Wednesday, August 27, 2003

A Hand Up, a Crutch or Feel Good Symbolism?

I suppose one could also add to the list reverse racism, but that might be a bit too incendiary and some readers might just stop there or else have their defenses so far up that they cannot see beyond them. What I would really like to do here is walk through a leftist critique of affirmative action in higher education. It just so happens that my own problems with affirmative action in higher education come from both the left and what might be termed the right. (Personally I do not buy into the notion of opposing AA on grounds that is discriminatory is a right wing idea, but nevertheless that is how it is described in the public discourse.)
Why might a good leftist/liberal oppose a policy that is meant to level the playing field between under represented minorities (hereafter referred to as URM) and whites? I think that I might start with a somewhat obvious reason- its lack of effectiveness. The United States higher education system has been engaged in affirmative action for well over three decades yet there remain widespread disparities in educational attainment between whites and URM's. Could this be the effects of systemic racism- perhaps, but I hesitate to accept such a cause. The intent of affirmative action is not just to admit a few more URMs to college and universities and graduate schools, but to even out the distribution of educational opportunities and success among the various races and ethnicities in the United States. The data clearly show this has not happened, and that although there may have been some narrowing it is not nearly as significant as one might hope for with good public policy.
But I think a more emotionally persuasive argument might be constructed around the notion of affirmative action as mere feel good symbolism. It allows educated and successful whites to feel good that "something" is being done, while completing ignoring the root cause of academic inequality. And that cause is the inequity of our public primary and secondary educational system, where children's education is determined more by where s/he happens to be born or grow up, than by her/his inherent abilities. It is apparent to even the most casual observer that wide discrepancies exist in the education provided to inner city kids and that provided to their suburban peers. And while this may not always break down on the neat and clear lines of race, it (poverty) does serve as a fairly good proxy. I would argue that white leaders pay lip service to improving education by supporting limited schemes to equalize funding among school districts, but research is quite clear that it actually takes more resources to provide a similar education to poor children, because of factors outside of the classroom related to poverty.
I would further argue that white leaders may only go so far in their support for reform as their allies in the teachers' unions will allow. Our public K-12 education system is a wasteland for those who are poor and nothing short of radical change will transform these educational ghettos into productive schools. It is easy for a white leader (and unfortunately many black leaders take this same path) to mouth platitudes about improving education and providing access to college for URMS, but their words lack any real commitment and these leaders are unwilling to spend the political capital needed to create a quality education system.
Another intriguing question is what else might be motivating white leaders to forestall radical change. Might they worry that real educational equity could result in more competition for limited seats at prestigious colleges and universities? As the system is now constructed, K-12 educational inequities guaranty a limited pool of "qualified" URM applicants for college. However, by increasing educational equity at the K-12 level we might in fact be enabling scores and scores of URM access to college. And they would compete directly with their white suburban counterparts.
I would like to hope that white society (among which I am a member) is not that nefarious. But sometimes I do have to wonder, given its track record with welfare policies that furthered dependency and created a government plantation in place of the cotton plantations that once plagued American society.


"We want to be treated like professionals." This is a popular mantra of the nation's teachers and their representatives. And, of course, the people who nurture and develop our future generations deserve that level of respect. However, more often than not teachers want the respect without the accordant responsibilities or accountability. To wit, let us look at two other highly regarded professions- doctor and lawyer- and how their professional lives are regulated.
In both the legal and medical profession, a practitioner must pass a rigorous state sanctioned exam in order to engage in that work. On the other hand, while many states have "reformed" teacher certification, it remains more of a logistical than an intellectual challenge. One must jump through this hoop, cross this t, genuflect to that part of the education establishment and pay your union dues.
Neither the legal or medical professions are, to any extent, unionized or subject to old economy work rules. Teachers' daily lives are highyl regulated by work rules, including the number of "free" periods they are entitled to, whether or not they may be assigned lunch or bus duty and where they physically teach. On the other hand, doctors and lawyers work whatever hours are needed, do whatever must be done and do it where they are assigned. An attorney working for a firm may have no choice other than to change cities because the firm needs him elsewhere, but if a superintendent attempts to reassign a teacher to a school that may need her skills more urgently, he faces insurmountable obstacles.
Let us also look at compensation schemes. In the teacher's case s/he can expect to earn x number of dollars depending on where s/he fits on the salary schedule. And if s/he earns an additonal degree or certification, s/he will be entitled to higher compensation. There is no relationship between teacher compensation and teacher quality/performance. Doctors and lawyers, however, are compensated on their work product and its quality. A lawyer will not expect to earn ever larger amounts solely by sticking around the firm and taking some professional development seminars.
This is all not to say that teachers are not professionals deserving our thanks and respect, but to note that they often do not view professionalism as an obligation as well as a status. Too often teachers and their representatives stifle those reforms that might actually bring their occupation in line with the hallmarks of other professions.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Site Update

Just another quickie to let you know the links have changed. There are now a host of good Clark links and I changed a few others around. I am toying with the idea of delinking the major blogs, only because I think most people are already reading them. Maybe if I just link the smaller sites it would help their traffic. Still have not made up my mind yet.
On another front, law school orientation has begun and I do finally have all my furniture and my apartment is set up, with the exception of bare wall space and floor space (if anyone wants to donate some prints or floor plants, hint hint).
I plan/hope to be back to blogging more regularly next week, assuming all goes as planned. I also sent out feelers to my law school community to see about starting a collaborative blog, because between school, bodybuilding, this blog, and now my Clark cheerleading, I have oh so much free time (Oy..). I also wonder how much of my political writing will now be discounted as mere Clark rhetoric (I hope not).
Lately I have been limiting my writing to the comments sections on a few other blogs, but I am saving the really good stuff for here (yeah, right.. as soon as my mind generates something worthwhile).

Monday, August 18, 2003

Complete Sentences

Imagine having a POTUS that could speak in complete sentences? That is exactly what I was pondering as I watched Wesley Clark on Late Edition yesterday. Here is a man who was able to speak off the cuff in a thoughtful and articulate manner. He spoke convincingly about the economy and about the war on terrorism- which I think are the two big issues in P2004. His best moment though was when he hammered Tom DeLay, which showed that the General is capable of throwing a few elbows without coming across as abrasive or shrill.
It has been a long time since I have felt this way about a candidate for public office and I hope beyond hope that Clark does run. Not just for the good of the Democratic Party, but for the future of this great nation.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

P2004 Announcement

When I have my furniture all set, I will write a detailed post as to my reasons for supporting this particular person. But for now, I will keep it short and sweet and bombard you with links to learn more, get involved, etc.

Wes Clark for President

Draft Wes Clark
Digital Clark
Clark Coalition
Clark Blog
Clark Meetup
Leadership for America

Tuesday, August 12, 2003


If you, or anyone you care about, is planning a move, DO NOT use United Van Lines! I will post more about my horror story with United once the nightmare is over (hopefully next Monday).

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Sort of Here

Well, the internet is now hooked up at home. However, my moving company still has all my stuff in Albany and will not be loaded until the day after what was supposed to be (according to the contract) the last date of delivery. So I am stuck here with my laptop quite literally on my lap, heating up my thighs to an intolerable level. Therefore, I am not spending too much time on the internet these days and to be quite honest I am too stressed/annoyed to even think about blogging. So, I promise to be back sometime later in the month. My parents (and hopefully my furniture) will be here next week; the week after is orientation; etc.. So it could be Labor Day before I return, but I hope not to be away for so long. Take care.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Back Soon

So the trip to St. Louis is over and I, along with a few key possessions, have arrived at my new home. I was struck at how different the rest of the country is from my beloved Northeast. On route to St. Louis I passed a huge cross, complete with a trailer for a visitor's center/gift shop and another huge billboard with the word "Jesus" beaming out at me in radiant letters. I wonder why it is that many of our displays of religiosity/faith tend towards the garish. Maybe a society that has televangelists hawking salvation in 30 minute infomercials begets such unheavenly displays of faith in its semi-public sphere.
Back to the subject though. I still don't have furniture or a home internet connection, so blogging will be random and light for most of the week. To be honest,
I have sort of retreated from world events over the past few days. But I promise to be back soon with witty an incisive commentary on the P2004 race.