Class is the Real Issue in Schools
Proposal to stop racial stats could refocus assistance.
by Derek Melot, Lansing State
Journal, August 5, 2003
For more articles like this
Ward Connerly brought the wrong ballot issue to Michigan.
The California anti-affirmative action activist wants Michigan
to ban affirmative action, just as his home state did.
But what Connerly should have brought to Michigan is an idea he
still is trying to sell to California: A ballot initiative to
bar state government from identifying citizens by race,
ethnicity, color or national origin.
This actually could breathe life into our ossified education
debate - and help some kids.
It is a sad fact in our culture that the issue of race often
masks that of class.
The two strongest indicators of whether a child will struggle in
school have nothing to do with skin color - participation in the
federal free lunch program and the educational attainment of the
It matters not if the child is black in Detroit or white in
Appalachia. Blend poverty with little education in the home and
you have a recipe for trouble for the child.
Helping such children succeed is a legitimate role for
government. But we've come at it the wrong way.
Affirmative action is grounded on race, not the circumstances of
birth. This creates all sorts of mischief, such as massaging
college admissions standards to ensure the right look.
For example, affirmative action supporters should ask themselves
if they think government should give a leg up to a child whose
parents went to college, who isn't hurting economically and
attends a school that can afford first-rate faculty and
Seems silly, doesn't it? Yet under affirmative action as the
University of Michigan and other schools practice it, such
children can get a leg up ... if they are of the "right" race.
These policies may make a student body more diverse visually;
life experience and real need are another matter.
In a recent commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education,
author Peter Sacks noted that while more than 1 in 5 students at
selective schools are minorities, only 3 percent are from
families of "modest" social and economic circumstances. A full
three-quarters of the student bodies came from the top economic
Selective universities are just one aspect of this reality.
Michigan, like most other states, accepted a wide disparity in
the quality and funding for K-12 education. Proposal A has
closed some of the gap, but parents with the wherewithal know
which school districts to move into ... and which ones to avoid.
And school districts with top-flight facilities and engaged
parents also have less trouble attracting veteran teachers.
As a nation, we are divided by income and education, but we
argue about - and build policies on - race.
Say what you will about the man, but Connerly is right in one
big thing - America needs to move beyond race. Yet, how can we
if we focus so much official attention on it?
Taking away racial categories would force government to look at
issues differently and develop new strategies to address them.
Granted, there are problems with a blanket end to the compiling
of all racial data, most notably in the study of diseases such
as hypertension and diabetes. But that doesn't preclude the
potential benefit to blow up and rebuild the education debate.
After all, it doesn't matter that a particular child is black or
white ... only that he has a chance to succeed.
What do you think? Write Derek Melot, Lansing State Journal, 120
E. Lenawee, Lansing, MI 48919. For past columns, visit
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