Reversing course on integration

REVERSING COURSE ON INTEGRATION…. When far-right education officials aren’t trying to remove minority communities from history textbooks, they’re abolishing successful integration policies.

The sprawling Wake County School District has long been a rarity. Some of its best, most diverse schools are in the poorest sections of [Raleigh]. And its suburban schools, rather than being exclusive enclaves, include children whose parents cannot afford a house in the neighborhood.

But over the past year, a new majority-Republican school board backed by national tea party conservatives has set the district on a strikingly different course. Pledging to “say no to the social engineers!” it has abolished the policy behind one of the nation’s most celebrated integration efforts.

And as the board moves toward a system in which students attend neighborhood schools, some members are embracing the provocative idea that concentrating poor children, who are usually minorities, in a few schools could have merits –0 logic that critics are blasting as a 21st-century case for segregation.

The situation unfolding here in some ways represents a first foray of tea party conservatives into the business of shaping a public school system….

Oh good, confused and unhinged activists who think Obama raised their taxes and the government should stay out of Medicare now intend to shape a public school system. What could possibly go wrong?

Apparently, quite a bit. Avoiding racially and socioeconomically isolated schools is no longer a priority, despite decades of success in the community. The new superintendent, a Glenn Beck fan, is championing the move.

The Obama administration is not. Just this week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called Wake County’s move “troubling,” and noted that an investigation of the matter has been launched by his department’s Office for Civil Rights.

Those core values, embodied in our founding documents, subsequent amendments and court rulings, include equity and diversity in education and opportunity…. In an increasingly diverse society like ours, racial isolation is not a positive outcome for children of any color or background. School is where children learn to appreciate, respect and collaborate with people different from themselves. I respectfully urge school boards across America to fully consider the consequences before taking such action. This is no time to go backward.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.