The Elusive Search for Equality

The recent Supreme Court decision of Meredith v. Jefferson County Public Schools looks to reverse a long history of decisions about the role of race in allocating public school students to achieve equality of education.  The fact that there are people on both sides of the racial divide who agree with this decision is  important and should not be dismissed out of hand.

The idea of integrating schools to improve the possibilities for black children was a good one.  The pattern has been repeated in other places and is being applied to causes that don’t have anything to do with racial or economic disparities.  But, as is the case with many campaigns, the unintended consequences have negated many of the promised benefits.  The two I will mention apply primarily to Southern schools and states, but probably can be applied elsewhere.

The first is the issue of community.  One of the unspoken goals of desegregation was to break the cohesion of the white population, which was perceived as perpetuating the apartheid that existed.  But the black community was eroded to a greater extent by sending their children out of the neighbourhood schools.  The ability of black people to stick together, buttressed by institutions such as the black church, has been a key to survival in a frequently hostile environment.  Taking that key away has led to problems.

The second is that achieving equality only papered over the fact that the public schools in general left and leave a lot to be desired of.  The previously white schools that the black children were bussed to were only marginally less inferior than the ones they left.  It never occurred to anyone that the best road to equality is the road to excellence.  Had the resources spent on desegregation been properly spent on upgrading the schools in general, everyone would have benefited.

With this decision, the best option for equality is that those who seek it must use the political power they have wisely.  They need to hold the school district accountable for their own neighbourhood schools.  This is actually doable.  For example, in the superintendent search I was involved in last year, I saw the two black school board members (out of nine total) hold out against an "establishment" candidate in favour their own preference (and mine) who ended up becoming Superintendent.  School boards need to stop being the rubber stamp of any "establishment" or the trade union for that matter and properly represent the people’s interests.  (If they can sway a superintendent vote, they can do anything.)

Then–and only then–will we have real equality.

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