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.