Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is "Desegregation" the Answer to NJ's Education Problems?

It's hard to believe, but some in New Jersey are trying to resurrect the idea that "desegregation" is the answer to the serious problems of the public schools, especially inner city, mostly poor and "minority" school districts. In a recent NJ Star-Ledger article (Bringing N.J. schools' racial segregation into open), columnist and unwavering defender of the public school system Bob Brawn called "racial segregation - in schools, in cities - the worst of unresolved issues that make for injustice in New Jersey."

"By any measure, New Jersey has one of the most segregated school systems in the country," said David Sciarra, director of the Education Law Center, the organization that brought the school aid cases to the state’s highest court.

"We have to reopen that front," he added. "We have to start to talk about what we need to do to break down district boundaries."

His remarks at a recent event echoed those of other participants both eager and well-placed to disinter once again the buried issue of racial segregation in New Jersey.

"If we achieve nothing else, we will finish the work begun by Brown vs. Board of Education," said Benjamin Jealous, the 35-year-old national director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People...

Brown v. Board of Education properly ended legally enforced segregation in government-run schools. It properly did not authorize "desegregation" in the private sector. But it should be noted that the de facto "segregation" that still exists in housing and education is oriented around a government owned and operated institution, the public schools. When Sciara talks about "district boundaries", what created those artificial boundaries - dictatorial political fiefdoms, run by central planning entities called school boards, that effectively traps residents and their children and forbids all but the most well-to-do from seeking alternatives to their centrally assigned public schools? They are government-imposed boundaries. And what is one of the primary considerations of people seeking a community to settle in? - finding the districts with the better-run public schools. Economics clearly plays a role, too. Race is not a significant factor. (Several correspondents in the comments section pointed - correctly, in my judgement - to the regulatory welfare state as a prime culprit in the decline of inner cities and thus the decline of inner city education as well as the persistence of the "segregation" problem.)

That segregation is still being seriously talked about almost half a century after the last vestiges of direct legal segregation were expunged from American society is quite astounding, in my view; and instructive. This, after half a century of explosive welfare state growth - or because of it. The implications are insidious; that the individual's life is primarily directed by his environment, rather than his own choices and intiatives; that racism abounds; that force must be used to override "unacceptable" private voluntary decisions on where people live and send their children to school.

My Commentary:

zemack May 19, 2011 at 8:36PM

So, now we’re back to looking for racism in statistics. We’re back to black kids can’t learn unless they’re surrounded by white kids. We’re back to predominantly white communities are proof of racism, while predominantly black ones are not. We’re back to skin color matters – not character.

Racism is still with us, and it resides on the collectivist Left.

"Has anyone heard the governor or the Legislature say anything about race, social justice, or affirmative action?"

Race is not the issue, Mr. Harris. It is irrelevant , and I commend the governor for not centering on that. “Social justice” is a euphemism for socialism, and is at the root of the problem. Tax supported, government-run schooling herds children into authoritarian, assembly-line like “progressive” systems, divided into the very districts Sciarra deplores. His answer: Redraw district lines so that black ants can be mixed better with white ants to form one big human ant colony.

Affirmative action? What can be more affirmative than talking about the subject that reactionary defenders of the educational status quo deplore, parental school choice – or, empowering parents to seek the best education they can find for their own individual children.

Christie is on record as favoring tax credit-based universal school choice. He has declared this as his number one goal as governor. I don’t fully favor the technical structure of his grand plan, which the pending Opportunity Scholarship Act is his model for. But school choice in the abstract points in the right direction – toward a free market in education. The combination of parents seeking the best education for their children coupled with educators competing for their business will unleash the intellectual forces of free minds acting and contracting freely in their own mutual best self-interest. In a free market, the same forces that brought computers and cell phones down to prices that poor people can afford will do the same for education, once the government’s bureaucratic educational establishment is swept aside. Private schools catering to all income levels and educational needs – for-profit and non-profit alike – will flourish in number, bringing quality education across the board. There are no “district boundaries” in a free market.

Christie is taking the first halting – even flawed – but meaningful steps in that direction. Reactionaries have no argument against the burgeoning school choice movement. They are morally and philosophically bankrupt, so they change the subject to race. But it makes no difference to a child’s mental development whether his neighbor has the same skin color or not. Give the better parents who care about their children the free market empowerment to guide their own children’s education, and we will see motivated children who want to learn flourish – and as adults acquire the skills and thus means to move to better neighborhoods of their choice. There is no meaningful embedded prejudice in white America today.

But first, it’s time to face the facts. The current school system emerged in the mid 1800s. A century and a half and trillions of taxpayer dollars later, we are down to determinism, collectivism, and skin color. The tax-supported, government-run public school system has had its chance and it has failed, especially for the poor and the inner cities. It’s time for the radical, the innovative – a revolution in education.

A free market leaves people free from physical coercion. That is what the "free" in free market means. Reason and character are attributes if individual human beings. Braun's statistics are meaningless in relation to this fundamental nature of man, as long as people live in a political atmosphere that leaves them free to act upon their own judgement. It is only in relation to collectivism that skin color supersedes reason and character. That is why champions of the collectivist educational status quo cling to the former, and recoil from the latter: It is the only defense open to collectivists. They trot out reams of statistics that allegedly "prove" the existence of "injustice", while engaging in a real and monumental injustice; blocking parents from seeking the best education they can find for their children. Recognizing reason and character as factual attributes of the individual - and only the individual - leads directly to where Christie wants to go, parental school choice.

Education is one area where the political winds are at the backs of advocates of free markets; i.e., of individual rights. Not all school choicers, perhaps not even most, are full advocates of individual rights - if they even know what they are. But the widening support for parental school choice is an indication that government-run education and its supporters have their backs to the wall. That race is being dragged back into the school debate is evidence of that.

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