Tuesday, December 5, 2006

"That's not what we meant!" - To it's everlasting credit, the SCOTUS appears ready to strip the fig leaf of artifice from what remains of the civil rights movement, at least as it pertains to education. In two cases that prove the importance of conservative judicial appointments, the Court seems intent on rolling back states' ability to assign students to schools within a given district, as reported by the NYT.

There seemed little prospect that either the Louisville, Ky., or Seattle plans would survive the hostile scrutiny of the court’s new majority. In each system,students are offered a choice of schools but can be denied admission based on their race if enrolling at a particular school would upset the racial balance.

At its most profound, the debate among the justices was over whether measures designed to maintain or achieve integration should be subjected to the same harsh scrutiny to which Brown v. Board of Education subjected the regime of official segregation. In the view of the conservative majority, the answer was yes.

Perhaps the (conservative) majority on the Court is aware that a government which has the power to integrate by race also has the power to segregate by race. Indeed, both race-based integration and segregation are points on a continuum of unconstitutional governmental race consciousness. Progressive rhetorical boilerplate to the contrary, the goal of Brown v. Board was achieving race neutrality in education. School assignment programs that consider race, much like affirmative action, do little to advance the goal of race-neutral education policies.

To the dismay of many, the civil rights community - along with much of the liberal establishment - holds that black students' proximity to whites is a critical factor in the success of both black and white students, with improved educational outcomes accruing to the former and the latter supposedly benefiting from "diversity." But even if the goal is to "educate everyone as equally as possible," there is no constitutional justification for anything other than a color-blind approach to teaching, assigning students to schools, or whatever else may happen in the classroom.

Here's an idea: perhaps the Left should extend their sphere of concern to equality outside of the classroom. Much of the observed racial disparities in educational outcomes might well diminish or even disappear if liberals were only as determined that every African American student was similarly prepared to be educated as white or Asian students. We know from current research that "substantially larger proportions of Black, non-Hispanic youth watch television for 6 or more hours per day than do either White, non-Hispanic or Hispanic youth." Sadly, it may well be too much to ask that the Left be as focused on equality of educational inputs as well as outcomes.

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