Saturday, August 26, 2006

Not separate, but still not equal?

Thought prompted by discussion in Law of Ed...

People often use or understand the dogma that there is no such thing as "separate but equal" to stand for the proposition that integration necessarily implies equality. I vaguely remember from Logic that there is some Latin term for this sort of fallacy (B = ~A, therefore ~B = A), but I can't for the life of me remember the term. At any rate, it's not sound reasoning from a logic standpoint.

Aside from Latin and logic, anyway, can the conclusion be disproved by demonstration? Anecdotal evidence suggests that the consolidated school system often fosters a system of stratification among the students such that the students at the top and the bottom of the performance curve (or just the top) receive the benefit of a far greater proportion of school resources than students in the middle. Is this inequality, and if so, should we be troubled by it?

One of my schoolmates raises the compelling point that at least integration has produced some equality of opportunity, and since all the resources are available on a merit basis, any ceilings on educational opportunities are self-imposed.

While I would grant that integration was probably a positive step, though, I'm still not entirely sanguine about accepting the "equality of opportunity" as ideal. First, at least in my experience, the disparity of resources spent on "exceptional" students vs. "average" students ranges from unfair to shocking. Second, while autonomy and responsibility for one's own performance are to be highly valued, we are still talking about children, or at best, adolescents. They are still in their formative years, and as such, still ought to have access to formative forces without too much expectation that they will already have it all together. If we thought they were mature enough to bear the full consequences of their priority decisions, we probably wouldn't have truancy laws or legal concessions for minority. And as much as we might hate to admit it, there is a strong correlation between socio-economic status and academic success. I don't think the correlation is that poor kids are all lazy and unmotivated or stupid. Should we hold them responsible for whatever the correlation is? Do we have any choice?

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