Part 2—The weaponization of virtue: Is it true that American public schools have been "resegregating?"
Is it true that "schools in the South are as segregated now as they were about 50 years ago, not long after the Brown decision?"
Alvin Chang makes both those claims at the start of this recent report in Vox. These may seem like startling claims. They concern a very important part of modern American life.
That said, these apparently startling claims are also quite familiar. Progressive journalists and academics make such claims all the time.
Celebrated progressive journalists frequently say that our schools are "resegregating." This leaves us with our original question:
Are these familiar claims true?
You won't be surprised if we start by saying this: it all depends on what the meaning of "resegregation" is! With that in mind, let's start by getting clear on what Chang isn't alleging.
Claims like Chang's aren't intended to mean that we're returning to the days when school districts operated two separate sets of schools—one set for children deemed to be "white," the other for children deemed to be "black."
School districts operated that way under legal, or de jure, "segregregation." This involved the active separation of these two groups of kids as an explicit requirement of law.
Alvin Chang is not asserting that some school districts have returned to this practice. That practice was outlawed in 1954, in the famous Supreme Court decision to which Chang refers.
As you probably could have guessed, that isn't the sort of "segregation" to which Chang refers. So what does Chang mean by "segregation?"
That point is never made perfectly clear in Chang's report, although his claim gets lots of juice from the fact that the term "segregation" is historically fraught.
What does Change mean by "resegregation?" Essentially, he's referring to types of "racial imbalance" in public schools, including substantial imbalance.
He's referring to a state of affairs in which individual schools may be heavily black, white or Hispanic—even entirely black, white or Hispanic—especially in ways which don't reflect the overall student population of the district, or even of some particular school's immediate neighborhood.
Let's return to the part of Chang's report where he makes his basic claims about "segregation" and "resegregation."
Yesterday, in Part 1, we showed you the passage in question. Below it, Chang presents a graphic which helps us see what he means by his use of these heavily fraught terms:
CHANG (1/8/18): 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.If we weren't nice guys around here, we might be tempted to describe that as perhaps a bit of a con. That said, yes—it's true:
Headline on graphic:
Percentage of black students in the South who attend schools that are at least 50 percent white
When Chang refers to "segregated" schools in the South, he's talking about schools which aren't "at least 50 percent white." According to Chang's quixotic usage, if a black kid in Tuscaloosa attends a school which is 49 percent white, he is thereby attending a "segregated" school!
Are we being fair to Chang? Yes, we think we are. Right below the graphic bearing that headline, he returns to his claim about gerrymandered school attendance zones, making this statement:
CHANG: But this exact strategy—gerrymandering school districts to include certain kinds of students and exclude others—can also be used to integrate a school, rather than [to] segregate them.Chang seems to be saying that gerrymandering has been used to create segregated schools, rather than to create integrated schools. Those schools in the South—the ones which aren't "at least 50 percent white"—seem to be the "segregated" schools he has in mind.
Does this framework make sense? To test Chang's logic, imagine a school in some Southern city with this student population:
Student population of some school in the SouthImagine a school with that student population. In recent years, we visited one such public school, in Durham, on three separate occasions.
White kids: 33 percent
Black kids: 33 percent
Hispanic kids: 33 percent
In the spring of 2011, we read a story to a kindergarten class in that neighborhood school. In January 2015 and January 2017, we attended the annual schoolwide spelling bee in this same Durham school.
The demographics of that school resembled those shown above. Largely because of the cheerful bustle we saw at that (overall) low-income school, we thought that school was a miracle.
Chang has a different name for that school. He says that school is "segregated"—and no, we aren't making this up!
Are you possibly starting to feel at least a tiny bit misled? Let's make sure you understand that this is what Chang is saying.
You need to click to Chang's report to review the graphic whose headline we posted above. From that graphic, you will see that 23 percent of black kids in the South currently attend public schools which are "at least 50 percent white."
By any normal interpretation, it's clear that Chang is describing schools which don't meet that criterion as "segregated." If a black kid attends a public school which is less than 50 percent white, he's attending a "segregated" school, according to Chang's great notion.
The black, white and Hispanic children we saw in those spelling bees? The two little girls in that kindergarten who weren't yet speaking English, with other little (bilingual) girls scrambling over desks and chairs to help them understand what was being said?
According to Chang, those kids were attending a "segregated" school in the South! They were part of their nation's "resegregation"—even though their cheerful school looked so much like the new America that it virtually shouted in glee, as we've described in the past.
In fairness to Chang, let's restate an important point. This young Vox journalist didn't invent this rather peculiar semantic framework. As we'll see in our next two reports, progressive academics and journalists have been working from such frameworks for years.
Their frameworks let them make eye-catching claims. That said, these frameworks strike us as grossly misleading, bordering on the ugly and vile.
Where do such frameworks take us? Imagine public schools with the demographics shown below. According to Chang, black kids in any such school are victims of "resegregation:"
Public School AIn 1954, those schools would not have been permitted by law.
White kids: 33 percent
Black kids: 33 percent
Hispanic kids: 33 percent
Public School B
White kids: 49 percent
Black kids: 51 percent
Public School C
White kids: 45 percent
Black kids: 30 percent
Hispanic kids: 25 percent
In 1968, those schools would have been seen as miraculous models of integration, though it would have been hard to find that many Hispanic kids in most parts of the South.
According to Chang, it's different today. According to Chang, all three schools fit under the rubric of "resegregation." All three schools are "segregated." We're asked to be shocked and concerned that schools like this exist.
In such ways, our liberal world routinely puts its thumb on the conceptual scale. As we do, we pleasure ourselves with our favorite tool, the weaponization of virtue.
In fairness, Chang is discussing a very important topic, one which deserves thorough examination. That said, is anything gained by the adoption of this peculiar conceptual framework?
We would say that nothing is gained, and that a great deal is lost. Meanwhile, what about Chang's most troubling and yet familiar claim, the one which goes like this:
"In fact, schools in the South are as segregated now as they were about 50 years ago."
Is that true in any significant sense? Are schools in the South "as segregated now as they were" in 1968?
Chang's graphic shows what he means by that claim. Tomorrow, we'll discuss his accurate factual statements, after which we'll present the hugely important factual point Chang has disappeared.
Do we liberals ever discuss race and gender without inventing or disappearing highly relevant facts? On balance, we'd say the answer is no.
We don't mean that as a compliment.
Tomorrow: A very large change in demographics! (We'll start with those two little girls in that kindergarten class.)