On facebook recently historian and author Tom Woods linked to and commented on an article in the Washington Times. The article’s headline read: “NYC school cuts popular gifted program over lack of diversity”.
Tom quoted from the article and commented as follows: ““Our Kindergarten classes will be heterogeneously grouped to reflect the diversity of our student body and the community we live in,” said the head of the Department of Orwellian Press Releases.” I agree with Mr Woods. There’s something rather sinister about this statement, which was made by the school’s principle Mary McDonald.
The school under discussion is Ditmas Park’s public school in Brooklyn, otherwise known as P.S. 139 (now that’s Orwellian!). In a second letter responding to parent’s concerns about the schools plans Miss McDonald wrote:
“At PS 193, we believe that all children can learn and achieve high standards. We also know that we want all children at PS 193 to have equal access to high quality, challenging curriculum, and to have ample opportunities to master complex material and build academic and personal self-confidence. We also want our classes to reflect the diversity of our community. We believe we can have both: classrooms characterized by rigor and diversity.”
It’s clear that principle McDonald has two goals, which she believes are not conflicting and therefore can be achieved simultaneously for all students.
1) For all children to have equal access to high quality, challenging curriculum, and to have ample opportunities to master complex material and build academic and personal self-confidence.
2) To reflect the diversity of the community in the make-up of the schools classes.
I think there can be little doubt that the second goal means grouping children in such a way that there are white, black, Asian-American and hispanic children in each class. There is obviously only one way to achieve the second goal and that is by using the race or ethnicity of any given child to determine which class they will be placed in. For example, let us imagine a scenario where child A who is black cannot be placed in class B because that class already has the ‘correct’ amount of black students, and so must be placed in class C which doesn’t have ‘enough’ black students. Only if class C is populated with children that are at a the same academic/intellectual level as child A can principle Mary McDonald achieve both of her goals at the same time in this scenario. However, if the students in class C are, say, at a lower level than child A, then the first goal cannot be achieved at the same time as the second goal for child A because he or she will be denied access to a challenging curriculum (or forced to endure one that’s too challenging should the students in class c be at a higher level). As a consequence either child A’s or all the other students in class C’s best interests cannot be served. This negative consequence can only be avoided by sacrificing the requirement to achieve principle McDonald’s second goal – diversity. We can see, then, how the pursuit of the twin goals as set out above will regularly lead to the need to choose between racially balanced classes and best serving the individual needs of each student. The fact that principle McDonald has cut the gifted program suggests that the former is more likely to be preferred over the latter. I wonder what parents would think of a school that does not have serving the individual needs of their children as its primary objective.
Racial segregation in schools has become unacceptable and unlawful in American society over the last fifty years or so, but with the socialistic notion that – a diverse society is the best society therefore we must engineer diversity at all costs – it is now being practiced again. In order for principle McDonald to achieve her goal of reflecting the diversity of the community in the make-up of her classes, she must separate and group children based on race to some degree in order to distribute them across classes. When blacks and whites were segregated in the past it was based on the false premise that blacks were inferior to whites and therefore that the needs or ‘rights’ of the latter should supersede those of the former. Evenly distributing races in schools today is based on the false premise that the needs of the individual should be superseded by the imagined needs of the collective or society. E.g. the gifted program was deemed undesirable by principle McDonald because most of the children in it where white. This state of affairs conflicted with the ‘need’ of the collective/society to be diverse and so the program had to go. The needs of society supersede those of individuals in the mind of the socialist. But society is just a collective term for a group of individuals and as such cannot have needs or rights; only individuals exist and only individuals can have rights. Thus in an attempt to manifest her preferred state of the children’s affairs – the irrational ideal of diversity – principle McDonald is pursuing a course of action that hinders and prevents best serving the needs of her students.
Principle McDonald wrote “we believe we can have both…” but she is mistaken. The state of affairs she believes she can manifest by following her two-pronged rationale is unrealizable because the ideal of diversity is irrational. There’s no reason or evidence to believe that diversity per se equals a more prosperous or peaceful society and that therefore it should be socially engineered or preserved. The fuzzy notion of diversity has lured principle McDonald away from her primary objective, which is to serve the individual educational needs of each of her students, and now all her staff will also have to follow this perverse course of action.
Parents may have their work cut out too trying to steer the school back on course because getting state schools to change according to the demands of those they serve is notoriously difficult. Unlike in free markets where people are constantly getting providers of products and services to adapt to their demands by abstaining from doing business with those that don’t best meet their demands and instead doing business with those that do. ‘Customers’ of state schools don’t have such power because they lack the liberty they and others have as genuine customers in society’s free markets.
A school should be like a business. Any company providing a product or service, shouldn’t be doing anything that doesn’t ultimately benefit its customers because giving its customers what they want is the only way to remain in business. Any business that consistently does what its customers don’t want it to will find that the money stops coming in and will eventually go out of business. However, a state school is not like a business. A state school can happily plod along for decade upon decade pursuing courses of action that do not benefit its students – things like long summer breaks, diversity in classes etc. And yet year after year the funding keeps coming in.
If Ditmas Park was a school funded voluntarily, i.e. like most other providers of products and services, then the removal of the gifted program would have prompted a drop in profits (or at the very least the threat of taking business elsewhere) if enough of its customers disapproved of its closure. The school, if it wished to remain in business, would reinstate the gifted program and would have learned something about its customers: they really like schools that have programs for gifted children, and will choose schools that have them over schools that don’t. This process keeps good schools (schools that serve society best) in business and puts bad schools out of business, which means the resources that were once tied up in bad schools become available to the good schools or to new schools (which might lead to even higher standards as a result of increased competition).
This is how liberty, the free market, the profit and loss system would provide education to society. Government-run education is the absence of the profit and loss system and therefore can only attempt to clumsily and slowly imitate the nature of liberty and free markets through executing the ideas of a group of central planners. These men guess at what millions of individuals what from schools and then manifest their approximation in the form of identikit state schools, managed by people like Miss Mary McDonald. Each one about as diverse as the attendants of the Nuremberg rally. State schools can eventually adapt to some degree to the demands of parents/students, but they do it much more slowly than free markets do, partly because there’s simply much less incentive too but mostly because they have significant obstacles to doing so – such as the power of teachers unions, bureaucracy and the political process in general.
Diversity is a problem in state education, but not in the way principle McDonald believes it to be. Liberate education from the shackles of government and society will experience diversity in education the likes of which we’ve never seen before, but which the Internet is starting to give us a glimpse of. The one-size-doesn’t-fit-all-but-lets-shove-everyone-into-it-anyway government system will be banished and replaced with educations to fit all minds, characters and budgets. There will be schools everywhere. Big schools, little schools, specialist schools, schools for the disabled, schools for introverts, schools for extroverts, schools for hyperactive kids, online schools (lots of those), free schools, expensive schools, and moderately priced schools. Whatever kind of schools people want they’ll probably get. And the higher quality brought about by genuine competition will make us wonder why we didn’t liberate education (and our children’s minds) a long time ago.
Talking of our children; what lesson does principle McDonald’s pursuit of diversity (at their expense) teach them? It teaches children that if there’s ‘too many’ people of a certain race in one group or organisation, then that is wrong, even if there is good reason for them being there and they are not bad people. It teaches children to judge people by the colour of their skin and not by the content of their character and the quality of their mind.