Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A dangerous obsession

Spot read Katie's column yesterday, just another piece of drivel bashing the public schools. But Spot had other things to occupy him yesterday and didn't have time to comment on the column. So, with a mixed sense of ennui and despair, boys and girls, Spot approaches her column today. Regrettably, Spot is the old dog snoozing on the porch who will nevertheless rouse himself to chase the rusted-out Oldsmobile—perhaps it was your father's Oldsmobile—with the bad muffler when it drives by a couple of times a week.

Is Katie your dangerous obsession, Spotty?

Well yes, grasshopper, she is, but the post title is really meant as a warning to Spot's friend, the Wege. He has devoted a troubling amount of electronic ink to Katie of late. Spot says, Turn back Wege, mend the error of your ways before it is too late. Katie has claimed the lives of too many bloggers already. Spot's should be a cautionary tail tale.

While trudging down the road to perdition yesterday, the Wege does make some interesting points. He runs Katie's column through the "Jewing Test," a search and replace exercise intended to see if the substitution of "Jew" for whatever group Katie is complaining about makes the reader uncomfortable. The theory is, well let's let the Wege tell it:

For those who have forgotten, the Jewing Test is a global search and replace exercise the replaces all references to one "group," and replaces them with terms like Jew and Jewish. If the result creeps you out, then maybe you should wonder why you weren't creeped out by the original text.

It's an illuminating exercise. The Wege also says this:

Just because suburban kids have all the advantages is no reason to cede that advantage to them in the public school system, as well. The real problem here isn't Kersten's columns, it's our stinkingly racist society, white flight, and the abandonment of inner city youth by our winner-take-all society.

The premise of Katie's column is pretty well summed up in the title, "Another try at balancing schools by race falls flat." If that doesn't sound smug to you, boys and girls, then have a look at Katie's picture. See what Spot means? Katie tell us about two schools set up by WMEP, intended as magnet schools to draw children from Minneapolis and surrounding suburban schools in an attempt to achieve a voluntary racial integration.

One can almost hear Katie chuckling as she writes the lede:

The Inter-District Downtown School in Minneapolis and the FAIR School in Crystal opened their doors with much fanfare in 1999 and 2000, respectively. Their sponsor is the West Metro Education Program, a consortium of the Minneapolis school district and 10 suburban districts. WMEP created the schools at a cost of more than $26 million to be showcases of racial balance, achieved voluntarily.

Last week, we learned that they are no such thing.

Today, Inter-District students are 70 percent minority and the FAIR School is nearly 70 percent white. Their racial composition is little different from that of the districts in which they are located. The Inter-District School actually qualifies as "racially isolated" under state desegregation rules.

Almost giddy with this disclosure, Katie goes on to give us her verdict:

This revelation will disappoint you if you think that getting a good education requires sitting next to someone whose skin color is different than yours. But while many social planners (including judges) seem to view education this way, most ordinary folks don't.

"Including judges," what does Katie mean by that?

Grasshopper, Katie is referring to the use of school busing to achieve racial integration of schools. Ever since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which held that "separate but equal" was inherently unequal, federal courts have struggled to find a way to insure the integration of schools. Intra-district busing was one of the attempted remedies. It was one way to achieve some racial balance without taking over the entire school system. What would you have preferred, Katie? That the judge appoint himself, his clerk and court reporter, and the U.S. Marshal to the school board to run the district until it was integrated? Or perhaps—and this may have been in the offing had WMEP and programs like "It's You Choice" not been created—inter-district busing might have been considered.

And who are the ordinary folks, Spotty?

They're the white "flighters," grasshopper:

But mandatory busing did have one devastating unintended consequence: White, middle-class families began streaming out of the city. When the suit that launched busing was filed in 1971, the Minneapolis district was 14.5 percent minority. In 1985, it was 40 percent. In 1994, it was 62 percent minority and today it's 72 percent.

Putting themselves beyond the reach of intra-district busing, in other words. The federal judiciary and proponents of integration underestimated the will of white people to avoid having their children attend integrated schools.

That's it in a nusthell, boys and girls. White flight is merely residential segregation writ large. We're left with the same problem we had pre - Brown v. Board of Education. But that's okay with Katie, because she hates public education anyway.

Katie does get cause and effect turned around. Residential segregation existed for a long time before efforts were made to integrate schools. School busing did have the effect of damaging the community created by a neighborhood school; this is regrettable and has certainly damaged support for the Minneapolis Public School system. But the answer is not to simply accept de facto or de jure segregated schools. Spot thinks the Brown court was right in saying "separate but equal is inherently unequal."

Spot believes the long term answer is in the reduction of segregated housing patterns. Addressing that, of course, will make integrating the schools seem like a piece of cake.

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