October 25th, 2007
11:00 AM ET
10 years ago

Biden 'stumbles' over education question

Sen. Joe Biden.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - In what the Washington Post is describing as a "stumble," Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said in an interview with the paper Wednesday that Washington's high minority population is one of the reasons for the city's education problems.

Explaining why schools in Iowa are performing better than those in Washington, D.C., Biden told the Post, "There's less than one percent of the population of Iowa that is African American. There is probably less than four of five percent that are minorities. What is in Washington? So look, it goes back to what you start off with, what you're dealing with."

"When you have children coming from dysfunctional homes, when you have children coming from homes where there's no books, where the mother from the time they're born doesn't talk to them - as opposed to the mother in Iowa who's sitting out there and talks to them, the kid starts out with a 300 word larger vocabulary at age three. Half this education gap exists before the kid steps foot in the classroom," the Delaware Democrat added.

The paper reports Biden's campaign quickly sought to clarify the remarks, saying in a statement that the senator was not making a "race-based distinction" but rather a "socio-economic" one.

This isn't the first time Biden's words have caused controversy. Last February, on the same day he officially announced his presidential bid, a newspaper quoted the senator describing Sen. Barack Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

And, in a June 2006 appearance in New Hampshire, Biden commented on the growth of the Indian-American population in Delaware by saying, "You cannot go into a 7-11 or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. Oh, I'm not joking."

- CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney

Filed under: Iowa • Joe Biden
soundoff (133 Responses)
  1. Marco Deletar, New Orleans, Louisiana

    Biden is usually right about things and says things people don't necessarily want to hear but need to hear. And somehow he always manages to shoot himself in the foot at the same time.

    October 25, 2007 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  2. Bob, Seattle, WA

    Biden is one of the DEMOCRATS that speak the TRUTH. Most Dem's just hold out the lollipop to the minorities in an attempt to 'keep them on the government reservation' instead of holding them accountable, forcing them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and be responsible, productive citizens. The REPUBLICANS, instead of 'pandering to the poor' and every now and then, visiting the 'reservation', try to talk STRAIGHT. Those 'minorities' that wake up and pick themselves up, accomplish the American dream. This STILL happens 'only in America'. You will notice that most of the 'rhetoric' concerning the 'poor minorities' comes from the DEMS and only then when they are 'visiting the reservation' soliciting votes.

    October 25, 2007 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  3. Shelby, Atlanta GA

    The first step to fixing a problem is recognizing it, isn't there? So do you want a presidential candidate who thinks everything is hunky-dory in the African-American community, or one who recognizes that decades after the Civil Rights Act we still have systemic inequalities in economic access and eduction? That's WHY Biden got involved in politics in the first place, to fix these problems! Take a look at his record and his continued high marks from the ACLU and NAACP, you'll see that this is a man who cares about equality - he just talks bluntly and honestly like someone who doesn't assume you're out to twist his words into a Gotcha for kicks.

    October 25, 2007 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |

    Though Senator Biden comments rings with a tinge of insensitivity I do believe they have merit. How else do you explain such a disparity in test scores and school performance between Blacks and other ethnic groups. I do not think Joe meant to disparage African Americans but it is nigh time that we get to the guts of the matter. For reasons that need to be discussed a lot of African Americans have not taken advantage of the opportunities to excel in education. NO APOLOGY REQUIRED.

    October 25, 2007 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  5. James, Minneapolis, MN

    I have said this before but please people refrain from discussing race from an educated point of view.

    There is no racial basis for the difference in the way parents educate their children.

    Biden can hang it up.

    The issues that people deal with in the inner city and in rural area can be incredibly different.

    The truth or lack there of in his statement makes no difference because the premise is wrong. The color of the parents skin has nothing to do with it.

    He should be ashamed of himself for us having any educational issues in our nations capital.

    Talk about that with all of the most powerful people in the world concentrated in such a small area they cant help the situation.

    October 25, 2007 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  6. its obvious

    look the fact is black families dont raise there kids the same as white families FOR THE MOST PART. it doesnt mean every black family raises there kids the same but a big portion do! thats why black neighborhoods are bad neighborhoods!!! because the kids arent raised right and they become criminal elements. its not like crime is just there and black people are forced into it because they work SO HARD and nothing works as well as crime. its because they dont want to work!! and for the most part they arent raised to work hard they are raised to believe they are owed something!!! why is there no black neighborhoods that are nice places to live????? because they are poor? well why are they poor???? cmon its truth america will only survive if we have pride in being american and we can point out our faults and fix them and help eachother but instead we are all so proud. look what happened to bill cosby when he commented on how black families are not raising there children right. he was attacked by everyone......pathetic

    October 25, 2007 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  7. Rafi Mittlefehldt, New York, NY

    Bob from Seattle:

    Scenario: Rich white family owns a black family. Emancipation comes along, and the rich white family releases the black family, who has no money. Over the next century, initial poverty, segregation, race laws, a lack of education, and social racism keep this black family just barely employable.

    Only 40 years after people start trying to achieve equity between blacks and whites, and you're surprised it's not over yet? Slavery is over with and racism is on its way out, but these two will continue to have far-reaching consequences for generations to come. It's been a domino effect that simply has not ended yet. Yet.

    It's easy to talk about being "productive citizens" when you happen to be on the right side of opportunity. Or when you're a trust fund kid.

    October 25, 2007 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  8. Joe Biden, Delaware Donuts

    You kids get off my lawn.

    October 25, 2007 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  9. Bubba, Swainsboro GA

    When they find his brain tumors next week we're all going to feel bad.

    October 25, 2007 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  10. David, Westchester, NY

    This may be hard to hear but Biden has a valid point. This is not bigotry it is reality for some unfortunately. I agree with an earlier blog – Black men need to MAN UP! BTW, Biden is by far the smartest choice for President.

    October 25, 2007 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  11. Sarah Hayes, Florissant, MO

    Biden's right – it's purely socio-economic, this achievement gap in education. It just happens that it coincides with race distinctions. The last comment about the 7-11 was stupid, though. It didn't really prove anything.

    October 25, 2007 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  12. Tim Marietta, Georgia

    Why is it that when people speak the truth whether it be Senator Biden or Bill Cosby that they are branded as outside the mainstream. Cudos for Biden for telling the truth about what is ailing public education and why No Child Left Behind will never be effective.

    The best schools are in upper middle class areas and the worst are in inner city schools. Most inner city populations are majority minority schools and most kids are being raised by single family moms who don't speak to their kids because they work two-three jobs just to support the family.

    October 25, 2007 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  13. Randy, Maryland

    It would be a stretch intellectually to label Biden a racist based on anything in this article.

    To the other poster: Is Biden relevant? As a former Democrat turned Non-Affiliated I would say Biden is exponentially more qualified than Clinton or Obama. He has a track record of leadership in the senate that the other's just don't have. He actually get's stuff done as opposed to failing and blaming the other side for their failures. If we say Bush is divisive, how can we then say Clinton would be the answer. The Presidency in '08 is really the Democrats to lose.

    October 25, 2007 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |

    Great point, RAFI OF NY, Spot on.

    October 25, 2007 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  15. Angela, Alexandria, VA

    Thank you RAFI! Blacks have NOT had the same opportunities as whites, so it has and will take them alot longer to accomplish certain things. White families have owned property in America for centuries, and that money has been passed down for generations, making whites richer. Whereas Blacks only got their freedom about 40 years ago.

    WHITE PEOPLE..wake up! Do you not see all the opportunities you have and that others don't. I'm not even black and I can see this.

    October 25, 2007 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  16. its obvious

    Rafi Mittlefehldt, New York, NY

    the only problem with that is the fact that Jews, Irish and other nationalities have faced slavery but overcame because afterwards they stuck together and kept there values and there families strong in this situation in black neighborhoods that attitude is definetely not the same. family values are out the window and society provides an attitude of understanding when history will show understanding doesnt work when the society doesnt look inward and instead uses the understanding as a crutch. it will never get better until the families get better

    October 25, 2007 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  17. SM, Morro Bay, CA

    In the latest interview with Bill Cosby on PBS, Bill talked about the black culture that puts any kid down who does well in school. He said the black kid is told not to be a "whitey". Bill Cosby said that culture is part of the reason that in general, heavily black neighborhoods do not do as well as white neighborhoods in school. Although Joe Biden could have said what he meant more clearly, was correct when he said that the environment for doing well in school is better in Iowa than in Wash DC.When you are worried about getting shot, worried because there are drug dealers on your block, and struggling because you are poor to provide nutritious food and healthcare, school takes a back seat. Also, it has been shown that kids who come from college educated parents do better in school. What is the education level of the parents in downtown DC.?

    October 25, 2007 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  18. Derek Salem, MA

    It is priceless when Liberal Democrats, who constantly paint all Conservative Republicans as racist, expose themselves to their own human condition. Racism is a learned human behavior, not a partisan issue. I do believe Democratic Senator Robert Byrd was a member of the Ku Klux Klan (that is a fact not in dispute) and I wonder the African-American community has ever been told that? What would they say? Would Kanye West come out and say Sen. Robert Byrd doesn't like black? Would never happen and that is sad....

    October 25, 2007 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  19. Sri, Columbus, Ohio

    Although the comments may be seen as a little rough, they are true. I want a president that is not afraid to speak the truth. We need a president that speaks the truth. Moreover, I am glad he recognizes what he is up against with education.

    October 25, 2007 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  20. summus

    The fact that he has to clarify the remark to not hurt anyone's feelings is the exact same reason why those educational performance gaps will never be solved. We are not honest in America. And that lack of honesty will keep us from solving the problems that plague us. Politicians lie to us because we demand it.

    October 25, 2007 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  21. Tim, Marietta Georgia

    Reading some of the comments, I'm amazed at how out of touch some of your comments are. Many of you have never stepped in a classroom and don't have any idea how public education works.

    No Child Left Behind will never work because public education never worked for all our population in the first place. In 1950, we had a 50% high school rate!

    The difference today is that most kids who left high school or barely graduated could go to a factory and get a union (decent) paying job, work twenty to thirty years and raise their families in what we would call the "American Dream".

    Today, those jobs have gone to the Third World, and the losers in this system are the working-class to poor people, particularly inner city people.

    Now the American people are being sold a bill of goods called No Child Left Behind, that puts all the blame on teachers for what ails public schools.

    Biden is correct that strong stable families with an emphasis on learning are the key to public education ever working. It must come from a culture of expectations. Asian kids arrive in US schools barely able to speak English and in one-year they have not only mastered the language but are at the top of the class.

    Why? Their parents expect them to excell in school.

    October 25, 2007 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  22. Greg, Waverly, PA

    Biden is a dangerous. A voted for him is ill advised. Look at Mike Huckabee for a non wavering choice.

    October 25, 2007 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  23. Deb, Webster NC

    Rafi says: "Over the next century, initial poverty, segregation, race laws, a lack of education, and social racism keep this black family just barely employable. Only 40 years after people start trying to achieve equity between blacks and whites, and you're surprised it's not over yet? Slavery is over with and racism is on its way out, but these two will continue to have far-reaching consequences for generations to come."

    oh please, get real. Legal, hard-working immigrants have come to this country and become solidly middle class within a generation. Millions of blacks are now upper middle class. What is the difference? Taking advantage of educational opportunities and valuing that education within the culture, coupled with a hard-driving work ethic. Plain and simple. Your excuses just don't hold water anymore, and it is time your people are called on it.

    October 25, 2007 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  24. AJ, Chicago, IL

    Again Joe Biden puts his foot in his mouth. Biden's greatest strength is his foreign policy experience, anything else is a weakness. Simply put the strength of any school system is relative to the expenditure per student, the wealth of the school district community, and the involvement of parents. That is the basic formula for a successful education system. America is always trying to put everything, education in this case, into a racist category. Unfortunately, Joe Biden's "tell it like it is" attitude tends to lead to other problems. Sort of like his resolution to split Iraq into 3 separate states. Sounds good for Americans who are short-sighted, but I see this as a long-term problem. Imagine a Kurdish state at war with Turkey, a Sunni state becoming a state-sponsor of Al-Qaeda, and a Shia state pretty much an extentsion of Iran. I think Biden needs to follow Brownback...DROP OUT, PLEASE

    October 25, 2007 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  25. S. James, Jenks, OK

    No doubt there were better ways for Sen. Biden to phrase his reply. I personally believe socio-economic class and opportunity has more to do with academic achievement (or the lack thereof) than race. However, all one has to do is turn on the radio, listen to some of the so-called music on it with its lyrics glorifying pimping, thuggery and mysogynism, and somehow the protestations of those screeching about Sen. Biden's racial "stumble" don't seem to carry as much weight.

    October 25, 2007 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
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