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Jewish World Review August 12, 2003 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5763

Nat Hentoff

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The clueless education establishment | Nearly every education establishment signed "Diversity and Democracy: The Unfinished Work," a full-page ad in the July 11 Chronicle of Higher Education that celebrated the Supreme Court's constitutionalizing racial preferences in college admissions in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the concept of affirmative action (though the court also ruled that a quota system was unconstitutional).

Among the self-congratulators in the ad were the American Association of American Colleges and Universities; the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University; the National Association of College and University Business Officers; and many more.

No mention was made, in this tribute to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's deciding vote, about the hidden fact that the University of Michigan's law school, whose case was victorious, operates on a clear quota system in defiance of the 14th Amendment's "equal protection of the laws" and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. O'Connor said there was no quota. The ad in the Chronicle (a publication read by the nation's college presidents, provosts, faculty and professors of education) did state all too accurately that "virtually the entire education community had urged the Supreme Court to recognize that racial diversity on campus is a compelling national interest." But, in the June 30 Legal Times, constitutional analyst Stuart Taylor emphasized that such racial preferences do nothing to reduce the growing racial gaps in learning skills throughout the country.

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Taylor said that reducing these gaps is "an objective far more vital to the futures of tens of millions of black and Hispanic kids than getting affirmative-action tickets to elite universities for a fortunate, fairly affluent few thousand. These academic gaps ... will doom most black (and Hispanic) kids to bad jobs at bad wages until they are given -- and are motivated to take advantage of -- decent elementary and secondary school educations."

I have written about public schools that work splendidly for black and Hispanic kids from poor and working-class families, and have several highly credible reports of other such schools around the country. But these schools -- where principals and teachers prove that every child, including the disabled, can learn -- are very much in the minority.

To illustrate how city and suburban school systems are failing so many of those euphemistically called "disadvantaged," the National Assessment of Educational Progress notes that the average black 12th-grade student reads at the level of the average eighth-grade white student.

Meanwhile, in that Chronicle of Higher Education ad, there is a pious section in which these high-minded influential experts pledge to "work in partnership with primary and secondary educators to dramatically improve the quality of educational outcomes for poor children and children of color."

But where is the action? Have you seen organized political action by these organizations -- with their hefty clout -- to get municipal and state legislatures and Congress to push for funds and accountability? These are the tools needed that will allow these millions of kids mired in educational quicksand to learn that they can learn. As someone who has taught in schools, and also observed the teachings of others, I can attest that small classes do make a crucial difference -- provided that teachers' unions do not use contractual seniority provisions to stop principals from deciding whom they employ for students' specific needs.

Have you seen many of these prestigious champions of "diversity" in college admissions getting down to actually working in the political arena on a long-term basis? Have you seen them fight to ensure that racial preferences for the relatively few in college admissions will no longer be needed? Do you see them campaigning so that millions of low-income children can compete equally with the children of these "leaders" of education in the Chronicle of Higher Education ad, and the kids of corporate CEOs who urged "diversity" in their briefs to the Supreme Court?

And why aren't these pooh-bahs, who signed that expensive ad, telling the public that the president's high-stakes tests (which virtually ignore the huge numbers who are failing and will fail those tests) ensure that many children will be left behind, possibly for the rest of their lives?

Think about it. Who really benefited from the Supreme Court's assurance of more "diversity" in elite colleges and universities in contrast to so many of the broken lower schools to which children of the disfavored masses are condemned?

Not the children left behind.

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JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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