Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Liberal Equality: A Case Study

The pivotal difference between American liberals and conservatives is that liberals care more about equality in the social distribution of benefits and burdens. So a lot turns on how exactly liberals understand “equality” and go about promoting it. In an earlier post, I distinguished between “envious liberals” for whom promoting equality is principally a matter of closing the well-being gap between haves and have nots, and “non-envious liberals” who think it’s principally a matter of making the least well-off people as well-off as possible.

This newspaper report (h/t James Taranto) shows us an “envious liberal” in action (my emphasis):

“An Ann Arbor elementary school principal used a letter home to parents tonight to defend a field trip for black students as part of his school’s efforts to close the achievement gap between white and black students.

“Dicken Elementary School Principal Mike Madison wrote the letter to parents following several days of controversy at the school after a field trip last week in which black students got to hear a rocket scientist.

“‘In hindsight, this field trip could have been approached and arranged in a better way,’ Madison wrote. ‘But as I reflect upon the look of excitement, enthusiasm and energy that I saw in these children’s eyes as they stood in the presence of a renowned African American rocket scientist in a very successful position, it gave the kids an opportunity to see this type of achievement is possible for even them.

“‘It was not a wasted venture for I know one day they might want to aspire to be the first astronaut or scientist standing on the Planet Mars. . . . The intent of our field trip was not to segregate or exclude students as has been reported, but rather to address the societal issues, roadblocks and challenges that our African American children will face as they pursue a successful academic education here in our community.’”
Evidently, the students who weren’t allowed on the field trip didn’t think they were receiving equal treatment from school administrators:

“District spokeswoman Liz Margolis said after the trip was over, those who went returned to their fifth-grade class and were greeted by boos by those who didn’t go on the trip. Margolis said Madison, who is black, heard the boos, and went to talk to the class. She said he and the class had a ‘discussion’ about race issues.”
The article doesn’t say exactly what was discussed, but from the way the principal described the discussion, I think we can assume that he was explaining to the disgruntled students what promoting racial equality was all about:

“‘I also think it’s important that you know that I have talked to the children who did not go on the field trip, and I think they have a better understanding of the purpose of the AA Lunch Bunch now, as I hope you do. I’m sorry if any kids were upset by the field trip or my discussion afterwards with them, and I have let them know that.’”
It’s hard to see how allowing non-African-American students on the field trip would have made seeing an African-American rocket scientist any less inspiring to the African-American students. It just might, however, have inspired a few of the other students too. Moreover, talking to an accomplished African-American scientist might have made it a little less likely that non-African-American students would embrace socially corrosive stereotypes about racial minorities. 

The school principal apparently preferred a segregated field trip because he cared too much about narrowing the achievement gap between groups of students to confer a benefit on non-African-American students that wouldn’t have imposed significant incremental costs on the school, and wouldn’t have cost the African-American students a thing.  Can you blame the kids who couldn’t go on the field trip (or their parents) for being upset?


Anonymous said...

what's not being told is the nature of the "discussion". He screamed at and belittled the class of 5th graders. Children of both races were crying. If you read the comments on, you will see there are many things this principal did that were wrong.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like he's just a bad educator.