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November 30, 2023

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Supreme Court will take on affirmative action

The Supreme Court is currently considering oral arguments on cases that may define segregation for the next decades. The cases, according to NPR, were brought up by some white families protesting that they had the right to choose where their child went to school. The reason for the controversy was the response of the Louisville and Seattle school boards.

For years, the schools have had a program to reverse the effect of segregation. The policy requires that each of its member schools have a certain race-quota to meet. One such controversy arose when the Meredith family tried to enroll their son in a school that had already fulfilled the white portion of their quota.

The parents claim that their son was not admitted to the school “because of his race.” While at face value this is a true, deeper discussion about the actual policy seems to be ignored.

But what justification does the school have to make such policy? This is the nature of the question before the Supreme Court.

The schools themselves are interested in desegregation.

The thought process is that if we keep schools segregated (inner city v. suburb, etc.) there will be a difference in the quality of education.

Poor, inner city students tend not get the same benefits as students in schools who can afford higher taxes and better curricula.

Following Brown v. Board of Education, the inherent ill-effects of segregation were fully accepted. Furthering this sentiment, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke allowed the use of affirmative action in higher education.

I think that it’s only proper to discuss the implications of affirmative action before we can further weigh the current Supreme Court case. So we have this big taboo word: no one wants to talk about it. In the interest of tearing down that barrier, let’s talk about it.

Affirmative action is the policy to give advantages to those students who have been traditionally underrepresented in a given institution due primarily because of unequal primary schooling.

The results of affirmative action have been a necessary increase in the acceptance rates of minorities in college.

However, because all policy has a trade off, the result has also been a decrease in the employment and acceptance rates of the majority. Unless you create more universities, there simply is no other way to proportionally represent the population.

So, as a matter of course, we see the costs of having affirmative action. But what of the alternative? Let’s suppose that we didn’t, as a society, use this policy to rectify past social wrongs. What would this society look like?

If we didn’t help those who lacked the advantages of the higher classes, statistically they will not get into the better schools.

Statistically speaking, those who do not get into the better colleges will not get better jobs. Continuing the cycle, these people can’t afford better schooling for their children, and thus a cycle of low class mobility begins.

In a land of equal opportunity, how are we to make up the difference in the quality of education between the rich and the poor? Surely it is the case that some people from the lower classes will escape the cycle. But what is the likelihood? Because the lower classes have higher percentages of minorities than any other class, allowing this sort of policy to continue would disproportionately affect minorities.

This system is not without its benefits, however. If those with better educations are put into better jobs, they may perform better than those who have had poorer educations. It is precisely this trend, though, that enables the rich to get richer, and the poor to get poorer.

We can see through direct comparison (with or without affirmative action) that both societies have the benefits and things they’d rather not talk about.

The decision thus becomes: which decision can we be more proud of? Would we like to perpetuate the will and policy of the majority? Or, perhaps, should we accept that some of the majority will be gypped in the search for a more equal society?

Discussion of affirmative action is important precisely because it is the result of unequal early education.

To desegregate is to mix students from both rich and poor background and ensure that the quality of the education is not dispersed according to income level. If we wish someday to move beyond affirmative action, it has to start with equity in public schools.

Send comments to Chad Puterbaugh at [email protected].

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