Monday, September 24, 2012

The Sex And Power Shell Game

Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign calls same-sex marriage the "civil rights issue of our time."   The lead attorney for the plaintiff in the legal effort to overturn California's Proposition 8 (constitutional amendment which declared that between a man and a woman the only valid marriage) describes the fight as "the last major civil rights milestone yet to be surpassed in our two-century struggle to attain the goals we set for this nation at its foundation."

Many other prominent Americans have termed the effort to legalize same-sex marriage as "the civil rights issue of our time."   They, too, are wrong.  The civil rights issue of our time is civil rights.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine established by the Court's 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson      Chief Justice Warren observed "Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other 'tangible' factors may be equal,deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities?  We believe that it does."

The Supreme Court thus abolished state-sanctioned school segregation.   But make no mistake:   segregation in schools is making a comeback.   A report published September 19 by the Civil Rights Project

shows that segregation has increased seriously across the country for Latino students, who are attending more intensely segregated and impoverished schools than they have for generations.  The segregation increases have been the most dramatic in the West. The typical Latino student in the region attends a school where less than a quarter of their classmates are white; nearly two-thirds are other Latinos; and two-thirds are poor. California, New York and Texas, all states that have been profoundly altered by immigration trends over the last half-century, are among the most segregated states for Latino students along multiple dimensions.

In spite of declining residential segregation for black families and large-scale movement to the suburbs in most parts of the country, school segregation remains very high for black students.  It is also double segregation by both race and poverty.  Nationwide, the typical black student is now in a school where almost two out of every three classmates (64%) are low-income, nearly double the level in schools of the typical white or Asian student (37% and 39%, respectively).  New York, Illinois, and Michigan consistently top the list of the most segregated states for black students.  Among the states with significant black enrollments, blacks are least likely to attend intensely segregated schools in Washington, Nebraska, and Kansas.

School resegregation for black students is increasing most dramatically in the South, where, after a period of intense resistance, strong action was taken to integrate black and white students.  Black students across the country experienced gains in school desegregation from the l960s to the late l980s, a time in which racial achievement gaps also narrowed sharply.  These trends began to reverse after a 1991 Supreme Court decision made it easier for school districts and courts to dismantle desegregation plans. Most major plans have been eliminated for years now, despite increasingly powerful evidence on the importance of desegregated schools.

Public policy and the euphemistically-termed "education reform" movement are enhancing this trend, especially because

The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration, has taken no significant action to increase school integration or to help stabilize diverse schools as racial change occurs in urban and suburban housing markets and schools. Small positive steps in civil rights enforcement have been undermined by the Obama Administration’s strong pressure on states to expand charter schools - the most segregated sector of schools for black students. Though segregation is powerfully related to many dimensions of unequal education, neither candidate has discussed it in the current presidential race.

Restoration of school segregation is not the primary objective of the charter school movement, although the impulse does have its roots in white resistance to school desegregation after Brown. The primary goal is to dismantle teachers' unions and privatize the educational system, to the enrichment of individuals like Chicago venture capitalist Bruce Rauner.  Rauner, a major force in the drive to close public public schools and open charters in Chicago, has boasted "The critical issue is to separate the union from the teachers."

Mitt Romney is at least as committed to the movement to undermine public schools and expand the number of  charter schools as is President Obama, who supports mass firings of teachers when not up to his standards.     The education reform movement aims to alter the power structure of the nation, eliminating middle class jobs and the unions whose decline has not coincidentally paralleled the decline of the middle class in America.   Mitt Romney, not coincidentally, is at least as committed to the education reform movement and to segregation-enhancing charter schools as is President Obama, who supports mass firings of teachers when not up to his standards.  In June, Romney (in)famously argued that Obama "says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.  Did he not get the message of Wisconsin?  The American people did.  It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."   Less famously, but thoroughly consistently, Romney the previous month (one in which we discovered the real Romney) had contended "the teachers' unions are the clearest example of a group that has lost its way."

A Romney victory in November is, thankfully, unlikely. But supporters believe a definitive debate triumph (though an unexpected international event harming Obama is more likely) might turn things around.    Politico reports that Ted Olson is playing the part of Joe Biden in preparing Paul Ryan for his debate with the Vice-President.   Olson is best remembered as the lead attorney in Bush v. Gore, leading to the selection by the U.S. Supreme Court of the Texas governor as President, a process which has had devastating effects for the nation.  Olson, a solicitor general in the administration of Bush 43, has thrown in his lot with the ticket which wants to slash Medicaid, privatize the earned benefits of Medicare and Social Security, end taxes on investment income, turn energy policy over to the fossil fuel industry, and erode the public school system.

Ted Olson has another job these days, one which appears- but only at first glance- to contradict his work on behalf of the Romney-Ryan team.    He is, along with David Boies, the attorney working the courts to overturn Proposition 8 which, he maintains, obstructs "the last major civil rights milestone," the freedom to marry an individual of one's own gender.  The executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats comments "After he has spent as much time, money, and reputation on overturning Prop 8 as he has, it’s shocking to learn that Ted Olson would lift a finger to help the Romney-Ryan ticket during debate prep."

Disappointing, probably; unfortunate, surely (or maybe surely disappointing and probably unfortunate).   But "shocking?"    For Ted Olson and some others, assisting gay rights groups in their struggle will ensure they are not persona non-grata at some of the finest parties in Washington, and perhaps in New York and L.A.  But it will not offend corporate interests and the clout they wield nor upset the distribution of power among social classes.Public school teachers, as well as the children whom they help and whose interests they represent indirectly at the bargaining table, should be so lucky.

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