Part 1—Must every discussion be faux? Must every one of our public discussions be tilted, flimsy, fake/phony/faux, overwrought, substantially bogus?
By some diktat of Hard Pundit Law, has this become a basic part of modern journalistic and academic culture?
We often ask such questions when we read discussions of increased "segregation" in the public schools. For a recent case in point, consider this January 8 report for Vox, written by Alvin Chang.
Chang graduated from NYU in 2009. He describes himself as "Senior Graphics Reporter at Vox," not as an education specialist—though it hardly matters.
We'll assume that Chang is good at graphics, even though this particular piece may suggest a different conclusion. In fairness, his presentation about "segregation" is thoroughly standard, given the norms of modern progressive culture.
Nothing Chang says or claims in his piece is novel or new. That said, his presentation seems to make little sense, except as an example of tribal devotion to script.
All this week, we'll consider basic parts of Chang's presentation, which treats a very important topic. We'll also consider the high-profile academic source from which he draws his basic data.
Beyond that, we'll consider the reaction to Chang's presentation by a major liberal/progressive journalist who has written extensively on the topic at hand. As for Chang's report at Vox, it appears beneath these headlines:
We can draw school zones to make classrooms less segregated. This is how well your district does.The key term there is "racial segregation." As everybody surely knows, the term is heavily fraught.
Is your district drawing borders to reduce or perpetuate racial segregation?
For many years, public school systems throughout the South—and in border states like Maryland—were legally segregated by race. Black kids went to one set of schools. White kids went to another.
In theory, this practice was declared unconstitutional by the 1954 Brown decision (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka). That said, compliance with the decision was slow in some places; "white flight" to private academies took place in many others. Beyond that, housing patterns meant that many schools remained racially unbalanced, even after separation-by-law had ceased to exist.
In the language of the time, de jure segregation was over; de facto segregation remained. But the term "segregation" remains highly fraught, for these historical reasons.
Presumably for that reason, "segregation" is the word we progressives prefer when we discuss demographic patterns within today's public school. This reflects one of the basic laws of flailing human culture:
Especially in heavily partisan times, elbows and thumbs must be on the scales in all public discussions—and especially in discussions of topics which are very important.
That's the background to the fraught term which appears in those Vox headlines. Reflexive use of such terms tends to produce a familiar reaction, with one tribe feeling morally pure while the other tribe feels inclined to push back.
Whatever! Below Chang's headline, he starts his argument in the manner shown below. After the text we provide, he presents his initial graphic:
CHANG (1/8/18): Think about your elementary school.Chang's graphic shows maps of school attendance zones in three cities—Omaha, Milwaukee and Houston. The graphic is coded to show us what percentage of the student population in each zone is black or Hispanic.
If you attended an American public school, chances are you went to that school because your family lived in that school’s attendance zone. You probably didn’t think twice about it.
We tend to assume these are neutrally drawn, immutable borders. But if you take a step back and look at the demographics of who lives in each attendance zone, you’re faced with maps like this:
[Graphic: "Demographics of school attendance zones"]
In each of the cities, some of the attendance zones seems to be more than 90 percent black or Hispanic. Other attendance zones are less than 10 percent black or Hispanic.
That said, we aren't sure what conclusion we can reach from looking at those maps. On their face, none of the attendance zones seem to be crazily "gerrymandered." Presumably, the racial composition of the zones largely or primarily reflects residential patterns.
We don't know what conclusion we can reach just from observing that graphic. But as he continues, Chang tells us:
CHANG (continuing directly): Once you look at the school attendance zones this way, it becomes clearer why these lines are drawn the way they are. Groups with political clout—mainly wealthier, whiter communities—have pushed policies that help white families live in heavily white areas and attend heavily white schools.Just this once, we'll be honest. It may well be that those attendance zones were drawn to help white families send their kids to heavily white schools. But we don't see how Chang can know that just from surveying those maps.
We see this in city after city, state after state.
No matter! As if to strengthen his point, Chang then presents attendance zone maps for six additional cities. After that, he states his main idea. It involves a familiar claim:
CHANG: And often the attendance zones are gerrymandered to put white students in classrooms that are even whiter than the communities they live in.Our public schools are "resegregating," Chang says. In fact, this is a highly familiar claim. It gets the lift of a driving dream from its use of a highly fraught term.
The result is that schools today are re-segregating. In fact, schools in the South are as segregated now as they were about 50 years ago, not long after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.
Are American public schools actually "resegregating?" Are schools in the South "as segregated now as they were about 50 years ago, not long after the landmark Brown decision?" (At this point, Chang presents a graph in support of the latter claim.)
Because of their use of a highly fraught term, these claims involve a lot of heat; they often produce a lot less light. According to many major experts, this is the way our species reasons at highly fraught times like these.
American schools are resegregating! Over here in our progressive realm, this represents pretty much the only way we talk about public schools.
More specifically, it represents one of the only ways we talk about the experiences of "minority" and low-income kids in our public schools. As with almost everything we do, the claim helps us progressives feel morally pure. In our view, it also betrays our standard lack of interest in the actual lives and interests of actual black and Hispanic kids.
"Are we here to play golf? Or are we just going to [BLANK] around?" So Moses says to the Holy Trinity in the famous old golfing joke we famously learned from Paul Reiser many years ago.
We sometimes think of that famous old joke when we read reports like Chang's. All week, we'll poke and prod at his basic claim—the only claim our tribe ever seems to make about those good, decent, deserving kids.
Those good decent kids are highly deserving. Is it possible that they deserve more help than we adults provide?
Tomorrow: Basic rule: always omit key facts