Saturday, August 27, 2011

On AB 440, UC, Double Standards, and Dr. King's Dream

I have opposed AB 440 in this and other forums, and do so energetically largely because, combined with the pitiful funding for chartered and other schools in California, it will drive my school of dreams for my son and for any and all other like-minded families into the independent school sector, thus leaving poor families behind, which is something I am deeply against, or out of California in search of more truly liberal (freedom-loving) states, which is something that also rankles me, being hounded out of my home state by a coalition of status quo special interests who have consistently opposed putting students first and some well meaning friends who I am convinced have not thoroughly thought through their positions.

AB 440 would outlaw the current demographics of the University of California if they happened to develop in a California charter school. It is therefore deeply ironic that its supporters are so frequently alumni of the University of California or of elite private universities with similar demographics. These demographics, in which some ethnicities appear overrepresented and others under, would still be legal at private schools and in magnet schools, but try to open or run a charter school which would establish high standards for academic progress in its upper secondary division in California and you will quickly discover how fake and hollow any claims of this being the land of the free led by liberals really are.

Of course, if any such demographics were to evolve, by accident rather than by design, on a chartered school campus, it would not be automatically shut down; it would be given time to fix the problem. The solution would be to go off into neighborhoods from which the school had thus far been relatively unsuccessful in drawing its clientele and to recruit heavily there. But then problems arise: what business in its right mind would spend time and money trying to attract the people thus far shown least likely to want its services? Wouldn't this time and energy be better spent serving those people already in the school who do? Doesn't virtually every other business concentrate its marketing efforts, at least while it is trying to grow, on the people most likely to want to patronize it? And yet we don't propose that; we just don't want to be forced to spend time on recruiting activities that traditional public schools don't have to engage in.

And if, while we're busy recruiting in the underrepresented neighborhoods that have been shunning us, students from neighborhoods or ethnicities with whom we have proved popular (they might be younger siblings of current students, or their friends, or merely neighbors who have heard good things about us) approach us and try to sign up, are we supposed to say, "Sorry, the legislators in California insist that, because you're green and we already have a lot of green students, we can't take you, but have to pursue purple students instead"? Wouldn't that be illegal, under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution?

And won't another  result be that every young man resembling Barack Obama, because classified as coming from a highly underrepresented demographic, will be courted and feted and pursued by schools prospecting desperately for required golden nuggets? And then perhaps later be promoted on a fast track to the highest positions because his appearance heralds, like a nova in the firmament, the coming of a new, golden age of enlightenment and racial harmony? And won't there be a tendency for such young people to feel smug and truly deserving, the legitimate members of a new meritocracy better than any that came before? (This is by no means meant to be a reflection on the President himself; rather it is an expression of a fear of the perverse consequences that may result from well intended policies of affirmative action.)

And won't other hard-working young people from overrepresented ethnicities (and I don't mean my own) feel resentful, when this hypocritical country, through the legally enforced educational recruiting practices of its largest state, insists on judging people by the color of their skin and rejects their educational aspirations, because hard work is incapable of overcoming that overrepresented skin status?

I am confident that, if we chose to test this proposed law in court, it would ultimately be thrown out, as it requires judging people (applicants) by the color of their skin, in direct contradiction to the dream of the man whose memorial's opening we were planning to celebrate this weekend; he too was once accused of being on the fringe, but answered that argument well in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail". We are far from living in accordance with that dream. The socially analytical mind that categorizes human beings by skin color and language and insists other people do so as well, that divides up Americans and teaches the young to build their personal identities on these divided bases, regardless of the effects of such teaching on the scores those students produce on tests those educators insist the students take again and again, until school becomes a dreary ritual of endless bubble sheets and truncated discourse; the mindset that chants and drowns out or excludes and ignores dissenting voices, will not be easily changed; and some of us only want good schools to which we can send our own, not just somebody else's, children, because we have children of secondary school age, and believe that our chartered schools ought to be good enough for everyone, not just the poor; we too want schools more satisfactory to us than those we have available today, and are willing to accept and will welcome any child from any similarly minded family of any background whatsoever; which I think has to be closer to what the original charter school dreams were in the 1990s. Some of us educators are educators not because we didn't score high enough in school and therefore had no choice but because we chose not to be lawyers or politicians (or doctors, or members of other professions of higher status in the United States) and didn't want to have to spend our whole lives fighting battles in courts or political arenas, but instead only want to dedicate our careers to helping the young become fine people of whom we can all be proud; and why should we lose our freedoms and our dreams and be hounded out of our homes by the political calculations of social planners whose visions will prove rather clouded in practice five years from now, when the status quo, newly armed, will have still more weapons to shut down our best charter schools as well as our worst? But this is the future we are now preparing in California, where the sun always shines with a golden promise, and then sets on its people's dreams.  

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