What does Affirmative Action actually affirm?

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RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., April 29, 2014 – BREAKING NEWS: Racism still exists in America. So do ignorance and intolerance. Since there is little chance of eliminating ignorance and intolerance, what can be done to reduce their impact on issues of race?

In a 6-2 decision (a veritable landslide in today’s world), the Supreme Court upheld the right of Michigan voters to amend their State’s Constitution in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. However, since the case involved the elimination of affirmative action within the context of public contracts, public employment and public education, it attracted significant national attention.

In that regard, Chris Wallace conducted an extremely interesting interview on Fox News Sunday on April 27th with Jennifer Gratz and Shanta Driver. In a rare application of the network’s motto, he actually kept the discussion “fair and balanced.”


READ ALSO: Affirmative action in Michigan: The Supreme Court got it right



Ms. Gratz is the individual who successfully challenged the University of Michigan’s particular application of affirmative action to its undergraduate program in a 6-3 landmark decision in Gratz v. Bollinger, et al., 539 U.S. 244 (2003). Conversely, Ms. Driver is the civil rights attorney who unsuccessfully argued against Michigan’s ballot-enacted prohibition of considering race in college admissions in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.

In Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court ruled that the University’s application of “points” was not a sufficiently narrow exercise of affirmative action to be upheld. As Ms. Gratz stated on Fox News Sunday, the University granted 20 points in its admission process (out of 100) based solely upon racial status while granting only 12 points for a perfect ACT/SAT score, 1-2 points for an outstanding admissions essay, etc.

Mr. Wallace did an excellent job of questioning both of his guests and allowing them to challenge each other’s position and respond to such challenges. For the most part, the two women argued their respective interpretations of the facts until Ms. Driver decided to cast decorum aside and condemn the High Court’s action as a “racist decision.”

Ms. Gratz countered by saying, “I think that it is unbelievable that someone would sit here today and say that prohibiting racial discrimination is a ‘racist decision.’”

Ms. Driver finished the segment by saying, “The old Jim Crow is the new Jim Crow, and it has a name.”

However, do not dismiss Ms. Driver’s argument for her inability to provide “a civil assessment” of the issue.  She did in fact make the most compelling statement of the well-managed debate when she stated the following:

“Look at K through 12 education and you look at the experiences of Black and Latino high school students in the State of Michigan. You compare any Detroit school to any major suburban White school in the State; the difference is night and day.

“And what those points (a reference to the point system that was rejected by the Supreme Court in Gratz v. Bollinger) represented was a recognition of the inequalities in this society that still structure opportunities. It wasn’t a gift to those students. It was a recognition that those students that work the hardest, that did the best coming out of those inferior schools deserve the same chance as their White counterparts that have so much privilege to go there.”

So, let’s examine why this was the most important statement of the entire exchange.


READ ALSO: The Supreme Court closes the book on affirmative action


As is endemic within our society, we tend to misdefine our problems, misidentify their root cause, select from among only those alternatives that conform to our precognitive beliefs, and allow cognitive dissonance to protect us in the wake of our decisions. Ms. Driver’s comment underlines this phenomenon.

Let’s assume that Ms. Driver’s initial premise is correct: If we were to “look at K through 12 education and… look at the experiences of Black and Latino high school students in the State of Michigan… (and) compare any Detroit school to any major suburban White school in the State,” we would find “the difference” to be “night and day.”

Isn’t the problem, properly defined, one of addressing the educational disparity that may exist between the two school systems to which she alludes? Then, shouldn’t we explore: How do the systems differ; what resources would be required to create parity; and what steps can be taken to eliminate the gap in order to provide an equal opportunity to all students?

Correspondingly, at the collegiate level, what is the root cause of the inequality among high schools applicants? Is it the color of their skin, or is it a failed “K through 12” system that doesn’t even comply with the “separate but equal” mandate of the maligned Plessey v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), that Ms. Driver mentioned during one of her answers.

Why isn’t there a coalition that’s focused upon challenging why we continue to permit disproportionate differences in the quality of our public education rather than just a coalition that’s focused on masking the failure with “affirmative action”?

Ms. Driver argues that “…what those points represented was a recognition of the inequalities in this society that still structure opportunities.” Then, why not truly “recognize” the “inequalities” and eliminate them rather than continuing to allow them to exist? How does the former approach solve the problem?

The only thing for certain is that, while awarding points “in recognition” may assuage the sense of social justice of those who bemoan the inequality, it does almost nothing to assist those who have suffered from the lack of opportunity, and it completely fails those who will be resigned to face a similar fate in the future.

Ms. Driver asserts, “It (the points) wasn’t a gift to those students. It was a recognition that those students that work the hardest, that did the best coming out of those inferior schools deserve the same chance as their White counterparts that have so much privilege to go there.” This is the intellectual equivalent of treating cancer with a Band-Aid.

She is absolutely right when she says, “It (isn’t) a gift to those students.” A gift would represent something of value. A gift would be having provided those students with equal educational opportunities leading up to college rather than diminishing their ability to compete.

Let’s assume affirmative action (in the form of granting some kind of race preference) helps those who have been denied an equal education to experience college life. If a true educational gap exists, how will it be closed after the applicant’s acceptance? Will 20 points be awarded to the student on every test? After all, aren’t we trying to erase 13 years of having betrayed these individuals and denied them equal rights when it comes to their education? Where is the outrage in that regard?

Ms. Driver offers no solution for eliminating the “inferior schools” of which she speaks. She seems more comfortable in camouflaging the problem, which will only allow it to continue.

Of course, some students will rise to the occasion, capitalize on the opportunity of attending college, and substantively improve their lives. However, others will be damaged by their lack of preparation and will fail; perhaps cementing unfair stereotypes for yet another generation.

Among those minorities who would have succeeded without assistance, we risk diminishing their accomplishments by subtly assigning a doubt as to whether their achievements were singularly attributable to their own efforts. This societal undercurrent is patently unfair.

Interestingly enough, affirmative action was never meant to create racial preferences. The term originated in March of 1961 when President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, which required government contractors to “consider and recommend additional affirmative steps which should be taken by executive departments and agencies to realize more fully the national policy of nondiscrimination…. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

Notice that the operative phrase is “treated without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Too often, we have found it more convenient to craft programs that specifically treat people with regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin, and you can add gender and sexual orientation to that list as well.

As I have often said, “The phrase ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal’ doesn’t have an asterisk.” If we could only grasp that concept and focus on providing equal opportunities to all rather than fashioning special exceptions that only reinforce a discriminatory environment, maybe we could take a large step toward forming “a more perfect Union.”

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A Civil Assessment has been designed to serve as an Op-Ed forum for you. You are invited to offer your opinion and to discuss your position in the Comment Section. Please be sure that your “assessments” remain “civil” so that they may earn the respect of others.

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TJ O’Hara provides nonpartisan political commentary every other Tuesday on The Daily Ledger, one of One America News Network’s featured shows (check local cable listings for the channel in your area or watch online at 8:00 and 11:00 PM Eastern / 5:00 and 8:00 PM Pacific.

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  • Guest

    Being in a diverse society, I do not know about you folks, but it is depressing for me to go to a school or work in an organization that is mostly White or mostly Hispanic or mostly Black or mostly Asian or mostly Indian, etc. I want and need diversity in life. I want to see all races. When I see all kinds of races in one institution, then I know this is such a great world. When I only see one race greatly dominating all others, then I am living in their world. I am an outsider. When I see a race that is greatly dominated with my own race, then I am bored and feel trapped.

    I equate the diversity of an organization with great success of getting people to work together as a team. This is a great display of tolerance with differing cultures. This has always been my dream that people of all different races can work together peacefully in one institution. When I see a university or workplace greatly dominated by one race, then I see that organization as intolerant and a failure in the social/team aspects of education or workplace, respectively. When I see a diverse organization, then I see that organization as a complete success. I 100% believe in diversity of an organization mimicking the diversity of the community at the very least. This is why it is important to start AA in Kindergarten and educate the disadvantaged students at K-12 well in order for them to be able to aggressively compete in college admissions. These disadvantaged HS students need to be educationally qualified or overqualified for AA to work and this starts in Kindergarten.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      I, too, believe that diversity enriches the experience of all concerned. While tangible diversity is important, I hope that we evolve to the point where it isn’t even noticed. I believe that time will come more quickly if we begin to embrace more diversity of thought.

      Our political Parties have become increasingly polarized by their intolerance of civil debate. Perhaps that’s why so many children suffer in inferior schools (i.e., because the Parties refuse to define the problem properly, identify the causes(s), and consider all alternatives rather than just those that flatter their particular Party).

      We continue to sacrifice the talent of generation after generation because we refuse to solve the problem. Some blame racism as if assigning blame will solve the problem. The reality is that we need to stop worrying about “who’s right” and put political posturing aside long enough to fix the problem to disparate educational opportunities.

      Education is the threshold issue when it comes to establishing true equality. It opens up new opportunities and hope for those to whom it has been denied. Once we have a balanced K-12 educational system, merit can become the sole determinant of success and affirmative action can be permanently retired.

      Thank you again for your comment.

  • Guest

    Children from ghetto USA public schools and are stuck in that school district do not have a chance with college. Do you know what they call that type of ghetto education? BANTU education. Bantu education is aimed to direct black or non-white youth to the unskilled labour market.

    When I saw Rachel Jeantel on TV (the friend of Trayvon Martin), how she talked and how she could not read cursive, I gasped and went what in the world, USA? Most rich parents leave their kids in private schools and not get involved in their education. They let all the private school do all the education work. And those private school kids learn something and excel. Even if these Black kids have no parents and just have school, Rachel Jeantel is a prime example of spending 13 years in an American PUBLIC ghetto school for which she learned NOTHING. She freaking wasted 13 years of her life. Schools should educate children regardless of parents. Even if the parents are illiterate, these children should still excel in a good public school. The problem with USA PUBLIC schools is they always place the blame on parent involvement. If a child has no parents, illiterate parents, foreign-speaking parents, etc. the child should excel in school as children with parents. I was enrolled in the private school by my single parent who never attended any teacher conferences, never volunteered and did not care about how I did in school. My parent trusted the private school and that I would be educated. I learned a lot in the private school because the private school teachers never cared if the parents were a no-show. They took the responsibility of educating students and that these students would learn and excel.

    So, when I finally went back to the PUBLIC US High School at 10th grade, I was mortified. What in the world hell hole did I get into? I was able to get out of there by taking a State High School Diploma test so I can skip 11th and 12th grade and go right into college. Thank God, I went to a private school earlier, so I could pass that HS Diploma test at 10th grade. No wonder my parent put me in a private school in my earlier years.

    Let’s level the playing field first, before accusing the universities of reverse discrimination. Solve the racial inequality first.

    • Thank you for your comment and for sharing your personal experience.

      As you concluded, leveling the playing field is the critical step to solving the problem. Otherwise, we will continue to support a system that represses the social and intellectual development of the generates that will be vested with the responsibility to lead this country.

      Even in the “superior” schools, we often default to the modern trend of ignoring the instruction of civics; a course content that creates an awareness of one’s responsibilities within our Nation’s framework of government and has been proven to advance critical thinking (one of the greatest measured gaps in our students’ skill sets). In that context, we may need to revisit curricula content as well as general educational resources to “level the playing field” and provide an environment in which our future generations can remain competitive on a global basis.

      Thank you again for your comment.

  • I’m speaking as someone who royally screwed up during my first year of college. My student loans were revoked and I could no longer attend a proper university. So I went to community college for a year, where there was the most diversity I’ve ever experienced in an academic setting. It was great, but the college didn’t offer a degree in the subject I wanted to major in so I re-applied to university after getting my GPA up in the community college and was accepted and finished my bachelor’s there.

    Now, I truly appreciate diversity. Not simply because it coincides with the liberal values of equality and social acceptance of others– it makes for a more stimulating academic environment and a more innovative and productive work place. Studies have demonstrated this time and time again.

    So without a quota system, many who have been failed by their schools (mainly because their neighborhoods don’t contribute significant amounts to politicians’ campaigns and thus are not high on the agenda of supporting) will not be accepted in to top colleges. The community college system offers a very simple way around this. Do you have a high school diploma or GED? Great, they will take you in. Spend some time there proving that you do indeed have the acumen to succeed in higher education, and then transfer to a “good university.” Your credits will transfer, so no time is wasted!

    But, people are pursuing degrees that more and more employers just don’t care about. Only a select handful of specific degrees will guarantee you a job after college these days, and even then you have to contend with an extreme amount of competition. As a college degree becomes more and more irrelevant in terms of good employment opportunities, it’s true value is in the knowledge and well-roundedness one gains from the university experience. This is the real importance of a college education. And yes, it should be granted to any and all who seek it and can take seriously the responsibilities of higher education.

    Will an end to the quota system shut people out of higher education? As long as there are community colleges I don’t see this happening. But, I agree with the author that if the schools in poor minority communities were on par with the schools in affluent and typically white communities, admittance would not be an issue. What AA does is, as the author says, apply a band-aid to a much deeper and serious socio-economic and racial problem in our society that has been allowed to fester for a very, very long time.

    If the public servants we elect had the bravery to tackle the institutionalized lack of support for K-12 education of poor minorities, and poor people in general, then we could get to the root of the issue. But as long as we allow moneyed interests to dictate policy, this will never be addressed.

    And as I said earlier, I don’t see the end of quota systems changing the minds of too many admissions officers at universities, as they know full well the value of a diverse student body. Perhaps I am incorrect on that issue, but if I am — there’s still community colleges.

    Fight to preserve community colleges, and fight to raise the level of quality of schools in communities with lagging education. And remember, a BA or BS is no longer the great leveler of opportunity for good employment it once was. What are we fighting for now? To give minorities the same opportunity to be laden with debt and lack of future prospects? There seem to be bigger fish to fry these days.

    • Thank you for your comment and for sharing your personal experience, Mr. Smith.

      As you suggest, diversity enriches the collegiate experience, and as I have mentioned elsewhere, this should include diversity of thought. Many of our higher academic institutions seem to struggle with the latter concept.

      I have a very talented and respected friend who wrote a book about a particular political campaign in which she was involved. She was a graduate of a high-profile University and was going to do a pro bono speech on campus about her book and experiences. At the last moment, her speech was canceled because the content didn’t conform to the University’s position.

      Interestingly enough, the University never sought to determine what the content of her speech would be. It instead inferred the content from the title of the book. In reality, the author was going to encourage the students to become politically informed and active from a civic perspective within the Party of their choice. Her message was politically agnostic, but it was suppressed within an environment that pontificates its support of academic freedom.

      In effect, many universities would benefit from hiring a Diversity Officer who functions to assure that the institute remains diverse from an intellectual perspective as well as a from the perspective of tangible characteristics such as race and gender.

      As you also have shared, Community Colleges are an excellent resource to assist students in transitioning from high school to college. They serve a vital role in today’s environment when the quality of high school programs can vary so dramatically.

      Trade schools are another option that should be expanded for those who gravitate toward those types of vital roles. We have drifted away from apprentice programs, etc. because they don’t have the political cache of saying “everyone should go to college.”

      I dream of a day when everyone will have an educational experience that prepares them for life and allows them to revel in “the pursuit of Happiness” as they chose to define it.

      Thank you again for your comment.

      • Patuws

        TJ thanks for keeping my story generic in the preceeding response. The university at which the students scheduled my presentation only to be cancelled by the advisor and political activists is Columbia located in New York City. That school is not the only one who had a problem because my book was outside of their political box.
        “The Perot Legacy: A New Political Path.”

        I fact, I was invited to speak at a high school in Maryland by the political student group of Independents. At least I was allowed in. However, the teacher/advisor of the group boycotted my presentation!!

        People need to know that the US education system I experienced (in the midwest and NYC)is much less politically diverse than the system I am encountering today.
        I taught high school in NYC — civics and history — and gave students the tools, discussions, and research experience to arrive at their own political choices.

        • Thank you for your comment.

          It is somewhat of an unspoken travesty with regard to what has happened to academic freedom. Rather than expanding the perspectives of our students, we seem to be on a path to contract those perspectives in order to fashion conforming behavior.

          If it makes you feel any better (which it probably won’t), I was denied campus access at some universities because I was an active candidate for President in 2012. The rationale was that they couldn’t show political bias. That would have been an acceptable position had they not, in some cases, found that having President Obama, Mitt Romney, Vice President Biden or Representative Ryan appear did not demonstrate political bias.

          On the plus side, those campuses that did open their doors to candidates like me honored their academic responsibility. They offered the students the opportunity to experience different perspectives and, in my case, exposure to a candidate who did open Q&A sessions without any restriction of topics so the students could actually test the breadth and depth of my knowledge (rather than merely hear a campaign speech filled with memorized sound bites).

          As a result, at every venue I was greeted with a recurring theme: “I wasn’t going to vote because I didn’t have anyone I could trust (and/or believe in). But now I’m going to vote for you.” I usually smiled and said, “You know this isn’t going to end well. You know I’m not going to win.” To which they uniformly would respond, “I don’t care. I’m going to vote my conscience, etc.”

          That was the most rewarding experience of my campaign: Having had the opportunity to expose young audiences to a difference perspective and a different type of candidate; one who was focused on the People rather than a Party; one who challenged them to become informed and have the courage to cast an informed vote as opposed to surrendering it to the Party-installed belief that only a Party candidate should be considered.

          I hope I planted enough seeds to stimulate a generation that might avoid the mistake my generation has made. I hope you’ll have that opportunity as well.

          Thank you again for your comment.

  • Erik Bobbitt

    While your assessment of the situation seems fair, and the solution you offer (“challenging disproportionate differences in the quality of our public education”) is certainly a worthwhile one, it seems to both ignore the current reality and grossly understate the difficulty of the problem at hand.

    To the first of the two, I say that because it reminds me of peoples’ work with world hunger (not trying to go extreme with the analogy, it was just the image it invoked). There always seem to be two types of people – those who say, “These people are dying, we need to get them food *now*”, and those who respond, “That will keep on being the case unless we fix the underlying root of the problem.” Both are correct, of course, but despite the extremely complex nature of global economic development it’s clear that anything but a balance of both would be shortsighted. When reading your opinion, it struck me that, while focusing on the underlying causes leading to affirmative action being necessary, you seem to have dodged the fact that inequalities do exist right now, and will for some time. Even if the issues are solved overnight, you’re talking years of quality education lost for the current generation.

    Secondly, I know this to be not of your overall character, but you seemed to just shake a stick at the difficulty of addressing the underlying education gap. I (and I’m sure Ms. Driver) completely agree that addressing it is critically important, but we’re talking about an extremely complex issue, one in which economics, politics, cultures, communities, traditions, and religions all play a part. Even with profound, history-making work change, it will still take years upon years, no?

    What shall we say to them – “Sorry, we’re working on it, but there shall be no recognition of your current situation”?

    • Thank you for your comment.

      Due to certain “suggested parameters” that restrict the length of published article, I am often unable to provide full dress treatment to the subjects at hand. You correctly highlight two of them with regard to this article (i.e., “the current reality” and “the difficulty of the problem at hand”).

      With regard to the current reality, applying a different criteria that race seems to offer better results (which was actually mentioned by Chris Wallace and discussed by Ms. Gratz during the interview). For example: California and a few other States have chosen to apply socio-economic considerations, which has led to higher enrollments of Blacks and Hispanics in is public universities. A point that wasn’t discussed in that regard is that graduations rates also increased for those minorities, which is the real metric of success.

      Ms. Gratz correctly pointed out that not all minorities are “disadvantaged.” Yet, in her case before the Supreme Court, U of M would have automatically awarded a 20 percent advantage for acceptance to a non-disadvantaged applicant solely on the basis of that individuals skin color or heritage. Even Ms. Driver acknowledged that Ms. Gratz bore no socio-economic advantage that would have supported the description of “privileged” that Ms. Driver generically applied to White applicants.

      The starting point for addressing the issue of equal access today should be focused upon identifying the proper criteria as it relates to the disparity. Let’s understand what is inhibiting equal access before we default to the color of one’s skin. Something tells me that Michael Jordon’s son would not be unfairly disadvantaged as compared to an average White American high school student, yet he would be conclusively be presumed to be disadvantaged under most affirmative action programs that related singularly to race.

      As to your second point, the problem is complex. This also highlights the absurdity of generically categorizing individuals singularly on a basis of race (or gender for that matter, which was also part of the Schuette case). We cannot begin to solve the problem if we do not perform a root cause analysis and evaluate all of the available alternatives as opposed to those that conform nicely with a preconceived notion that a single factor is dispositive of the disparity.

      I would agree with you in your assessment that it will take years to affect change at the level we both wish could occur today. However, it will take an eternity if all we do is continue to move the starting line forward by reinforcing the stereotypes and system that have given us what we have today. I would prefer to see us begin to make progress both with respect to more effectively addressing the plight of those who currently suffer from the consequences of socio-economic disparity as well as establishing a course of action that will ultimately prevent it from recurring.

      Liberty demands that opportunities be equal and that a meritocracy be applied to recognize individual talent and effort. If people fail, it should not be because the have not been afforded an equal opportunity to succeed.

      Thank you again for your comment.

  • Acheyltus

    The nuts and bolts of funding public education must be radically changed. Funding public education from property taxes ensures racial and economic inequality with respect to outcomes acedemically and socially. Changing that local and state funding formula is key. If Whigs can get elected to school boards and state legislatures, perhaps a public mandate for this change will bring teacher’s unions and electorates to a bargained and successful solution.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      You have hit upon one of the most challenging aspects with regard to today’s public school system: funding the educational system primarily from property taxes. As you have stated, that approach “ensures racial and economic inequality with respect to outcomes academically and socially.”

      I am quite familiar with the Whigs emphasis on education and wish your candidates well in helping affect change. Horace Mann led the Whigs and the Nation to form what was once the most vaunted public education system in the world. Perhaps its time to return to those principles.

      Thank you again for your comment.

    • Jonathan Strackman

      I think you comment about property taxes is true…but it depends on the school districts. Yes, when I grew up in the Northeast, each town had their own school district. So the quality varied greatly from town to town based on wealth of the town.

      But here in Florida, we do it by county. A school district is an entire county of pooled property taxes. So regardless of the town within the county, the schools are funded the same. A school in a wealthy town is funded the same as a less-wealthy town.

  • seanachiejimk

    From my Comments on your FB page on this article: It’s
    indeed sad that these attributes spoke of by MLK aren’t greatly valued
    by adults and therefore, not shared with their children. Teaching begins
    at home in a child’s earliest years. “Affirmative action’ with your own
    children is where it begins and where it should end. Values cannot be
    legislated.

    • Thank you for your comments (both here an on Facebook).

      I hope everyone appreciates the significance of your succinct statement: “Values cannot be legislated.”

      For those who have not joined the discussion on my Facebook fan page (OHARA2012), the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that is referenced is as follows:

      “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

      (Monday through Saturday, I post a quote on my fan page to stimulate discussion.)

  • So this is one of those viscous cycles. One of the most important parts of any student’s education is their parent’s participation, but when you have a situation where a parent doesn’t have the education to help, the money for tutors or even works multiple jobs and is not home (or a single parent) this handicaps the student. I believe multiple studies have show the success of 1st born children or only children to be higher than their siblings (or the supposed “siblings” in the case of an only child) and this is due to resources and attention.

    This cycle is seen in schools too, the schools without resources end up with depressed teachers who are paid less and are willing to put in less time, effort, money (from family experience the amount of money a teacher puts in of her, or his, own money is significant) and energy, and the downward slide starts from there. The percentage of students that are capable or willing to “bootstrap” their way up themselves isn’t very high. I was lucky enough to have parents who moved to a city with one of the best public school systems in the country (that’s saying something for a school in CA) but that would fall into the “affluent (white) neighborhood” scenario (affluent being the more important descriptor and more accurate) where as my wife’s parents (not white) paid for private schools to avoid the public school where they lived.

    How much socioeconomic “modification” can we realistically do (and fairly) without it bordering on “assembly-line” type education. The children whose parents have more money and time will always have more advantages, and artificially raising peoples “scores” to get them into college ends up with them failing out. So what is the better solution? I don’t know. But it has to do with providing opportunities, starting at a young age, that take some of this burden off parents who are not able to provide the same opportunity to their children, through no fault of their own, instead of trying to “cut to fit and paint to match” down the road. Doing this fairly is a Herculean task.

    • Thank you for your comment, Mr. Reynolds, and for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us in this forum. I hope your campaign for the position of Lt. Governor (CA) is going well.

      Having done turnarounds in the corporate world for over 25 year, I can tell you that one of the few common threads between struggling companies (regardless of industry) was their failure to adhere to their stated Vision, Mission and Values statements.

      They had all done the exercise, cast their ideas in bronze, and hung them on the wall; only to be dusted once a month by the cleaning crew. Unfortunately, at some point, they drifted away from applying the tenets upon which their businesses we supposed to be build.

      It usually was due to a big deal that didn’t completely comply with the company’s Vision or Mission or that, perhaps, required the company to ignore its Values. Then, the next monetary temptation arose, and little by little, the Vision, Missions and Values lost their importance.

      I share that example because I see something similar in the field of education. The Vision, Mission and Values of our public education system used to be student-centric. They focused singularly upon the best interests of the students. Today, they have drifted away from that focus.

      If the Department of Education has a legitimate reason for its existence, it should be to guarantee that the only valid Vision, Mission and Values constructs of that sector remain singularly focused upon our Nation’s children and providing each of them with an equal opportunity to receive a high quality of education.

      Some children will embrace that opportunity while others will squander it. That is a Liberty that is reserved to the child. However, we have the responsibility to make sure that opportunity does indeed exist.

      Thank you again for your comment and good luck in your upcoming Primary.

  • Jonathan Strackman

    Great piece T.J. that fits nicely with what I just discussed with my students since we just covered the Philadelphia Plan and Griggs v. Duke Power Co.

    As a whole, my public high school students (who are as diverse as any group could be) all agreed that an affirmative action based on race is simply an out-dated concept. If anything, the move should be to base it on a socio-economic scale. In that a “leg-up” (for all intents and purposes) should be given to lower socio-economic students regardless of race. Now granted, minority students do make up a greater percentage of the lower socio-economic group. But as we are now 2+ generations beyond Jim Crow, a program based solely on race is simply, as you stated, isn’t about treated things as race-neutral…it’s actually treating them specifically based on race.

    The school I teach at is firmly a middle-class/working-class school. It’s a good school and relatively safe. I asked the kids if any of them would rather go to another high school. (I gave a specific school within our district that is firmly at the lower-end of the socio-economic scale.) My class is made up of White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Indian students. 100% of them said, “NO WAY! I WON’T SWITCH TO THAT SCHOOL.” When I questioned why, they all got quiet. I then reminded them that the other school in the district is funded the exact same way ours is and the teachers are just as qualified as our teachers. They all still said, “No!” And they also said their parents wouldn’t let them anyway. Whether it is a safety issue or a comfort issues, the other school is “perceived” as worse.

    As for socio-economic, I point out to my students that maybe kids from lower socio-economic background need a little more of a leg-up. Once again regardless of race. Many of my students have after-school jobs. But their jobs are to pay for their car insurance, cell phones, and so on. Their primary job is to be students and get good grades. (All too often, they seem to forget that.) Then I explain, lower socio-economic kids often times have jobs because they are actually helping to pay the family mortgage or put food on the table. Sometimes they miss school because they have to for that job or family considerations. So maybe their grades are lower due to lack of classroom instructional time, not due to lack of intelligence. They don’t have the same “opportunity” or “chance” to do as well. It’s not a racial thing…it’s a socio-economic thing.

    So how can we provide a better opportunity for these kids? This is America. We pride ourselves in equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. The prior is what we should strive for. The latter is a scary proposition of government created outcomes. We should work to improve these lower socio-economic schools that are perceived to be bad and tailor them to the needs of their students. Just giving a bump in SAT scores or college admission scores does nothing but create a feel-good of doing something positive. The history of our country is littered with feel good legislation that don’t actually solve problems. Sadly I think Ms. Driver missed this point too.

    • Thank you for your kind words and comment, Mr. Strackman.

      You have provided this forum with a fresh and interesting perspective to explore. I hope others will take this opportunity to discuss our current educational system with some who is intimately familiar with it.

      As the saying goes, “Perception is reality.” The responses of your students to your well-framed questions demonstrates the perception that is in place. If we might assume that the same perception is held within the socio-economically depressed schools within your district, we might begin to understand why it is so important to break the paradigm.

      Individuals, who comes to believe they are held in low esteem, generally will begin to embrace that same belief. Since beliefs drive behavior, there is a relatively high probability that such individuals will begin to display behaviors that are consistent with the expectations that surround the associated stereotype. As a result, the expectations become self-fulfilling.

      We need to find ways to break the stereotypes and to inspire those who are fighting the uphill battle you describe to recognize their self-worth. They should be praised for the responsibilities they sometimes have to assume at an early age (i.e., contributing to their families economic needs) and offered additional assistance (e.g., tutoring, etc.) in recognition of the academic limitations their work schedules impose.

      Curriculum modification might also be worthy of consideration. Perhaps an early emphasis of role models who have ascended to great heights from similar beginnings would be helpful. Courses that teach practical skills (i.e., reading product labels, understanding loans, balancing a check book, etc.) should also be explored to assure that these students develop a basic skill set that will help them begin their adult lives with a better opportunity to succeed than their parents may have had.

      There are a myriad of ways to address this gap in educational and opportunity inequality, but we need to be willing to explore them. One thing we know for sure: Merely applying the status quo approach will not solve the problem.

      If we could be granted one wish, it would be that every student could experience a teacher like you during their formative years. You go well beyond the intellectually restrictive world of True/False and multiple choice questions. Inspiring you students to experience critical thinking is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give them.

      Thank you for being that special kind of teacher.

      • Jonathan Strackman

        Your words and praise carry great weight with me. Thank you TJ.

  • Guest

    Sorry to be late on the discussion, but I just wanted to bring something to light not mentioned in your article. Driver made some very compelling arguments early on about legacy preferences, arguments that Jennifer Gratz completely ignored. Why should children of alumni, or those who have connections to people that have donated money to a PUBLIC university, be able to receive “preferential treatment” ? Legacy applicants are disproportionately white and wealthy. Why should those applicants be able to lobby to the admissions committee, again to a public university funded by the state’s tax dollars, with all the advantages they’ve had? Compared to most minority students who do not, as Driver accurately pointed out, have.
    Now, I’m not quite trying to justify affirmative action with this argument, but how can you allow one policy that favors whites to continue while giving the ax to another that benefits disadvantaged minorities? I think this is important to note because this argument was brought up twice during the debate, once by Driver and another time by the host, Chris Wallace. Both times, Gratz completely dodged the question. Especially when Driver pointed out that when Gratz was rejected, she did not go after the legacy policy. Although legacy applicants were awarded far fewer points than disadvantaged minorities (20 to 4), the number of recipients of legacy preferences could have equaled if not been more than that of those who were recipients of affirmative action. The percentage of disadvantaged minorities at the University of Michigan was and continues to be very, very small demographic. About ten percent or less. But she went very specifically after a policy that favored this tiny minority of students. So my questions are, why do you think she chose to single out minority students, and what is your take on the overall issue of keeping legacy preferences (AKA affirmative action for the white and rich) while doing away with a policy that recognizes the hardships of disadvantaged minorities? I would appreciate if someone actually acknowledged this issue. I think it is cowardly to keep dancing around this question like Ms. Gratz continually does.

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