Sunday, July 01, 2007

Education and Economic Justice

My first reaction to Thursday (June 28, 2007) Supreme Court decision on race and education was dismay. It seemed, to a life long leftie like me, to be a horrendous step backward. But over the past few days, as I read articles from various papers around the nation, it occurs to me that this is instead a tremendous opportunity to turn the focus where it really should be -- on issues of social class.

The Christian Science Monitor today noted that many of those concerned about issues of equity in education feel "it would be more practical for districts to shift toward balancing school populations on the basis of factors such as income level."

Cited in the CS Monitor article:
"The socioeconomic approach offers two advantages," says Richard Kahlenberg, author of a new report detailing such plans and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive policy group in Washington. First, districts that have done it most successfully give families a choice of magnet schools with special programs, "so there are incentives for middle-class people to buy into socioeconomic integration," says Mr. Kahlenberg. Second, "as a legal matter, it's clearly fine to use income to distinguish people."
If we are honest about it, the only reason for anyone to be concerned about inequities in education is because education has consequences for the material and economic conditions in which people live. Concerns about racial segregation were never about an abstract access to "knowledge," but rather about practical access to power (political and economic) and the pathways to full economic opportunity.

It is time now to focus on making sure that our schools are integrated by social class, and use things like income, home value, and neighborhood residence to create diversity in the schools. If we have social class diversity, then racial and ethnic diversity will happen as a matter of course.

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