The Left Wing of the Fundable

Conor P. Williams has a piece at 74 million that dabbles in a genre I’ve been meaning to comment on for a while. The nut of it is suggested by the title: Liberals Push to Correct Inequality — Just Not If It Involves Opening Up Our Neighborhood Schools.

Now I have little faith that liberals actually care much about correcting inequality in any meaningful sense. Most seem to have an abstract commitment to it, but would not be willing to impose the 45% tax level to make it happen. I have no interest in defending such people as a class, but I find the specific posturing of education reformers on this very strange.

In his piece, Williams hems and haws around for a bit until noting: isn’t it weird that affluent liberal whites won’t advocate for charter schools arrangements wherein their kids might go to school alongside poor black kids? Isn’t it weird that these supposed liberals advocate “neighborhood schools” that have the effect of achieving racial and class segregation in some areas? This is not weird, of course. Whites are racist against Blacks and Latinos and rich people don’t like mingling with poor people (especially when they are Black or Latino). This is true more generally and has little to do with schools in particular.

After pointing this out (in somewhat more muted ways), Williams goes on to cast his support of things like charter schools and school choice (and whatever) as indicating that he and his ilk are the real upstanding guys in all of this. But I am not sure he really makes a good case on this point.

You see, we know very well how to integrate schools along class and racial lines. It’s called busing and we used to do it. Yet, isn’t it weird that Williams never writes about busing? Isn’t it weird that you hardly hear a peep out of that entire gang about busing? Why don’t they advocate for explicit integration through busing instead of these charter schools which may or may not even have a desegregating effect (and even where it does, not nearly to the same degree as busing would). Isn’t it awfully convenient that these folks say they definitely care about school integration and inequality but refuse to advocate for the most effective solution for it?

When pressed on this, one of the responses you will hear is that they don’t see practically (speaking in political terms) how we can get busing. But why would people oppose busing, one has to wonder. Is it because they don’t want to send their kids to school with poors and blacks? But wait, isn’t that the same reason they don’t like charters? Isn’t the opposition the same to both things? Why advocate one thing that runs up against a brick wall due to racism and dislike of the poor but not another thing that runs up against the same brick wall?

There are two basic answers here.

The first is that the charters don’t promise integration (and in many cases brag about how segregated they are, e.g. KIPP gleaming about how uniformly poor and black their schools are). So the reformers sidestep the hurdle of the racist affluent white liberal by basically giving in entirely to their desire for segregation, which charters don’t threaten that much if at all.

The second is that practicality is defined here in terms of what you might call the Left Wing of the Fundable. You can get money to push for charter schools and privatization and breaking teacher/public unions (all things the education reformers push, including right now Students First pushing a SCOTUS case that aims to eliminate all public sector union security, not just for teachers). You can get a fellowship at a think tank to push for those types of things. They are thus practical in the sense that there are enough rich people and institutions with somewhat mixed interests that are willing to pony up the money necessary to push them through our hilariously undemocratic political system and to fund a healthy number of advocate jobs. The same money doesn’t exist for busing advocacy.

So who then is really the intrepid supporter for integration in all of this, I am left to ask. Is the education reformer who dare not say a peep about busing because it’s outside of the Left Wing of the Fundable and too radically integrationist the real no-nonsense advocate willing to say what needs to be said? I don’t think so.