Monday, May 02, 2016

That Old Time Segregation

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the commencement speech on April 30 at the University of Michigan and

"The fact that some university boards and administrations now bow to pressure and shield students from these ideas through 'safe spaces,' 'code words' and 'trigger warnings' is, in my view, a terrible mistake," Bloomberg said, drawing a smattering of boos and some applause.

Bloomberg remarked that college's "whole purpose" is "to learn how to deal with difficult situations — not to run away from them."

"A microaggression is exactly that: micro," he said. "And one of the most dangerous places on a college campus is a safe space, because it creates the false impression that we can isolate ourselves from those who hold different views."

"We can't, and we shouldn't, try — not in politics and not in the workplace," he said.

Perhaps when a guy is extraordinarily wealthy he is free to say what ought to be said, immediate reaction be damned.

Hopefully, politicians and potential benefactors everywhere will heed his warning against isolating ourselves from those who hold different views- as we should avoid isolating ourselves from those who are different than we are.

Unfortunately- and probably unknowingly- Bloomberg was singing a different tune when four years ago he bragged at a meeting of the US Conference of Mayors

Over the past decade, thanks to leadership of so many of these mayors and others, the number of students enrolled in charter schools has more than tripled – and I’m proud to say a good portion of that growth has come in New York City.

We’ve opened 139 new charter schools in our city, and we’ve created more than 500 new small schools, non-charters, but ones that give parents of kids top-quality options.

Options they are, not unlike the private academies set up by white parents in the American south after the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education outlawed public school segregation.  As a Prince Edward County, Virginia newspaper publisher put it in 1959, "We are working [on] a scheme in which we will abandon public schools, sell the buildings to our corporation, reopen as privately operated schools with tuition grants from [Virginia] and P.E. county as the basic financial program."

The spirit and the letter of  the law has evolved and today applies to the charter school movement. The ghost of Alabama governor George C. Wallace- "segregation today, segregation, tomorrow, and segregation forever"- lives on.  In a statement announcing its complaint filed with the US Department of Education, the Delaware branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Community Legal Aid Society in December, 2014 noted of charter schools' admission policies

These requirements include high examination scores, essays written by parents to explain why a school is a good choice for their child, access to gifted and talented elementary and middle school programs that help increase academic performance, annual activities fees, mandatory parent involvement and mandatory high-cost uniform purchases.  Such barriers prevent students from low-income African-American and Hispanic families from having the same access to high-quality charter schools that middle- and upper-class families have.

In its focus on the Constitution and the law, the ACLU misses one additional  facet of such schools. Many charter schools practice not only de facto racial segregation but de jure gender segregation. Separation by gender is more difficult to challenge legally but, in the end, is still segregation.

One must "learn how to deal with difficult situations- not to run away from them," Michael Bloomberg argues.  Sometimes that difficult situation is learning in an environment which- horror!- includes youngsters of the opposite sex. Word has it that boys and girls often inhabit the same workplace as young adults. They may as well get used to it.

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