I guess some people wish to perpetuate complex, convoluted solutions that don’t actually solve problems. How else can I explain the New York Times’ editorial this morning that decries the Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday that school boards cannot implement segregation policies that take explicit account of a student’s race.
The Times’ editorial calls Seattle’s and Louisville's plans “modest”, but the woman from Kentucky who initiated the case that eventually found itself in front of the highest court in America was told by her school board that her son was to attend a school that is a forty-five minute drive across town instead of the school that is a five minute walk from their house. That doesn't sound modest to me. It sounds disruptive.
Shouldn’t a school reflect the neighborhood it serves? That was always my belief. A school provides a central spot for the children of the neighborhood to gather and learn with the same kids they were playing with in the backyards at home. As you moved up the schooling system – middle school, high school, possible college – the coverage of the school would widen as you become aware of the wider world you live in.
Third graders don’t care about race quotas. They want to run home and play with their friends they made in class that day, or go to school in the morning with their friend from across the street. That can happen when some of the kids on your block go to one school, while you go to a school all the way across town.
Sure, at the neighborhood grade school level the student population might be 90% white, but by the time they reach high school, and the multiple neighborhoods served by the school, the race demographics would shift to reflect the community.
The Times criticizes the Court’s decision, claiming the Justices in the majority have turned their back on Brown vs. Board of Education and its plan “to prepare students to live in a pluralistic society.” But forever busing kids forty-five minutes across town for schooling was never the intent of the ruling. At least that’s what I understand from comments made by the lead lawyer in that historic case, Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Justice Marshall has stated in interviews that the point of the case was never to force white kids and blacks kids to sit next to each other in a classroom. It was about forcing all-white school boards to start properly funding schools in predominantly black neighborhoods. Start moving the kids around and the racist school boards would be forced into equal funding for all schools. Ultimately the kids could return to their neighborhood schools and the sense of community that could be derived from them.
It was good plan at the time, but I don’t think it holds up now. Schools are funded equally now. Unfortunately today that means under-funded. But at least the lack of money is distributed equally across schools in every neighborhood. The concern of school boards shouldn’t be about hitting racial diversity quotas, but instead delivering the quality education equally to children that will prepare them for a global workforce. There shouldn't be a reason to bus a kid forty five minutes for that in America anymore.