Thursday, February 08, 2007

TIME's Joe Klein on Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action is a touchy subject in America, from the Hill to the Ivies. It makes no sense for a nation that stands for equality to still struggle so much to bring equal education to each race. TIME's Joe Klein explains,
Affirmative action was never a very elegant solution to the problem of racial injustice... On the plus side, a generation of minority and women college graduates has entered the workforce, creating a significant black middle class and a more integrated society. But the price has been resentment, especially in the white working class, and some real inequities... Even the most passionate advocates of affirmative action agree that it's a temporary fix, that writing racial distinctions into law is corrosive and illogical in a society that presumes racial equality.
So what is a nation to do? A nation that has put all its eggs in one basket, so to speak, settling much lower for racial appeasement rather than equal opportunity? Klein outlines,
Change the Definition. Make it poverty, not pigment. This is an imperfect solution. Yes, a disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos are poor, but the majority of poor people are white—and more than a few are Asian. If race-based remedies are supplanted by class-based remedies, the number of African Americans attending elite universities, for one thing, will fall... Legacies—that is, the children of alumni—represent a huge chunk of students in most fancy schools, about 1 of every 7 students in the Ivy League, according to some estimates. A 1990 study by the Department of Education found that the average Harvard legacy was "significantly less qualified" than other students in all areas except athletic ability. If we're going to end affirmative action for African Americans, we should end it for Affluent Americans. Change the System. Affirmative action was always racial justice on the cheap. The only real long-term answer to inequality is to provide a better educational system for the poor, and I mean really better: new facilities, longer school days and school years, the best college-prep classes, and significant salary bonuses for teachers who choose the toughest neighborhoods, for starters. This would require nothing less than a revolution in public education... Fudge it. Even if racial preferences are ruled unconstitutional, people are going to find a way to do it anyway... Diversity has been written into the dna of American life; any institution that lacks a rainbow array has come to seem diminished, if not diseased. In fact, there is a general acknowledgment, in all but the most troglodytic precincts, that our racial diversity is a major American competitive advantage in the global economy.
When thinking about affirmative action, or any other racial issue, it is so important to actually think of practical and workable solutions. Joe Klein is one of few voices out there using his brain when it comes to education and affirmative action. After all, the point of affirmative action was to lead to true equality. It is time for the next step.

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