Thursday, June 08, 2006


I mentioned this briefy on 29 May on Tongue-Tied. First I reproduce below an influential critique by the Cato Institute and then the not-very-repentant backdown by Seattle school officials

Planning Ahead is Considered Racist?

Are you salting away a little money for your retirement? Trying to plan for your kids' education? If so, Seattle Public Schools seems to think you're a racist. According to the district's official Web site, "having a future time orientation" (academese for having long-term goals) is among the "aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype and label people of color." Huh?

Not all the district's definitions of racism (and there are lots of them) are so cryptic. The site goes on immediately to say, "Emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology" is another form of "cultural racism." Did I mention that the district thinks only whites can be racist in America? Regardless of your color, your affinity for planning or your penchant for reading "Das Kapital" under Fremont's Lenin statue, does this make any sense to you?

See if this sounds familiar: a government agency redefining a highly charged word to advance a particular ideology. ... Um, note to the Seattle School Board and administration: George Orwell's novel "1984" was a cautionary tale, not a how-to book. And the folks trying to control people's thoughts through state manipulation of the language -- they were the bad guys.

But this is still a free country. Thanks to our (ostensibly racist) regard for individual liberty, Seattle Public Schools board members and officials are free to adopt whatever definitions of racism they choose. It is inherently divisive, however, for an official government school system to promote one ideology over another. Unfortunately, it is also unavoidable. Whenever there is a single official school system for which everyone is compelled to pay, it results in endless battles over the content of that schooling. This pattern holds true across nations and across time. Think of our own recurrent battles over school prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, the teaching of human origins, the selection and banning of textbooks and library books, dress codes, history standards, sex education, etc. Similar battles are fought over wearing Islamic headscarves in French public schools and over the National Curriculum in England.

There is an alternative: cultural detente through school choice. Historically, societies have suffered far less conflict when families have been able to get the sort of education they deemed best for their own children without having to foist their preferences on their neighbors. Some people fear that unfettered school choice would Balkanize our nation. Their concern is commendable but precisely backward. The chief source of education-related tensions is not diversity; it is compulsion. Why is there no cultural warfare over the diverse teachings of non-government schools? Because no one is forced to attend or pay for an independent school that violates their convictions.

It would not be difficult to design a school choice program that would ensure universal access to the educational marketplace without forcing anyone to attend or pay for schools whose teachings they opposed. It could be done by combining and expanding some of the education tax credit programs already operating in such places as Pennsylvania, Arizona and Illinois. Such a system would not be a threat to the ideals of public education. On the contrary, it would be a far more effective means of advancing those ideals than the official state schools that have gnawed at our social fabric -- and failed our most disadvantaged children academically -- for generations. Under such a choice-based system, those wanting to promote their own cultural and political philosophies could hang out a shingle and offer their services to any and all interested families. But they would lack the power, used and abused in Seattle, to impose their ideologies.


School district pulls Web site after examples of racism spark controversy

An outpouring of criticism forced Seattle Public Schools on Thursday to pull a Web site that viewed planning for the future, emphasizing individualism and defining standard English as examples of cultural racism. The message had appeared under an "equity and race relations" section of the district's Web site and was mentioned Thursday in an opinion piece by a Libertarian writer in the Seattle P-I. Criticism of the site has been building in the world of blogs for weeks. In its place Thursday was a message that the site will be revised to "provide more context to reader around the work that Seattle Public Schools is doing to address institutional racism."

That message, written by Caprice Hollins, the district's director of equity and race relations, said the site wasn't intended to "develop an 'us against them' mind-set." But she may have stepped into a second controversy by saying the site also wasn't intended "to hold onto unsuccessful concepts such as melting pot or colorblind mentality."

Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom, was the author of Thursday's opinion piece. Among other things, he drew from the site's definition of cultural racism. "Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as 'other,' different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers," the definition said.

"It was very ideologically charged," Coulson said Thursday. "It was left of center by definition, criticizing individualism as racism and advocating a collective ideology. You can't get much more red versus blue than that; it's incredibly polarizing. That everyone who thinks in terms of individualism is racist?"

Coulson's piece was only the latest criticism of the site, and he said he tracked many others in the blogosphere. So even before his opinion piece appeared, the district had been "dealing with calls and e-mails for the last three weeks," said Peter Daniels, school district spokesman. "It did not have enough context for people not working on this issue, and it was poorly written," Daniels said. "... It's about institutional racism, particularly in an educational setting. There are particular structures and practices in place that disadvantage other students who are not of the Caucasian or white majority. It's really examining our own practices and education, but that wasn't very clear."

So Hollins' memo appeared Thursday, saying that "the intended purpose of our work in the area of race and social justice is to bring communities together through open dialogue and honest reflection around what is meant by racism." "It's a non-apology apology," said Coulson, an education history scholar and author of "Market Education: The Unknown History."

"My sense was that the definition was extremely offensive, but there was not much sympathy for those who were offended ...," he said. "The harm that can come from the Web site is the tarring of the ideal of individualism as racist, while the ideal of individualism is a central principle on which our nation was founded. Liberty is individual, not collective. So for our school district -- our official school organ of the state -- to tell children it's racist to believe in a principle on which our nation was founded -- is troubling."


Justices to look at race-based school policy

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether public elementary and high schools can use race in determining where students go to school. The move means that the court will re-enter the debate over affirmative action during the 2006-07 term with two cases that could affect districts that seek diversity in schools.

The cases from Seattle and Louisville will be the first of their kind taken up by the court led by new Chief Justice John Roberts. They also will be the first disputes over race-based policies to be heard since the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate justice whose support of some forms of affirmative action became the court's standard. In 2003, O'Connor cast the decisive vote in a 5-4 ruling that allowed minority preferences in higher education to increase diversity.

Justice Samuel Alito, whose record is generally more conservative than O'Connor's, succeeded her in January. Three months earlier, Roberts succeeded fellow conservative William Rehnquist as chief. Alito and Roberts opposed some types of affirmative action when they were lawyers in the Reagan administration.

The Seattle and Louisville cases test whether the Constitution's guarantee of equality allows schools to use race as a factor in admissions. In both disputes, lower courts backed the school plans, and parents of white students appealed. "The scope of a ruling would be widespread," says Francisco Negrn, general counsel of the National School Boards Association. He says many public school districts have policies to boost diversity. The Seattle and Louisville area districts say considering race in assignments can have social benefits and offset racially polarized housing patterns. The Pacific Legal Foundation counters that such affirmative action policies place "racial identification" above individual rights.

Seattle allows students to choose their high school. Officials aim for each school to have about 40% white students and 60% racial minorities. When there are more applicants than openings at a particular school, students with a sibling there get priority. Officials use race as a "tiebreaker" to decide who is admitted. In the Louisville area, most Jefferson County schools have tried to keep most schools' black enrollment at 15%-50%. A challenge was brought by a white student who could not go to the school across the street from his home.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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