Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Affirmative Action

It seems for many people, the phrase "affirmative action" is synonymous with programs implemented in universities. And such programs are understandably controversial. The issues surrounding such programs are complex, and even trying to unravel the "logic" of the legislation on the issue can be confusing.

But the real question is, why aren't we doing more in the way of affirmative action for K-12 graders? Why do we expend so much thought and energy arguing over whether the middle class black student should have priority over the middle class white student when there are tens of thousands of black and latino students attending (or not attending) the grossly under-funded, under-staffed, falling apart elementary, middle or high school in their low-income neighborhood--kids who will probably never apply to any kind of college at all?

These kids are likely to be the ones hit hardest by the economic recession. After all, children can't vote. Parents can, but they may not. This is all very frustrating, but I don't know what we can actually do about it. Does anyone have ideas?


Remigius said...

Some people, e.g. Prof. Bob Case at Northeastern University in Boston, are very explicit about the lack of availability of higher-level mathematics courses in inner-city schools as a new civil rights frontier, because one of the strongest (if not the strongest) correlation with success in college is the amount of mathematics successfully completed in high school.

That doesn't mean math makes you smart, but simply that it correlates so strongly that (in his view) it is terrible to not have those opportunities at the actual high schools in question. But getting people ready for it takes money, and money takes... well, anyway. In fact, many of those students might very well go to college, pace Virgie, if they are given high enough expectations at home and at school.

So perhaps one answer to your question is that it is so hard to "fix" housing patterns and crime problems and schooling expectations in this country. College is a much more limited realm to deal with because they are more insulated, self-selecting, hence affirmative action can actually be implemented with some hope of success; dealing with the huge systemic issues involved in high school education is another thing altogether.

Probably not what you meant by asking for an "answer"...

Virgie P. said...

Thanks for the feedback! Yes, I suppose the disparity between rich and poor public schools and related issues is just a much bigger problem, and harder to tackle than trying to get more people of color in universities.

But shouldn't the fact that the problem is more difficult to solve mean we should be talking about it *more*, not *less* than the problem that is easier to try to deal with?