"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, December 01, 2006

Conservatives, Resegregation, and the Old Confederacy

Yesterday Dartmouth President, James Wright, felt it necessary to stage a public rally to beat back the brushfire started when tan-shirted young journalists for the conservative Dartmouth Review published racist pictures against the Indian community there. This follows recent efforts at Boston U. by college Republicans to start a scholarship for whites only. If these displays of bigotry were only on college campuses, we might find a youth-related rationalization for them, but these excesses mirror a deeper racial resentment that is not simply due to youthful exuberance. This type of racism is at the heart of lawsuits in Washington and Kentucky, where public schools are in court defending their integration policies against elements of America's proto-segregationists who are inspired and assisted by the U. S. Justice Department.

Since the Reagan era when the federal government (the courts included) turned its back to desegregation efforts, the resegregation of America and its schools has continued steadily. As Ruth Marcus points out in WaPo, the Civil Rights Project (which has just moved to UCLA, by the way) shows the "percentage of black children attending schools that are mostly minority increased from 66 percent in 1991 to 73 percent in 2003." Here is a clip:

Communities trying to do better than this should be celebrated, not sued.

The cases before the court involve school systems in Seattle and Louisville. Their plans differ -- Seattle's affected only high school assignments, Louisville's involved elementary through high school -- but they share common characteristics: They offer children a choice of schools and give weight to factors such as geographic proximity and sibling attendance. Race comes up only when a particular school's racial balance is far out of line with the city's student body as a whole.

This is not the kind of invidious discrimination that is at the core of the Supreme Court's aversion to racial classifications. As federal appeals court Judge Alex Kozinski, a Reagan appointee, wrote in the Seattle case: "No race is turned away from government service or services. The plan does not segregate the races; to the contrary, it seeks to promote integration. There is no attempt to give members of particular races political power based on skin color. There is no competition between the races, and no race is given a preference over another. That a student is denied the school of his choice may be disappointing, but it carries no racial stigma and says nothing at all about that individual's aptitude or ability."

Strikingly, Louisville was under court order to remedy intentional segregation in its schools from 1973 until 2000 -- at which point the Clinton Justice Department, arguing that the system hadn't yet eradicated the traces of its former discriminatory system, opposed freeing the district from court supervision.

Now President Bush's Justice Department argues against giving Louisville flexibility to ensure that its schools don't spring back to their previous state of racial isolation. Under this upside-down logic, a school system that is under court order one day to use race-based remedies finds itself barred the next day from doing anything race-based to prevent its schools from reverting to segregated patterns. What happened to respect for local control of schools?

The administration's position flies in the face of five decades of federal education policy, enshrined most recently in the No Child Left Behind law. For years the federal government has given money to schools, including money for programs that explicitly take race into account in making school assignments, to encourage efforts at integration. . .

Who could have known that the rise of the Old Confederacy might be inspired by a blue-blooded former National Guard pilot and a handful of hacks purporting to lead the Party of Lincoln while dreaming of his retirement in Crawford, Texas?

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