Martin Luther King Jr. was so naïve. He wanted Americans to judge one another on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. And he believed that the “bad check” that the government had written black people in the United States that he spoke of in his “I Have A Dream” speech 50 years ago this week could be cashed in the future where the “riches of freedom and the security of justice” would be available to all.
He obviously did not realize that character cannot be counted in a quota system. Or that black people should merely aspire to desegregation, not excellence, as Eric Holder’s Department of Justice contends.
In what is especially ironic for its timing 50 years after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the Department of Justice (DOJ) last week sued to block poor black children in Louisiana from using school vouchers to attend a good school. The reason: their leaving failing schools upset the racial balance of those schools, depriving all students “of their right to a desegregated educational experience.”
First, almost all of the 8,000 students using vouchers are black, so it’s absurd to argue that they discriminate against minorities. As Louisiana state superintendent of schools John White said of the suit, “it would be laughable if not being so tragic for the families.”
The bigger issue, however, is the idea that racial balance is the top priority and not a good education. Only children at schools graded C, D, or F by the state ranking system whose families have an income less than 250 percent of the federal poverty line can apply for vouchers, so forcing them to stay is akin to what white segregationists did in the past, only this time its liberals committing the injustice. Militantly policing desegregation also turns what once was the means to a better education for black children into an end totally disconnected from the original goal.
That is why it is so sad. Because through the lawsuit the DOJ is saying that it cares about power, not about children. If it did, it might have interviewed the voucher families to find out why they applied for them.
Wanda Baham is one mother who hopes the DOJ drops the lawsuit. The 35-year old from Hammond, La., with three daughters who have vouchers, described the public schools where her daughters used to attend as “horrible.” “They didn’t learn anything,” she said.
She hated the fact that her daughter, Jerenia, 11, when she was younger, passed her grade in school but could not pass the state test for the grade, even after attending summer school. She couldn’t find out what was wrong, she said, because “the teachers never had time for me.” She said she has great communication with the teachers at her daughters’ private school and that they are thriving.
Mitzi Crain-Dillon, a 33-year-old mother of two children with vouchers, said the government needs to ask, “Do you want to have an equal amount of color or have students succeed in life?”
Kenneth Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, put it this way, “In an ideal world, we could have a system of education that offers both high-quality and racial and economic diversity.” He added, “In 2013, our most urgent priority must be ensuring that all children have access to a high-quality education – irrespective of school type. Neither the Department of Justice nor the courts should assign children to certain failure in the name of racial integration.”
Amen. Enforcing desegregation solely for the cause of desegregation is an inversion of Rev. King’s dream that ensures some of the poorest and most vulnerable children in Louisiana stay that way. The fact that the government would expend limited resources to impose such a brutish mandate reveals them to be thugs with consciences unpricked by the poverty of mind and body they are inflicting on generations of children. And for the sake of what?
Marta H. Mossburg writes about national affairs and about Maryland, where she lives. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.