Thursday, June 28, 2007

"That's not what we meant!", pt. 2 - Today's SCOTUS decision in Parents v. Seattle (and Meredith v. Jefferson) did as was widely expected. As described by the New York Times, the decision "sharply limited the ability of school districts to manage the racial makeup of the student bodies in their schools."

The court voted, 5 to 4, to reject diversity plans from Seattle and Louisville, Ky., declaring that the districts had failed to meet "their heavy burden" of justifying "the extreme means they have chosen — discriminating among individual students based on race by relying upon racial classifications in making school assignments," as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the court.

Today's decision, one of the most important in years on the issue of race and education, need not entirely eliminate race as a factor in assigning students to different schools, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in a separate opinion. But it will surely prompt many districts to review and perhaps revise programs they already have in place, or go back to the drawing boards in designing plans.

The opinion's rationale relied in part on the historic 1954 decision in Brown vs. Board of Education that outlawed segregation in public schools — a factor that the dissenters on the court found to be a cruel irony, and which they objected to in emotional terms.

The majority's reliance on Brown is not entirely surprising in that, as discussed elsewhere, "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."

But beyond the legal mechanics of this decision, two recent trends have played themselves out to the effect that race-sensitive programs are difficult to defend. First, as the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow discrimination recedes further from our collective consciousness, it has become more difficult to make the case that present discrimination is necessary to make up for past unjustices. (And the current crop of civil rights leaders has been woefully inadequate in making a case for the former as redress for the latter, often reduced to camera-ready but otherwise ineffectual protests or loud "mau-mauing" on cable talk shows.)

But perhaps more importantly, as society has become more diverse in its preferences and more tolerant in its mores and attitudes, we have a generation of whites that is largely devoid of any collective guilt about race or racial privilege. They have come of age in what is for all practical purposes a post-affirmative action era. These 20- to 30-somethings lack any sense that opportunity is denied to anyone in any meaningful way; from their standpoint, the heavy lifting is done vis-a-vis race.

At most, society in general (and SCOTUS more specifically) seems willing to entertain race being used as one of several factors for consideration, with ethnicity not carrying more weight than any other circumstance. In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts makes as much of that very argument.
In the present cases, by contrast, race is not considered as part of a broader effort to achieve "exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints,"...race, for some students, is determinative standing alone. The districts argue that other factors, such as student preferences, affect assignment decisions under their plans, but under each plan when race comes into play, it is decisive by itself.
In the end, the Left's talk of educational diversity is as much of a diversion as are its obsessions with per-pupil spending, teacher salaries and the "achievement gap" between the races. All of these things are designed to obscure the fact that the educational system is woefully inadequate by any measure. We know that 12th graders are performing worse on the NAEP test than in 1992, and that schools have become more focused on indoctrination than instruction. One wonders whether the situation would improve if school districts spent less time "focusing on fads such as self-esteem, Afrocentrism or Heather's Two Mommies", and more attention on,

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