Word is that the writer, Katherine Kersten, is one of those less-than-credible conservatives who can’t be trusted to provide accurate information. Knowing nothing more about the source than this creates a problem, as it taints what comes. So take this with a grain of sand. The acceptance of “racial equity” in school discipline isn’t the solution to the school to prison pipeline, but contributes to its perpetuation.
In the Obama years, America’s public education system embarked on a vast social experiment that threatened to turn schools into educational free-fire zones. The campaign—carried out in the name of “racial equity”—sought to reduce dramatically the suspension rate of black students, who get referred for discipline at much higher rates than other students. From the top down, the U.S. Department of Education drove the effort; from the bottom up, local educational bureaucrats have supported and implemented it.
“Racial equity” has become the all-purpose justification for dubious educational policies. Equity proponents view “disparate impact”—when the same policies yield different outcomes among demographic groups—as conclusive proof of discrimination. On the education front, “equity” does not seek equal treatment for all students. Instead, it demands statistical equivalence in discipline referrals and suspensions for students of every racial group, regardless of those students’ actual conduct.
Many social experiments make enormous sense if one believes deeply in unicorns and rainbows. This, unfortunately, makes for a heart-warming approach, with only one downside: it will fail because it’s predicated on a pleasant lie. We want to believe the lie. The lie comports with our sweetest desires. But it’s still a lie, and reality doesn’t shift to match the lies in which we truly believe. Reality sucks that way.
Equity advocates’ central premise is that teachers, not students, are to blame for the racial-equity discipline gap. They claim that teachers’ biases, cultural ignorance, or insensitivity are the gap’s primary causes. The key to eliminating disparities, they maintain, is to change not students’ but adults’ behavior. Equity supporters justify their agenda on grounds that the racial-equity discipline gap severely hampers black students’ chances of success in life. Kids who get suspended generally fail to graduate on time and are more likely to get caught up in the juvenile-justice system, they say.
If one stares intently at education, then this might make greater sense, as if teachers are the only influence in students’ lives, the only factor that matters. Since we believe in equality, then the only explanation for the discipline gap is teachers. Racist nasty teachers, who treat black students differently, worse, than others.
This isn’t to say some teachers, maybe even most teachers, don’t exhibit a bias against black students. What it does say is that the problem isn’t just teachers, and so the solution based on the lie will fail.
Whether or not you see this, the experience in St. Paul, where an early adopter put it to work, shows the laboratory results.
Valeria Silva, who became superintendent of the St. Paul Public Schools in December 2009, was an early and impassioned proponent of racial-equity ideology. In 2011, she made the equity agenda a centerpiece of her Strong Schools, Strong Communities initiative. The district’s website lauded the program as “the most revolutionary change in achievement, alignment, and sustainability within SPPS in the last 40 years.”
Does it hurt to try if you believe it will work? Well, yes and no. Kids don’t get a second chance at being kids if the grownups, with the best of intentions, prove wrong. But then, how can you tell if the theory is nonsense, aside from rational rather than wishful thinking, without giving it a whirl?
Silva attacked the racial-equity discipline gap at its alleged root: “white privilege.” Teachers unfairly punish minority students for “largely subjective” behaviors, such as “defiance, disrespect and disruption,” she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2012. To overcome their biases, teachers must learn “a true appreciation” of their students’ cultural “differences” and how these can “impact interactions in the classroom,” she said.
Brings a tear to your eye, right? How’d that work out?
We have a segment of kids who consider themselves untouchable,” said one veteran teacher as the 2015–16 school year began. At the city’s high schools, teachers stood by helplessly as rowdy packs of kids—who came to school for free breakfast, lunch, and WiFi—rampaged through the hallways. “Classroom invasions” by students settling private quarrels or taking revenge for drug deals gone bad became routine. “Students who tire of lectures simply stand up and leave,” reported City Pages. “They hammer into rooms where they don’t belong, inflicting mischief and malice on their peers.” The first few months of the school year witnessed riots or brawls at Como Park, Central, Humboldt, and Harding High Schools—including six fights in three days at Como Park. Police had to use chemical irritants to disperse battling students.
Apparently, Lord of the Flies isn’t on the required reading list. One can believe deeply in the goodness of others, but warm words and happy faces won’t make kids behave. And loss of control not only affects the students engaging in disinhibited behavior, but makes it impossible for others to learn as well. Not only has it given vent to the worst behaviors of the students they sought to help, but it undermined education for everyone.
This isn’t to suggest that the “school to prison pipeline” isn’t real or a problem in serious need of address. It is, however, to contend that solutions grounded in social justice fantasy not only won’t solve the problem, but can exacerbate it. The abject refusal to look for real causes, even if they involve the unpleasant and complex reality that young people are raised in poverty, homes without sound parental guidance, without a belief in the value of education and the expectation that, with effort and restraint, a young person can achieve a successful future, means there will be no viable solution.
No matter how much endearing fantasies warm the cockles of one’s social justice feelz, they don’t change how children behave or react. Kidz just won’t prove fantasies true, no matter how much you wish they would. And when a theory based on fantasy fails a kid, he doesn’t get a second try at a sound education that will keep him out of the pipeline.