Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Oh so American
So much has been written about our penchant for the quick fix, the short cut and the easy way out. That is not to say that all of it is true nor that no one still believes in doing things "the right way." But the reality is that we do want instant gratification; we want the slow person ahead of us to get off the road; we want a pill to take away our fat stomach overnight; etc.
One area where this is particularly troubling- and potentially devastating- is public policy. As an example, look at affirmative action. It's purpose is to mitigate socio-economic factors and the effects of past institutionalized racism. In the area of higher education what affirmative action does is to move the goal posts for admissions for certain groups of applicants in order to increase "diversity" and open up the doors of opportunity to some who might not otherwise have that chance. But what it really seeks to do is to level the playing field between minority and non-minority applicants.
While that is an admirable goal, the means used to achieve it is shortsighted and perilous. It focuses on just one pressure point in a complex system and attempts to correct what thirteen prior years of education failed to do. And its unintended consequence is to deny otherwise qualified non-minority applicants a place in an entering class, resulting in racial animosity.
A much more effective solution would be to ensure that ALL children receive a quality primary and secondary education, regardless of their socio-economic status or where they happen to grow up. If primary and secondary educational opportunities were more equitable, the need for affirmative action in higher education (and in other forms, too) would become unnecessary. It would allow admissions committees to focus solely on the quality of the applicant, would eliminate the need for universities to spend millions on remedial education, ensure that all students at an individual university are qualified to be there and eliminate the racial animosity created by uneven admissions standards.
But apparently this is too much to ask of our society. We would rather spend our time and money fighting legal battles over whether a racial preference system is tantamount to a quota and whether or not that meets the strict scrutiny standard. How much better off would we be if all the money, time and energy spent on both sides was given instead to improving the quality of primary and secondary education for poor children.
Although I do care about the legal issues raised in these cases, i just think it is such a shame to see so much energy wasted. And I am getting more than a bit tired of this nonsense and misdirected priorities.


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