April 18, 2005


On the Sidelines of the Most Important Civil Rights Battle Since 'Brown' (BRENT STAPLES, 4/18/05, NY Times)

The civil rights establishment was once a fiercely independent force that bedeviled politicians on both sides of the aisle and evaluated policies based on whether those policies harmed or helped the poor. This tradition of independence has disappeared. Over the last two decades, in fact, the old-line civil rights groups have evolved into wholly owned subsidiaries of the Democratic Party. The groups are disinclined to turn on their friends - or to openly embrace even beneficial policies that happen to have a Republican face.

This posture has been painfully evident in the debate surrounding the No Child Left Behind education law, a signature Bush administration reform that also happens to be the best hope for guaranteeing black and Latino children a chance at equal education. The law is not perfect and will need adjustments. But its core requirement that the states educate minority children to the same standards as white children breaks with a century-old tradition of educational unfairness. The new law could potentially surpass Brown v. Board of Education in terms of widening access to high-quality public education.

The same civil rights groups that sing hosannas to Brown have been curiously muted - and occasionally even hostile - to No Child Left Behind. But the groups have mainly been missing from the debate, according to Dr. James Comer, the educational reformer and Yale University psychiatrist. "They have been absent," Dr. Comer told me last week. "They need to pay attention to what works. They need to be in the middle of the fight because these are our kids."

Why are civil rights groups standing on the sidelines instead of fighting to ensure that this law succeeds? The reasons are numerous and complex. One of the most obvious is that civil rights officials and some black lawmakers are wary of embracing a law associated with a conservative Republican president.

Most Republicans are lukewarm because their constituents don't much want more minority kids in their schools; the Democratic Party opposes it because the Teachers Unions require them to; and the Civil Rights groups oppose it because they hate Republicans. The only supporters are minority parents and theocons--an increasingly important alliance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2005 9:00 AM

There is more to it. The Catalinarian Left--those who lust after new things--jealously hold on to public education as the tool for transformation of society. School choice, which is the real end of NCLB, takes back the power to form "hearts and minds" from the state and gives it to families and other components of civil society.

This is the big one. This is the fight we have to win.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 18, 2005 10:26 AM

It seems contradictory to me to say that "Most Republicans" are lukewarm, but that "theocons" are "supporters" - since virtually all theocons are Republicans.

Posted by: Brandon at April 18, 2005 11:57 AM

Most folks aren't much interested in ideas.

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2005 12:05 PM