National News
February 3, 2010

The Sky Isn't Falling--Despite the Hype

By Joe R. Hicks

Is the growth of the nation’s charter schools a throw-back to the racially segregated schools that once consigned the children of minority families to separate, but mostly unequal, educations?  This is the alarming claim today of some civil rights advocates.  But raising false alarms is mostly what the advocates of “social justice” do these days—-with or without facts.

Case in point is UCLA’s Civil Rights Project which argues that charter schools have increased segregation for black students.  Nationally, 70% of black students attending charter schools are at schools where approximately 90% of the students are black.  Researchers at the UCLA group say that a typical black student goes to a charter schools where three out of four students are black.  Gary Orfield, the director of the UCLA advocacy group, argues this means we’re in a new era of “enforced segregation….a race to the past”

Not addressed by Orfield or his group is the reality that the LA public school district is only 9 percent white.  Given this, how would he suggest we go about “desegregating” schools - without resorting to some version of the old, bankrupt notion of cross-town bussing and even then, you would need lots of mirrors to spread 9% of students among the other 91%?

The Superintendent of LA’s public school district bravely addressed the claim that LA’s charter schools are “segregated.”  Ramon Cortinas said “If charter schools are doing the job for the student, and it is a better job … I’m not as concerned about racial isolation.”

School and housing segregation, as any student of American history knows, were enforced by the weight of law, as well as by the norms of white supremacy.  Today, no such laws exist on the books anywhere in the nation – not even in the Southern states where racial segregation was once a way of life. The stigma that attached to forced segregation is totally absent today, students and their parents choose to attend the charter schools that they prefer and that think will be effective—-demographics may or may not play a role in that decision…it’s their choice.

The three-fold increase nationally in the growth of independently managed public schools has been driven by the frustration of parents with the generally substandard level of education to be found in poor, urban public school systems.  This has little to do with racism, since many of these districts and schools are directed by minority-run school boards, with schools lead by black or minority principals, and with teachers who are often non-white.  In these circumstances, parents have opted for charter schools that – while perhaps not always delivering the goods – have at least offered parents educational alternatives. 

But what drives advocates like the UCLA’s Orfield is the time-frozen view that the nation has changed very little in regard to race relations.

This past Martin Luther King holiday, I debated the state of race relations with Orfield on an NPR radio program.  Astoundingly, Orfield contended that little has changed regarding the dimensions of segregation and discrimination since the days when Dr. King was alive (over forty years ago).

He, of course, is not alone in this view. 

• Speaking last year at a Black History Month celebration, president Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, argued that the U.S. is a nation of cowards on matters of race and that Americans live in “race protected cocoons.” 
• When briefly arrested by a white Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officer, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates contended that every aspect of the episode was the product of race and racism. 
• Spike Lee, the well-known and quite successful filmmaker, has argued that “racism is woven into the very fabric of America.”
• This past December, New York Times columnist, Charles M. Blow, wrote that “We are now inundated with examples of overt racism on a scale to which we are unaccustomed.”  Blow’s examples of this “overt racism” were exactly two: online Google ads directed at the first couple which he said were racially offensive, and a four percent increase nationally in hate crimes against blacks in 2008. By the way, this four percent cited by Blow is an increase of exactly 162 hate crimes against black victims in a nation of 350,000,000 people.

Despite contentions like these, the nation has changed significantly since the days when Dr. King helped orchestrate civil rights campaigns.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 70 percent of white Americans and 60 percent of blacks “believe that values held by blacks and whites have become more similar in the past decade.”  This poll also found that 39 percent of black Americans say the “situation for blacks in the U.S. is better than it was five years earlier.”  In 2007 only 20 percent of blacks said this was the case. 

However, the critical finding is that more blacks are rejecting the victim mentality that clouds the view of all too many civil rights leaders.  The Pew poll discovered that an amazing 52 percent of blacks said that blacks themselves are “responsible for their own situation,” with only one-third of blacks maintaining that racism is what’s keeping blacks down.

A more recent Pew poll found that almost all “Millennials” – young people between the ages of 18-to-29 – express support for interracial dating and marriage.  Roughly nine-in-ten say they would be fine with a family member’s marriage to a black-American (88%), an Asian American (93%), a Hispanic American (93%), or a white American (92%).

What does all of this mean? 

Despite racial advocates, like the UCLA’s Gary Orfield and others who share his world-view, this nation’s racial landscape has changed in amazing ways.  While they insist otherwise, we are not entering some new period of racial isolation or segregation, quite the opposite.

They haven’t acknowledged the progress because it contradicts their claim that the sky is always falling and because their gaze has been fixated and frozen on another era of American history – a time when meaningful racism and discrimination actually existed.

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