Anti-Busing Absolutism

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This week, we're supposed to hear from the Supreme Court on a couple cases involving race-based assignment to elementary schools in order to ensure diversity at all schools (as opposed to race-based assignment of elementary schools in order to ensure segregation). I'm not sure yet that I have a view on the case. I plan to read the opinions carefully when they appear. I rarely do that. I think I've only read two Supreme Court opinions straight through when they appeared, and those were the sodomy and affirmative action decisions in the summer of 2003. But both were issues I was teaching about that summer, and I have particular interest in both issues because I regularly focus on both in ethics classes. This will be another case that draws my interest, but in this case I'm nowhere near as sure of what I think. I do think there's a difference between these cases and the segregation cases, but I also think there might be worries about how these programs work in the details. I may very well end up having mixed feelings about whatever the ruling is.

But here's one argument from Ed Whelan of Bench Memos that I cannot come close to endorsing, at least in its current form:
And how many American parents believe that any four-year-old should be forced to endure two daily 90-minute bus rides for any reason, much less in order to satisfy some social engineer’s rigid vision of racial balance?

I can understand that one more white kid in a white-dominated school is unfortunate in some ways, and I can understand concluding that it's not so bad that it's worth a 90-minute bus ride twice a day. But "for any reason"? What about a severely autistic kid who simply doesn't talk who needs a full-day pre-school program with none available in the entire county, and the closest one turns out to be one of the best in the entire region? And it's not fully 90 minutes. It's more like 75 (although it really is more like 90 for the other kid who rides his bus). And what if the kid actually enjoys the ride? I can't think of any better situation for my four-year-old than this, and it's unfortunate that the country can't keep paying for him to do it next year because of ridiculous state law requiring all kids his age to go to kindergarten regardless of any needs for further intensive pre-school services first.

This isn't really more than a quibble with his language, which could have been easily made to accomodate this sort of thing. If he hadn't spoken in such an absolute, he might have been accurate about most Americans' views. Even people who value diversity in education (and I'm certainly one of them, and I think it's ideal to have it at the earliest stages) may not think it's worth a 90-minute bus ride twice a day. But I think it's worth emphasizing a largely true generalization here. The more absolute you make a statement, the less likely it is to be true, especially when you're dealing with political issues, which are usually more complex than other issues (and especially more complex than either side of most debates will admit). I don't know very many Americans who, when presented with our situation, would think that we're immoral for sending Isaiah from Syracuse to Utica and back five days a week. The previous program he was in basically stalled his development right after he'd begun asking for things occasionally and using context-appropriate words occasionally (and then stopped right when he went to the half-day program), and he was making progress in this new program within a couple weeks of going there (and now is asking for things regularly, both with pictures and with actual words). Helping a four-year-old who is stuck whining and pointing to be able to ask for things with verbal language (never mind the other ways they've helped him out, which are fairly significant) is certainly worth the bus ride to another county, and even if he didn't like the bus ride I'd say that.

2 Comments

Sorry, but I fail to find a constitutional rationale for forced busing, much less a moral rationale. Schools, especially below high school, are local and no child should be forced to go outside their local and parentally supervised area. If they choose to, so be it, but that would require vouchers.

This is essentially an argument trying to cover up failed neighborhoods and failed schools. How is busing allowed and vouchers not? Makes no sense to me...Oh yes, I forgot, one gives parents the choice, the other gives government bureaucrats the choice, and government bureaucrats always win.

Ed Whelan sent me an email in response to this post:

Dear Jeremy:

I just ran across your post. Please be assured that I fully respect the right of parents to make the best choices for their children, and I do not question that in some cases the best choice may involve a long bus ride. My comment was directed at schools' compelling, against the parents' will, a long bus ride for young children. That's what I meant by "be forced to endure" and by my reference to social engineers, and that's what the Louisville policy evidently required.

Sincerely,

Ed Whelan

It's not out of step with what I suspected (see the from the first sentence of my last paragraph), but it's nice to hear from him exactly how he'd adjust his language.

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