WASHINGTON, June 28 — With competing blocs of justices claiming the mantle of Brown v. Board of Education, a bitterly divided Supreme Court declared Thursday that public school systems cannot seek to achieve or maintain integration through measures that take explicit account of a student’s race.Read more.
Voting 5 to 4, the court, in an opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., invalidated programs in Seattle and metropolitan Louisville, Ky., that sought to maintain school-by-school diversity by limiting transfers on the basis of race or using race as a “tiebreaker” for admission to particular schools.
Both programs had been upheld by lower federal courts and were similar to plans in place in hundreds of school districts around the country. Chief Justice Roberts said such programs were “directed only to racial balance, pure and simple,” a goal he said was forbidden by the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.
“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” he said. His side of the debate, the chief justice said, was “more faithful to the heritage of Brown,” the landmark 1954 decision that declared school segregation unconstitutional. “When it comes to using race to assign children to schools, history will be heard,” he said.
The decision came on the final day of the court’s 2006-7 term, which showed an energized conservative majority in control across many areas of the court’s jurisprudence.
What do you think about this decision? I found the use of Brown v. the Board of Education surprising as a justification for this ruling. My chief concern is the possibility of resegregation (we already have that essentially in Cincinnati through white flight).
On the other hand, I understand a parent's desire to determine where her child goes to school. So what I find difficult is that usually the reason a parent wants a child to transfer from one school to another is based on the quality of the school. While schools vary in their tax bases, you will always have parents who are unhappy with poorly run schools and who want to transfer to better schools. If this leads to a renewed racial split, is that acceptable to us as a society?
Roberts' comment that the way to stop discriminating based on race is to stop discriminating based on race struck me as oddly placed. Discrimination is the deliberate effort to prevent one race from having similar rights, privileges and opportunities as the other race. This ruling (it appears to me) no longer guarantees those to everyone, but allows for a silent, invisible creeping discrimination that comes through accommodating our impulses to stick to our own and to unconsciouly self-select our race when confronted with a choice.
A few years ago, a French woman on pomoxian yahoo list made the point that homeschooling was not democratic. That comment blew me away. What could be more democratic than the freedom to choose any educational style a parent felt suited his or her child? She retorted that if the educational choice I made depended on a certain income level, a mother who could stay at home, and allowed me to withdraw my bright, happy, stable children from the public school system, we were undermining the corporate whole of education in America. We would have better educated children (or worse) and the community would suffer. Democracy (as she described it) did not mean freedom of choice, but equality of opportunity (all citizens deserve the same opportunities wrt education, particularly since children cannot choose for themselves).
I don't know if I agree with her entirely, but her points made me rethink what I understood about *my* choices. Democracy needs to protect me not just from tyranny of the majority or the government, but also the subtle tyrannies of my own prejudices and discomforts in order for a pluralistic society to thrive. It is not democratic, in other words, for us to retreat into tribalism just because we can or want to.... if that is what will happen.
A few weeks ago, the news in our county featured a story that the tax structure for public education is being changed in Ohio so that inner city schools (with broken windows, no computers and no A/C) will get more money and schools out where I live (with state of the art computers, new band equipment for the trip to the Rose Parade, and professional quality theater productions) will get less. One of my friends was outraged. Her comment? "We earned that money and the inner city people are irresponsible. They'll waste it. I know these families. They come into the ER where I work. They wouldn't even know what to do with more money. And our programs will suffer."
All of these thoughts were swirling in my head as I read the Supreme Court's decision this morning.