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Segregation and the School Choice Movement

August 30, 2019 in Economics

By Neal McCluskey

Neal McCluskey

America is, rightly, having a reckoning on race. The
nation’s history is scarred by its too-often horrific
mistreatment of African Americans, from slavery, to Jim Crow, to
discriminatory government housing policies that lasted into the
1960s. Righteous indignation can, and should, well up in
one’s heart. Progress, though, depends on understanding that
there are good people who see the same problems, but not the same
solutions. It requires operating with the starting assumption that
even those on opposite sides of the policy debate are animated by
good intentions.

Journalist Amanda Ripley wrote an excellent article recently aimed at helping
journalists cover controversial issues in our sharply divided
society. After speaking with the likes of Righteous Mind author Jonathan Haidt,
Ripley concluded that the key to productive interaction is to get
to know your ideological opponents—learn about who they are,
and why they believe what they believe—and to wrestle with
their experiences and beliefs. Doing so often reveals our opponents
to be decent human beings, and complexity—seeing the nuances
of what they believe—causes us to “become more curious
and less closed off to new information.”

It can often turn out that those with whom we disagree, even
vehemently, also want to serve justice. But how they see justice is
different.

Many people support
school choice not only out of principle, but based on historical
and present reality: public schooling has repeatedly produced
repression, exclusion, and other chronic problems.

Which brings us to “Segregationists, Libertarians, and the Modern
‘School Choice’ Movement
,” a recent article
by Steve Suitts of the Southern Education Foundation. Suitts
asserts that school choice supporters are at best
“indifferent” to school segregation, and cynically
promote choice by invoking civil rights. Suitts ties choice
supporters directly to Southern segregationists who, following the
1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision
requiring public school desegeregation, advocated for choice so
whites could attend private “segregation
academies.”

I have struggled with how to respond to Suitts, and contemplated
a blistering condemnation. But indignation over injustice, which
Suitts expresses, is normal, and he is absolutely correct that
there has been great injustice inflicted on African Americans.
Rather than try to satisfy my immediate urges and pummel Suitts
with acidic attacks on his character and blind spots, my hope
instead is to present and explain the good motives I
believe animate many school choice supporters—the
justice-seeking motives—hopefully advancing the kind of
understanding approach to political debate that can contribute to
real progress.

The Principle

The bulk of Suitts’ condemnation of school choice is
grounded in the fact that some segregationists offered arguments
for choice couched in the same terms as current choice supporters.
These include appeals …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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