School Diversification

New Orleans In the shocking wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rollback on the utilization of race for assuring both equity and diversity in schools, one area worth a harder look is the utilization of socio-economic status (SES) as the determining factor in pupil placement. This standard is being used in some school districts impacting several students as some districts have confronted the shifting sands around race.

Usually the test is qualification for federal free and reduced price meals. From that basis the district tries to distribute a certain percentage of lower income children to higher income schools. Research seems to indicate that the achievement of these lower income students improves due to the diversification. Because the poor are disproportionately also non-white, such programs also achieve a level of racial integration as well. Big city school districts in San Francisco, Las Vegas (Clark County), and Baltimore are among those using some variation of an income based system.

To date such plans seems to have escaped frontal attack by the right-wing legal outfits that are roiling the school systems and courts on the racial challenges. The Bushies also seem to be willing to abide by SES diversification systems.

Chief Justice Roberts’ standard that essentially it is racial discrimination in violation of the constitution to use race as a factor even in dealing with race creates a full a classically closed logic circle that will no doubt inspire huge debate and challenge. I think Roberts has discovered the legal version of mica, the shiny rock so common in the mountains of the West. When you find mica, the shine convinces you that you are holding gold, but on closer examination, it’s just gold-like in appearance and nothing of the sort, which is why it’s called “fools gold.” So, sure, no one wants to discriminate based on race, but to aver that it is discrimination to use race in any way including to correct the impacts of discrimination is perverse, and will continue the head long sprint by so many to avoid race.

The non-poor and the white continue to abandon the public school systems around the country in frightening numbers and disregard for the impacts on communities, citizenship, and educational standards and achievement, so in many urban school districts where the non-white percentages are in the mid-80% and higher range, one should scramble the eggs with income because it’s the right thing to do for everyone, but it won’t have supplemental benefits in other areas of diversity. This seems another area where we are seeing the achievements of more than a generation unraveled and undone.

Chief Justice John Roberts, right, wrote the majority’s decision. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissent.

US Social Forum

New Orleans        The Social Forum movement has been an interesting and important development over the last decade.  Beginning in Brazil, fueled by the growth of the Brazilian Workers Party and the election of Lula Silva as President of the country, World Social Forums have enjoyed private and public support and have held large annual meetings not only in Porto Alegre, Brazil, but also in Mumbai, India and Nairobi, Kenya to export their philosophy and practice.  Other social forums in Europe and regionally have been held with significant numbers, and some countries like India have held large and important gatherings.  It was inevitable that there would be a United States Social Forum at some point, and it is now happening in Atlanta.

    Some ACORN members are attending the sessions from Georgia ACORN and Florida ACORN in order to be part of the experience.  The expectations for the Forum had increasingly been scaled down as the event came closer.  Numbers being touted in Atlanta a month before the forum expressed hope for 5000 to attend.  This was not going to be as big as others, but for it to work it had to be real.  The social forum movement originally was designed to be a counterpoint to the annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland of all of the big whoops from governments, NGOs, and business that assembled in late January to talk about the economic future of the world, as they know it.  The World Social Forum was designed to allow the “rest of us” to participate in a similar experience from the other side of the line.   In these times when the progressive forces are optimistic that the future is moving in our direction, this could have been an important gathering.

    Early reports indicate that the turnout is less than hoped.  Papers and police seem to have said perhaps 1000 were in Atlanta for the opening ceremony.  Pictures in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of the march certainly show a line that seems sparse and spread out.  More troubling is that the message seems to have been marginalized, so perhaps the organizers lost control of the framing for the meeting.  The reports seem to focus on fringes and to almost ridicule labor and other mainstays of the progressive forces for association with such a hodgepodge. 

    Hopefully, the reports once they come in from our members will indicate that the workshops were strong and the underlying value of the US Social Forum was good, but it is unfortunate that a meeting, that holds both diversity of course but also resonates with advancing the broad array of progressive values and movements on the world stage, seems not to be getting traction in the United States.   Perhaps we should have organized this one differently from the front end.  Now we may learn some lessons, but it may be too late to hope to get back on track for the future.

Liz Lichtman of New Orleans looks at a display at the Atlanta Civic Center on Thursday during the U.S. Social Forum.