Courting Ideals

While in the car yesterday I heard this disturbing snippet on the news: “The Supreme Court today handed down a decision severely limiting the desegregation powers of schools.” 

Naturally, I was both shocked and awed.  Bien sur. 

Even that bastion of fairmindedness, the Huffington Post (please note sarcasm), asserts today that

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court clamped historic new limits on school desegregation plans.

While I am not happy at all with the current Supreme Court composition or their heretofore record of decisions, in reading more about yesterday’s decision I’m not sure that news line was correct, and I’m not so sure that I don’t agree with the court on this one.  And do people actually read what’s going on before spouting off on a blog or, God forbid, putting it on as “news?” 

What the Court said, essentially, is that race can only rarely be used in deciding where kids go to school.  Justice Anthony Kennedy disagreed with Chief Justice Roberts and was crucial in allowing that sometimes race may be used as a decisive factor–essentially as a last resort:

Crucially for school districts seeking guidance, Justice Anthony Kennedy went along with the court’s four most conservative members in rejecting the Louisville and Seattle plans but also said race may sometimes be a component of school efforts to achieve diversity.

To the extent that Roberts’ opinion could be interpreted to foreclose the use of race in any circumstance, Kennedy said, “I disagree with that reasoning.”

I like that.  Life itself is a nuanced experience and I’ve never been a huge fan of absolutes.  Kennedy’s ruling is an acknowledgement that while race shouldn’t need to be used, this is life, and shit does happen, in so many words. 

And think about this before you go condemning this court for this particular decision.  Should it really be race that’s the decisive factor in where kids go to school?  Wouldn’t economic circumstance be a more reasonable, if not perfect, measure of educational opportunity?  Because that’s what the purpose should be in any case: allowing all students to get equal access to educational resources. 

In essence, while the decision does say that schools can’t decide to move black kids to white schools based on race, it also affirms Brown v. Ed in that students can’t be segregated into black or white schools.  There is nothing in the decision that prevents other, and socially less venemous factors, from being criteria for school placement.  These other factors, like economic status or test scores, were not addressed by the ruling and are far more pertinent to determining a child’s need than race. 

I cannot believe I’m quoting Clarence Thomas, whom I have absolutely no respect for, but he’s right in this instance:

“Because ‘our Constitution is colorblind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens,’ such race-based decisionmaking is unconstitutional.”

The ultimate goal of the school plans that were challenged in this case are admirable: equal educational access for all students.  But using race as a factor in administering that access is wrong.  We are far too concerned with race in this country and it’s time we grow up about it.  That starts by finding ways other than race to determine where kids should be schooled. 

At least that’s my view. 

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6 thoughts on “Courting Ideals

  1. Great post. I am perusing the blogosphere to guage reactions on this ruling and yours is a very nuanced view compared to most.

  2. I completely agree. My first response was, “Whaaa?” Admittedly, part of that was my own uncertainty on what, actually, had been decided. After a bit more research, while I’m not 100% happy with the SCOTUS decision, it’s not the return to post 1950s racial segregation in schools lots of people are characterizing it as. Besides, there have been so many other 5/4 decisions of late that are so completely egregious that it seems somewhat petty to freak out about a decision that appears to say what the civil rights movement has been fighting for, namely that race doesn’t matter.

    In relation to that, a question: Is this a case of “be careful what you wish for”, do you think? I realize we’re entering into a sticky topic area here, but the consternation about this decision seems somewhat ajar with the goals of the equal rights movement.

  3. Yes, I think using economic status might be effective way to go about reshuffling the student population. But this is what I find interesting, it might also reveal just how pointless (and purely symbolic) this case is:

    In essence, the Brown decision was a truism at the time it was decided. Since economic status and race were so closely linked together in the 1950s, the idea that you could have “separate, but equal” was as much an economic farce as a constitutional one. It simply couldn’t be done.

    1- Now, this is debatable, but if those conditions are still largely true today…then it doesn’t matter whether we call it planning for “race” or “economic status.” Substantively, you’d end up with pretty much the same plan.

    2- If the economics disparity has been closed, however, then race is no longer tied to it. Thus, “economic status” placement will look totally different from the racially based integration plans .

    Call me cynical, but I think (1) is far more likely than (2). Or, in other words, this “reverse discrimination” stuff is much to do about nothing. It’s merely rethorical. The center of power in this country hasn’t shifted that much.

  4. And think about this before you go condemning this court for this particular decision. Should it really be race that’s the decisive factor in where kids go to school? Wouldn’t economic circumstance be a more reasonable, if not perfect, measure of educational opportunity?

    Agree 100%. Race-based reasoning tends to have the detrimental effect on racial harmony. It increases resentment and a sense of separation between ethnic groups.

    However, using class as an indicator is a far more equitable, effective, and non-divisive solution. I’ve been agitating for class to be used in place of affirmative action and various “diversity” programs in public education. Not only would it level the unequal quality and opportunities in public education systems based on property tax programs, but it would still accomplish much of what supporters of the race-based systems seek. As minorities tend to be disproportionately poor in America, they’ll benefit most from a system that takes income and economic circumstance into account when assigning students to schools, considering public college admissions, etc.

    And you don’t have the really ugly practice of assigning students a value merely because of the color of their skin.

    The “destruction of Brown v. Board of Education” is just a bunch of hysterical lefty agitprop, and it does nothing to serve the needs of children who deserve a quality education without being used as pawns in a bunch of identity politic gobbeldy gook.

    And as an aside, I’m really pleased with Chief Justice Roberts so far. Kind of agnostic with Alito, though.

  5. John:

    Hopefully your #2 will be the truism eventually, in which case the opportunities would be afforded based on actual need and not an arbitrary factor like race.

    Here’s hoping.

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