, social norms,” said one of his friends. “A lot of people would laugh at first. They didn’t understand how someone could be that enthusiastic.”


They sat together in the front row. One teacher noticed that Kashawn subconsciously seemed to mime his roommate: casually cocking his head and leaning back slightly as he pondered questions, just like Spencer.

Kashawn reveled in the class in a way he hadn’t since high school. He would often be the first one to speak up in discussions, even though his points weren’t always the most sophisticated, said Gabrielle Williams, a doctoral student who helped teach the class.


Many of them jaywalked. Not Kashawn. Just as he’d been taught, he only used crosswalks, only stepped onto the street when the coast was clear or a light flashed green.


Sometimes in the dorm room, Spencer would look over at Kashawn and see him sitting in front of his computer, body frozen and face expressionless, JVC headphones wrapped over his ears, but no music playing.

He’s weird, in other words, and completely unconscious of it. Nothing wrong with that. Except he was prom king, and most likely to succeed.

His teachers and his classmates at Jefferson High all rooted for the slight and hopeful African American teenager. He was named the prom king, the most likely to succeed, the senior class salutatorian.

That strike you as a tad odd? Since when do high school kids name socially awkward kids prom king? Huh. Something comes to mind. But take a look at this first:

Part of the pressure came from race. ….When Kashawn arrived, 3% of Berkeley undergraduates were African American.

Kashawn’s high school is 91% Hispanic. So Kashawn went from being a 9% minority to a 3% minority. Not entirely sure he’d notice that difference.

A black kid with a goofy affect, limited social skills, geeky, awkward, and attending an all Hispanic school is declared prom king and most likely to succeed?

You know when a slight, geeky, weird guy with awkward social skills is voted most likely to succeed and prom king? When it’s an act of charity, an act that makes a group of tough kids feel good about themselves—that is, when the kid in question is “special”. You see it in all those feel-good articles about a special day student who becomes kind of a mascot for the school, the one everyone loves, who brings all the feuding elements together. Naturally, there might be another explanation. But anyone familiar with high school dynamics has to wonder about the specifics of Kashawn’s popularity.

Which is what I’m wondering, because even within the context of a low income, low ability school, Kashawn’s writing problems and his failure to improve seem significant.

And then, of course, there’s the friend, Spencer:

Spencer was raised in a tough L.A. neighborhood by a single mom who had sometimes worked two jobs to pay the rent. Spencer had gone to struggling public schools, receiving straight A’s at Inglewood High. Spencer didn’t curse, didn’t party, didn’t try to act tough and was shy around girls.

To Spencer, Berkeley was the first place he could feel fully comfortable being intellectual and black, the first place he could openly admit he liked folk music and punk rock.

He was cruising through Cal, finishing the first semester with a 3.8 GPA despite a raft of hard classes. “I can easily see him being a professor one day,” said his political theory instructor, noting that Spencer was one of the sharpest students in a lecture packed with nearly 200 undergraduates.

Why not write an article about Spencer? Wouldn’t it be nice to see a story about an inner city kid who was prepared for college? You could even include his SAT scores–hey, speaking of metrics that are totally absent.

Notice that Spencer and Kashawn take African American studies together. Notice that Kashawn got an A on the essay and a B on the midterm–and an overall A in the class, and that he “copied” Spencer’s every move. And notice that his writing professor basically accused him of cheating:

After reviewing his writing, though, it was clear to her that he had received far too much help from someone else.

It’s never mentioned again, this little cheating episode.

Questions remain:

  1. How did Kashawn pass the Introductory Science class with a D? No information about that class or the teacher is included.
  2. Why did the writing instructor give him an Incomplete twice instead of an F?
  3. What did Kashawn’s African American studies essay look like? Was it a deserved A, or a pity A? If the former, why could Kashawn only write well in this class? Why didn’t Streeter ask to see the A essay?
  4. Why doesn’t Streeter mention what classes Kashawn took in high school? Kashawn was a junior in 2011, which would be the last year he took the California end of state tests. Only 22 juniors at Jefferson High were black that year. Nine of them took geometry, nine took algebra II, two of them took Summative Math (for precalc and beyond). Which of these was Kashawn?
  5. Streeter clearly reviewed the school’s test scores. What were Kashawn’s scores?
  6. Did Streeter know that Kashawn’s school was 91% Hispanic? If so, why imply that Kashawn felt isolated in a non-black environment?

See, Kashawn’s story isn’t unusual—well, if he’s suffering from brain damage or is actually mentally retarded, then it’s a bit unusual. Otherwise, thousands of African American and Hispanic kids enter college every year, woefully unprepared to even begin to succeed. And, as the story clearly illustrates, the ones that work terribly hard or show the slightest bit of effort are often given passing grades out of some combination of pity and paternalism.

I am puzzled, however, that Streeter has left clues. Why mention Kashawn’s unusual affect, his nomination as prom king, his faithful copying of Spencer, to make it fairly clear to a closer reader that there’s something really off about the kid? Why be so uncompromising on the point of Kashawn’s incoherent writing and his failure to improve in any way, unless it’s for the same reason he includes only one quote from his mother which suggests his birth was unusual?

If Streeter wanted to indict the University of California admissions system, he has the stuff: an illiterate, possibly retarded, student is accepted via a standard specifically created to bypass the affirmative action ban. But he could have been more explicit: included SAT scores, state test scores, courses taken, specific examples of Kashawn’s writing.

If he wanted to indict Kashawn’s high school, which is how most readers seem to interpret the story, he could have gone even further and shown exactly how deep the fraud went. What math had Kashawn advanced to? What were his state scores? What books had he read in English class? How badly had his school fooled him? But all of that data is missing in action.

Of course, he might not have included this data because it would have given far too much away.

Or perhaps Streeter just wanted to illustrate the tremendous internal pressures experienced by a clearly wonderful young man who has no ability to complete college level work. Leave aside blame. Leave aside larger policy considerations. Just tell his story. Okay. Then why just hint at the special ed and the cheating?

Reporters often tell me they simply seek to tell the story, that they don’t think of policy issues, which strikes me as just a tad disingenuous. I have no idea what Streeter’s response would be but surely not that. How can any reporter tell a story about an unprepared African American student at the top public university in the country without thinking of the larger social issues he represents? He can’t. And if he can avoid the larger issues, surely his editor wouldn’t?

Then I read the article comments, and interspersed between the jeremiads about public education and complaints about affirmative action, I see:

Keep up the hard work Kashawn, college is not easy and your story is not an isolated one. There are thousands of college students that struggle like you, remember to stay motivated and keep working hard. If college was easy everyone would go (and graduate).
Keep it going Kashawn! Nothing that is worth it comes easy! Everyone is looking for “that chance.” I don’t think it’s wrong to give him one.

Keshawn – do not let anyone take away your stellar record and GPA from Jefferson or your heartbreaking first semester at CAL. You have heart and you will continue to make it. Good luck.

You can do it, Keshawn! I am a Cal grad who had the advantage of tough private school training. Your story makes me realize how lucky I was. You’ve got my full admiration for your integrity and determination. Don’t ever quit!

…and I realize that for some people, Kashawn’s story represents a beautiful struggle and success. And maybe Streeter is just writing for them.

The rest of us should avoid drawing any policy implications, and just pick up on the hints.

Updated to add: A few commenters have suggested that Kashawn has Asperger’s or autism. I thought of including this originally, but I’m not an expert, even though I sound like I think I’m one in the comments.

Kashawn doesn’t seem anything like the Asperger’s students I’ve worked with, but then, none of them have been low IQ. I’ve only worked with one diagnosed autistic student, and I do see some similarities.

But if Kashawn was autistic, wouldn’t Streeter mention this? UC Berkeley has a huge organization dedicated to helping students with disabilities, including autism, and extensive support for learning disabilities. Yet there’s no mention of that in the story.

I’m not any sort of expert on autism spectrum disorders. It could be that autism, rather than hypoxia at birth, is at the root of Kashawn’s oddness. However, I still don’t see any reason for withholding information about Kashawn’s high school academic record unless it would reveal that Kashawn’s cognitive abilities were profoundly limited.


About educationrealist

50 responses to “Kashawn Campbell

  • mrtallhk

    I also read this article, and thought it smelled a bit off. But you’ve done a superb reading here, bringing out many implications I’d missed. Kudos.

    I also read some of the comments, and they depressed me. The ones you’ve sampled here are typical: they are ritual expressions of an essentially religious impulse, i.e. praise choruses at the American Church of Multiculturalism and Diversity.

  • vijay

    the worst are comments that go like:

    “I was a freshman at Cal, when I really struggled with MATH 101 and Phys 101 and got Cs; I turned my life around, and got a degree in economics. You can do it too Kashawn”

    No, you had the background cognitive knowledge to work over freshman Cs. All teachers give a lot of Cs in first year physics and chemistry to weed out STEM majors from pretenders. K. cannot do that. He will have a 100 K loan and no degree when he drops out. Cal is actually screwing this kid over just to satisfy its affirmative action hunger.

    If you think that this is bad, wait until these kids go to law school. 150 K loan and no jobs!

  • zinjanthropus

    “Why not write an article about Spencer? Wouldn’t it be nice to see a story about an inner city kid who was prepared for college?”

    I suspect partly because he is an Oreo — he even listens to punk rock.

    Partly because if you limit A-A’s in elite schools to the likes of Spencer, you won’t get even 3% black representation. To get to a respectable number, people like Keshawn have to succeed.

    And he probably will. The article ends on a flourish — he’s gotten his GPA above 2.0! If he can keep that up for four years, he’ll get a degree, and he will become a very desirable hire. Right?

  • Mark Roulo

    The LA Times provides an e-mail for Kurt (kurt.streeter@latimes.com). Have you tried e-mailing him your questions?

    • educationrealist

      I tweeted him. No answer, but I’m not sure I was expecting one. If it’s going to get answers, it would be from a reporter. And besides, if I’m right, would the reporter want that getting out? It’d be hard on Kashawn. So if it’s true (and again, it might not be), only genuine media are going to get it out. Do you think it’s plausible?

      • educationrealist

        To clarify–I’m reasonably certain that Kashawn’s work on the essay and midterm was not his own.

        I think my interpretation of his odd affect, etc, as suggesting brain damage or organic mental “retardation” (not sure what the correct terms are anymore!) is also solid but there may be some other explanation that is equally reasonable. Skeptical as I am of UC’s methods, I would like to think they aren’t actually admitting kids with this condition.

      • Mark Roulo

        “No answer, but I’m not sure I was expecting one.”

        I wouldn’t expect one either, but it is nice to *try* 🙂 So thanks.

        FYI, the College Writing 1A class that he didn’t pass (but didn’t fail) is/was an accelerated version of remedial writing (basically remedial writing *plus* 1st semester of normal english/writing class). Why Cal has an *accelerated* remedial class is beyond me.

        In any event, failing to pass (even without the ‘F’) what is essentially a mid-range high school writing class doesn’t bode well for our hero. Sigh.

  • Anthony

    Kashawn sounds like someone who really does have Asperger’s Syndrome. I’ll bet that’s on his high school records, or at least on one of his letters of recommendation. Since lots of kids with Asperger’s are actually fairly book-smart, even if completely socially inept, there’s a myth that they all are. Some combination of that myth and affirmative action for the disabled is probably what got Kashawn into Berkeley.

    • educationrealist

      I thought of Asperger’s and dismissed it almost immediately. It’s clear that he isn’t very bright. The fact that he’s socially inept is hidden, and Asperger’s kids aren’t terribly friendly and not huggy at all.

      If he were book smart, the article would mention his SAT scores and the courses he took. He got in on ELC. Plus, if he had Asperger’s, he would not likely have been prom king.

      Of course, I’m just speculating so anything is possible. But he doesn’t strike me as having Asperger’s.

      Edited to add: I should mention that all the Asperger’s kids I’ve run into teaching have been quite bright. So maybe I’m wrong on that, since I don’t think it’s a required symptom.

      • Anthony

        My speculation is second-hand – I haven’t watched the video, just reading your (and others’) comments on it.

        My sister-in-law has Asperger’s. She’s huggy, but not always appropriately. She’s also of about average intelligence – she probably reads at about grade level or a little above, but is a little behind on math. So – not dumb, but not bright. While Asperger’s correlates with higher intelligence, the correlation is weak.

        If Kashawn is smarter than the black average, but not by much, he’s clearly not going to make it at Berkeley, and would have a hard time at any college, even the less selective ones. But having a disability allows U.C. to let him in despite not meeting the standard cutoffs for test scores and grades, and make their nose count look just a little better.

        As has been pointed out below, reporters aren’t always allowed to obtain, or sometimes report, information like that. If Kashawn or his family don’t want the reporter to say he has Asperger’s, the reporter can’t print that, even if it’s obvious.

        Ultimately, I don’t think we can dismiss the Asperger’s hypothesis, but there isn’t nearly enough to confirm it.

  • anon

    The quotation that follows is a comment authored by a self-proclaimed valedictorian and composed in response to a SF Chronicle article concerning his former high school. (http://www.sfchronicle.com/local/bayarea/item/Even-Odds-Part-1-22785.php).

    “African American male, graduate of Castlemont Class of 2011, valedictorian of my class and I now attend UC Berkeley and I dislike the fact that my former school Castlemont, only receive publicity when theres a tragic event. Prayers goes out to TuTu family and I was sadden by the situation considering the fact I was close with the family; but my concern is the fact we all talk about bringing “hope” to the students but yet the media is only involved when something occurs, which pretty much means without a tragic event, the school goes unnoticed only leaving the students with only dreams of becoming a better person and “beating the odds”rather than proving assistance, care, and guidance the students need. This is why I’m pursuing a B.A. in social welfare with the goal of creating my own nonprofit org to target students in my community upon graduation from Cal.”

    I’m curious and looking to get a benchmark on the state of these things. Is this level of writing ability representative of what might be considered ‘salvageable’ college material?

    • educationrealist

      I genuinely have no idea. But notice how the last sentence is far superior to the rest. I wonder if some schools are writing application essays for the kids, or “helping” them a lot. Because that last sentence doesn’t appear to be written by the same person.

    • Peter the Shark

      I agree. The last sentence is probably something he was taught to write (or was given by a guidance counselor) for an application essay at some point in the past, and now he pulls it out whenever necessary.

  • James D Miller

    He is probably autistic. Besides the social skill issues the following indicates sensory processing problems common among autistics
    “headphones wrapped over his ears, but no music playing.”

    • educationrealist

      I wouldn’t feel qualified to judge that even as a layperson. As a teacher I run into a fair number of Asperger’s kids, and Kashawn doesn’t strike me as in any way similar to them. But I have taught one student whose high school jacket said Aspergers who the sped expert in our district told me confidentially was a high functioning autistic (parents didn’t want him labeled). I can see some similarities.

      But here’s the thing: I can see why the reporter wouldn’t mention brain damage or mild retardation. Why wouldn’t he mention autism, particularly if Kashawn was high functioning? Unless it leads back to the same place–Kashawn is not “neurotypical” and doesn’t have the IQ for high school, much less college.

      Unless the clues were just to lead everyone one so he could come back and say neener neener, he got a 600 on the math SAT.

      • Sideways

        “Ha, he only scored 120 points below the median on one section of the test!”

        Although only 240 points below two part would put him above average relative to white and Asian students in most schools. OTOH, most schools don’t have no afirmatie action, in theory.

  • educationrealist

    James Miller and Anthony,

    I updated my essay to address the issue of Aspergers or autism. Interested in your responses.

  • Hattie

    I’m no expert either, but I’m not getting aspie vibes off this guy. I have some experience with the mentally handicapped (BTW, the terminology confuses me as much as anyone) and this stood out the most:

    “One teacher noticed that Kashawn subconsciously seemed to mime his roommate: casually cocking his head and leaning back slightly as he pondered questions, just like Spencer.”

    That’s something I see with a lot of more high functioning people with mental handicaps. They’re just intelligent enough to only really identify with their “normal” peers, but not intelligent enough to really pull it off. But they’ll try it. The aspies I know don’t have the observational skills to do it, and they don’t seem to consistantly care. Also, they won’t be voted Prom King. I like them, but not enough people do to vote them in over the popular, neuro typical people.

    Kashawn sounds like a lovely guy. He’s not only there as an AA filler, but also so people don’t have to really consider what to do with him. If we accept personable, enthusiastic, low IQ people as they really are, we would have a moral obligation to adapt to that.

    The even greater crime than leaving him with massive debt and – at best – a useless degree with a 2.1 GPA (optimistically speaking) is that, if he was left to his own devices and his own level, he’d be crushed. I want to know why a high functioning person on the far left of the bell curve (I’m with ER’s original conclusion) can’t get jobs, can’t make enough to live on. Nope, let’s throw him in the deep end and pretend we can “cure” him if we wish hard enough.

  • yuumuraj

    Grades and health information are private and protected by federal law. You need written consent from students and their parents to get a lot of the information you listed. Maybe Kashawn and his family said no.

    I agree the reporter could have done more. If he felt like Kashawn was possibly…less able than the other students, he could have had some frank off-the-record conversations with teachers, peers and professors to test the theory. He could have asked Kashawn for copies of his old papers.

    Then again, he may have tried to do all this and gotten nowhere.

    You have a lot of valid points, but I don’t think people realize how many constraints journalists have when trying to piece these stories together. There’s a difference between knowing something and being able to prove it, which is why stories often look like piles of circumstantial evidence with no conclusion.

    • educationrealist

      I have, over the years, gotten a better idea of some of the constraints that journalists deal with, and this sounds very reasonable. Best explanation yet as to why he may have been so…circumspect.

      However, if the UC system is letting in mentally disabled students, then I would argue the LA Times has a mission critical requirement to alert the public. If he could get nowhere, then he should not have done the story. Really, at that point, why not do a story on Spencer?

      • yuumuraj

        The reporter was probably trying to highlight how “bad schools” fail to prepare students for college — a very liberal, blank-slatist view of things, but that’s how most of them think. So Spencer wouldn’t have made a good case study.

        I agree they should tell the public if the UC schools are letting in the mentally challenged or the grossly unqualified. I think the story makes a pretty good case that that’s happening. That probably wasn’t the intent when Streeter began, but I suspect that’s the conclusion he reached.

        Proving it’s a system-wide problem would be huge, but privacy laws would make it difficult.

      • educationrealist

        I think their policy is causing it to happen accidentally. Maybe this is a cautionary tale to high schools who give feel good As to black or Hispanic “special ed” kids? If so, it’s just another way in which the media puts ideology in front of its responsibility. I hope that’s not the case.

  • Sideways

    That picture of the 90% white African American studies class cracked me up.

  • olddog

    @ Sideways –

    Why shouldn’t whites take African American studies? Seems like what we don’t learn in our neighborhoods, we can learn in school.

    • vijay

      Serious Comment? I assume so and reply here.

      AAS is a class you take for an Easy B min. People go to AAS minor when they are unable to roll over credits for other majors. AAS allows bringing in all kinds of other credits to wrap up a AAS major. It is impossible to get a job after AAS, only grad studies.

    • Sideways

      They should, if they want an easy A. That’s not why it’s funny.

  • Latias

    I don’t know how limited Kashawn’s cognitive abilities are, but it is obvious that he does not possess the necessary hardware to be considered an “intellectual”. BTW, could a person with SAT scores of 600-M and 520-CR, which are still above average, struggle like him in Berkeley, even if he/she tried his/her best. I went to a state university with a heavy URM presence, and most of the minorities score below the aforementioned scores (and I am assuming, without any written evidence and for the sake of arguing, that those are Kashawn scores). At my university, it used to be that students had to undergo English remediation if they scored below 550 on the CR/V and if they failed a university English assessment; now the threshold is 500-CR to be exempted from taking the assessment. It does not seem that Kashawn has to be mildly mentally retarded to struggle at Berkeley; he could even above the white mean in cognitive ability to experience his academic adversity at Berkeley.

    Still, I do not think that a mildly mentally retarded person could be a salutatorian and deemed “mostly likely to succeed”, even at an intellectually weak high school with a superior work-ethic. The most parsimonious explanation that he is just an above-average black, and Streeter mentioned the hypooxia at birth as a literary device to emphasize how Kashawn overcame dire situations. There does not seem to be any reason to suppose that neonatal hypooxia detrimentally impacted his cognitive ability (and his ability to function socially and not appear awkward) when Kashawn is most likely an intellectually above average black who had enough charismatic pep and enthusiasm to be popular in high school.

    • educationrealist

      The most parsimonious explanation that he is just an above-average black

      You apparently don’t spend much time around black people. Under no circumstance does Kashawn represent above average mental capacity for any race. That’s utterly moronic, as indeed is your entire comment.

      • Latias

        All I have are speculations about how a certain level of cognitive functioning corresponds to proficiency in academic tasks. I thought a low 500 SAT Critical Reading would correspond to Kashawn’s level of performance in the introductory writing class, but unlike you I did not personally observe people from the entire gamut of cognitive ability performing academic tasks. Yes, I do not associate with people of below average intelligence regularly, so I do not know what a 520 SAT CR is capable of. From personal experience, I was also in an introductory writing class that I easily passed with peers who were mostly likely, based on the schools median SAT scores, in the 500-600 CR range. My peers struggled to earn Bs and Cs, while in contrast, I had a relatively easy A as I simply spent a few hours composing the prose to satisfy the length requirement of the assignment and reflected on some abstract topic that satisfies the fairly broad prompt.

        So what is so “moronic” about believing that the curriculum of Jefferson High is intellectually challenging enough that a genuinely mentally retarded person cannot possibly become a salutatorian?

        Actually, I think this comment from the LA Times comment section is an accurate assessment of Kashawn:

        I happen to have graduated with Kashawn in the Jefferson High School class of 2012, sixth in my class, and I currently attend UCLA as a political science major. As the article suggested, he’s a kindhearted individual with a sort of pep that he exudes, and that is true. But my observations of him, academically, suggested to me that he was not as smart as everyone perceived him to be. He was praised as an individual who tried, but the reality was that he was not competent enough to deserve those A’s, and dropped classes that he felt would not guarantee him an A, and his popularity among both teachers and students aided in the praise for his “cause.”

        It does not mention explicitly “mental retardation”, but even if the commenter’s credibility is questionable, his assessment have the same amount of support, even if we disregard anecdotal evidence, as your conjecture of mental retardation, since you did not personally interact with Kashawn nor are you privy of his standardized test scores or content of his academic work. Even if Kashawn is mentally retarded and the commenter is trying to conceal this through euphemism and omission, his expressed words and tone do not necessarily imply that Kashawn is “mentally retarded”, and that given the short length of his comment, there is not enough contextual information to infer whether he believes Kashawn is mentally retarded. The author merely states that Kashawn is “not competent enough” and “not as smart”. He might be using litotes to convey that Kashawn is mentally retarded, but he does not seem be employing a literary device that would complicate the interpretation of his words and instead states his observations directly.

        Also, hypoxia at birth does not necessarily lead to mental retardation:

        [Hypoxia ischemic injury] continues to be a major cause of death and neurodevelopmental disability in term neonates, although its prevalence appears to be declining. The prevalence of HII is estimated to be between two and four per 1000 live term births (10). Between 15% and 20% of infants suffering HII die during the neonatal period, and an additional 25% develop permanent neurologic deficits (2).


        Thus, it is fairly reasonable to believe that Kashawn is not mentally retarded.

      • Eldritch

        “He was praised as an individual who tried, but the reality was that he was not competent enough to deserve those A’s, and dropped classes that he felt would not guarantee him an A, and his popularity among both teachers and students aided in the praise for his “cause.””

        We had one of these at my school as well, not mentally challenged or anything, strictly average intelligence. But quirky and with a strange ability to play on that quirkiness for attention and privileges that I could never quite pin as knowing or unknowing. I felt like it played on everybody’s desire to see a scrappy underdog succeed.

        The problem is, then you somehow ride the wave all the way to UC Berkeley, where even for bonafide elites, your best just might not be good enough. Reality comes crashing in on you, you were never “that” good and everyone was participating in an illusion that made them feel good about themselves.

  • garyinfh

    Look, without Mr. Campbell’s SAT scores (and any other standardized tests he may have taken while in high school, to the extent that such tests are proxies for IQ), we’re all just guessing at how intelligent he really is. Nonetheless his inability to pass the freshman writing course, even after two tries, plenty of individualized attention from two writing instructors and his own considerable elbow grease, suggests fairly modest abilities. Poor readers — “poor” as in, unable to comprehend what one is reading, and similarly unable to draw conclusions from the written material and apply them in separate contexts — are usually poor writers, and nothing in Kurt Streeter’s article marks Mr. Campbell as an avid reader, whether of Harry Potter novels, the works of Ayn Rand or Vibe magazine.

    But Ed Realist is right about at least one thing: if Mr. Campbell’s SAT scores were truly impressive, Mr. Streeter probably would have put them front row center in his article. And by “impressive,” something like the 25th percentile — i.e., the bottom quarter — would have sufficed: according to Berkeley’s own website, the 25th percentile of most recent entering freshman class had scores of 630 Reading, 640 Writing and 660 Math. (The 75th percentile had scores of 740 Reading, 760 Writing and 770 Math, meaning that for each individual test, one-quarter of all entering freshmen exceeded that score. Now that’s an elite school.)

    When I read Mr. Streeter’s piece before seeing Ed Realist’s admirably close reading and critique, I didn’t know who to be angrier at — the Berkeley admissions officers who chose to admit a student whose college career was almost certain to be a constant struggle, or the teachers and guidance counselors at Jefferson High who promoted Mr. Campbell, gave him obviously inflated grades that didn’t reflect genuine academic achievement, and encouraged him to apply to the UC system anyway. (Did no one at Jefferson realize that Mr. Campbell couldn’t write a clear, coherent essay to save his life, and that this shortcoming would make it nearly impossible to do college-level work at a lesser school, much less the elite Berkeley?) Even though there’s plenty of blame to go around, it appears that Mr. Streeter and the L.A. Times couldn’t figure out which institution to point a finger at for this debacle, either.

    • educationrealist

      See my response above. If Kashawn is indeed “non neurotypical”, then he was almost certainly admitted by accident. Be angry at Cal, sure, but for the right reason. The college didn’t say “Hey, let’s bring in an autistic/brain damaged kid!” but “Hey, the kid has straight As and he’s black” and then didn’t look any further. (again, if this whole take on things is correct.)

      Second, if Kashawn had average SAT scores of 550, he’d be in the top 10% or so of African Americans and would be fully capable of functioning at Berkeley. I’m not a fan of affirmative action, and there are fairness issues involved, but don’t conflate fairness and functionality.

  • educationrealist

    I wrote this at Steve Sailer’s blog and thought it would do well here:

    In response to a detractor who said So a retard got so much pity that he got an “A” from practically every teacher in every class for four years?

    Special day students don’t take the same classes as regular students–if he was special day. Special ed kids don’t have to take the same classes, either.

    I see two possibilities–assuming, of course, that the interpretation is valid. First, and most likely, he worked hard in classes where many other students didn’t work, and the teachers rewarded him for the effort. No individual teacher would have had a thought other than making him feel good and what harm would it do? This is a school where many kids don’t work at all, where classes are filled with disruptive students. You have a kid who works hard, and hell, where’s the harm?

    The teachers in question would never dream of anyone confusing his A for actual achievement.

    But then the actual smart kids in harder classes don’t get As all the time, and suddenly a bunch of teachers’ well meaning pat on the head becomes the second highest GPA. Not because there aren’t smarter kids, not because they think he’s actually capable of doing the work.

    The second possibility is that the school scammed his grades on purpose from his freshman year. I find that unlikely.

    I do wonder if the school “helped” him write his admission essays a little too much. Or maybe someone else did.

    The possibility that seems the most likely is accidental 4.0 GPA, Kashawn wants to apply to Berkeley, the school wants to do right by him, figuring Berkeley will look at the transcripts and figure it out and oops. They don’t.

    To commenters in general:

    Remember the article about the holistic reading? How likely is it that they train the readers to look for “this kid is mentally disabled”?

    So unless the school actively committed fraud, I don’t see it as the school’s fault. All blame goes to Berkeley and the people who wrote the essays for him. (which may have been the school).

    This is not about affirmative action per se, but about the substitute for affirmative action–gpa. Definitely an unintended consequence. The Forrest Gump allusion is brilliant.

    Finally, there’s no point in sending Kashawn to community college if I’m correct. His cognitive deficiencies would not allow him the degree of academic or intellectual growth he’d need.

  • Hermann

    James Heckman, call your office! Here is a young man whose “soft skills” are top 1% ( http://www.nber.org/papers/w18121.pdf ). He’s vibrating with conscientiousness. Yet somehow he can’t make the grade. He puts plenty of big words into his essays but they still don’t impress readers. He goes in for tutoring every day but he still can’t pass his quizzes. Could something be missing from Kashawn’s cognitive panoply?

  • College Admissions, Race, and Unintended Consequences | educationrealist

    […] for starters, relying exclusively on grades leads to Kashawn Campbell at the low end—hell, Kashawn’s story singlehandedly reveals the need for test scores, […]

  • Asian Immigrants and What No One Mentions Aloud | educationrealist

    […] their numbers for the rankings systems, to offset the athlete, the legacies (for privates), and the Kashawn Campbells (for publics). And so they try to minimize it, while still getting what they want—an improved […]

  • streamfortyseven

    Back about 25 years ago, I was a TA in an organic chemistry lab class, and there was a student having a hard time setting up her apparatus, even though the instructions were clearly specified on the handout. Her fellow students weren’t helping her at all and so she was pretty much on her own. I went over to her and went through the first part of the instructions and it became obvious that she had no clue as to what was going on, so I asked her to read the instructions to me. She told me, quietly, that she couldn’t read. At all. She was illiterate, she’d been admitted to the School of Education – whose students tended to be not so bright in general – and she was the valedictorian of her high school class in Liberty City, near Miami. How she got past freshman chemistry was a mystery to me, but I had to tell her that she couldn’t continue with the course, she absolutely had to know how to read and understand English. That was a difficult thing for me and for the professor running the class, but there wasn’t any way around it.

  • Cindy

    I am utterly disguted. I was a classmate, and fellow member of Jefferson’s Debate team along with Kashawn. I know him and know first hand that he is a bright and charismatic individual. To suggest that Kashawn is mentally ill is ridiculous. He was voted prom king because everyone genuinley liked him. people like him are rare and its very close minded to say that he struggles with a disability. so he struggled his first year at Cal, so what? alot of people struggle, big deal. His stuggles are only emphasized because of where he came from. if someone comming from a good, quiet suburb had the same issue, i doubt anyone would care enough to write an artice let alone dissect the reasons for his failure and go as far as to imply mental disability. Kashawn is doing well, and despite his hardships he remains determined. if he was ever cut any slack its becasue we all know what its like to put your best foot forward while its hacked off at the knee.

  • cindy

    blame the reporter for spotlighting someone who, despite struggling, worked hard and still came through? A low IQ does not necessarily reflect someone’s intelligence. nor does it imply a mental disability.

    • educationrealist

      Yes, a low IQ does indeed reflect someone’s intelligence. And if it’s low enough, it reflects mental disability.

      And I mean blame the reporter for clearly indicating that there’s something abnormal about Kashawn.

  • Just a Job | educationrealist

    […] who push them past their ability level. So they can’t read well, but they have a 3.9 GPA. Kashawn Campbell or Dasmine Cathey. The other kids, the ones who didn’t buy in, who aren’t interested in […]

  • Lazarus

    I interacted with Kashawn regularly while I was a student. It seems very likely to me that he’s on the autism spectrum, but I can’t speak to his academic performance. I do know that he left the school before graduating, though I hear secondhand that it wasn’t for academic reasons. What a useless, bizarre little mystery.

    • educationrealist

      I was just talking about that with someone and did a search. He does appear to have left school and is now doing a sort of financial planning. The friend, Spencer, on the other hand, is doing pretty well. He wrote for the Daily Cal and is now employed after graduating in 4 years.

  • GPA and the Ironies of Integration | educationrealist

    […] of the lower standards are a time-honored journalism time-killer; I wrote about the  Kashawn Campbell saga a few years ago as an example. But sob stories usually involve kids in the deepest of high […]

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