Supreme Court addresses race and public schools
For those of you still in permanent vacation mode until after New Year’s, let me point your attention to a case being heard before the Supreme Court to determine whether race may be used as a basis for assigning students to public schools. This case is not receiving nearly as much hype as the University of Michigan cases but its impact will be far reaching. The heart of the dispute centers on
on two programs in Seattle, WA and Louisville, KY that use race as a factor (not the only one) in hopes of ensuring that each school’s population approximate the racial make up of the entire system.
According to an article at findlaw.com, (emphasis mine)
The school policies in contention are designed to keep schools from segregating along the same lines as neighborhoods. In the Pacific coast city of Seattle, only high school students are affected. The plan in another city, Louisville, Kentucky, applies systemwide.
Now I will resist the urge to go into a historical tangent on the effects of far reaching effects segregation in public policies and schooling in particular due to but not limited to the GI Bill following WWII, private racial covenants, racial zoning and otherwise blatant discrimination propagated by the deeply flawed Federal Housing Administration, and who could forget the historic rise of Levitowns. When we couple these state-supported segregation forces with public school systems largely funded by local property taxes, it is no surprise to see schools generally segregated by four factors, class, race, location, and overall school quality. (For more on this topic, read Jonathan Kozol’s landmark book entitled, Shame of the Nation)
Nevertheless, in Seattle, a parent was outraged after her then 8th grade daughter ranked the top three high schools she wanted to go to and was refused admission to her first school of choice (newly remodeled at the time and majority White) and she was assigned to another school (arguably of lower overall quality and majority Black). Now I am sure that one of the main reasons why the Seattle parent moved to that part of town in part to take advantage of the good school in her area. And what the Seattle plan does is simple, it disallows (on a grand level) parents to provide their kids a better education via living in a part of the city with higher socioeconomic levels.
Why this affects you
I don’t know the demographics of the people that read the SuperSpade, but I would venture to say that many of you do not have any children. However, if and when you do decide to have kids, where you plan to live will have life-long effects on your child’s development. Chief among these reasons is the quality and reputation of the school system. Any real estate agent worth his/her chops will go to great lengths to discuss the quality of the school system when trying to sell a home to family that has children. This is because they know that if nothing else, the quality of the schools will play a huge part in the decision-making process. So when you have kids, would you agree to raise your children in a district that had a race-balancing program, knowing that they might not get into the best possible school? I ask that because I wonder how you would feel if you were that Seattle parent. In that respect, I would argue that most parents are rightly or wrongly, insanely selfish when it comes to providing the best for their children. Moreover, this decision will have a huge impact on the ability of the state (in this case school districts) to provide opportunities for children to be able to interact with other children that do not look like them. And for anyone who has spent extended time in a diverse environment, one of the saddest things is to see someone hold views that are so flawed but could have been addressed if they were exposed to a diverse environment.
Diversity as a compelling state interest?
Therefore, the reach of this decision is broad because like in the University of Michigan cases of 2003, diversity is being put forward as a compelling state interest. Now I believe in diversity but I know many folks that support affirmative action and/or race balancing policies see diversity as legal front for ensuring that underrepresented minorities get access to opportunities that were historically denied them. To that end, sometimes the legal proponents of diversity and affirmative action will argue diversity in court but will wink and nod to their supporters, with both parties knowing the real fight at hand. So if diversity is the legal strategy that is keeping policies like affirmative action alive, (by their chinny chin chin no less) then the supporters of affirmative action and race balancing should be able to articulate the virtues of diversity with the same force and articulation as arguing that their kids deserve access to quality education and employment opportunities.
This post is getting long, so I will stop, but I will point out the solution to this problem. If all the schools in any district were equally excellent, then parents/students would not feel compelled to see that one top school as the only way to get the training they need to compete. But in our society, too many of us are unable to envision a world where someone doesn’t have to lose in order for us to win..