State of the Union

Mozilla and the Art of Culture War

In the first paragraph of Mozilla’s blog post announcing Brendan Eich’s resignation, the company offered an apology of its own: “We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.” Continuing to keep an unrepentant Eich on board would, for Mozilla, would violate their integrity.

The developers at Rarebit, who began the boycott, expressed their surprise that their movement had forced Eich out of the company he founded, when there was such an easy solution available.

We never expected this to get as big as it has and we never expected that Brendan wouldn’t make a simple statement. I met with Brendan and asked him to just apologize for the discrimination under the law that we faced.

Eich had already promised to maintain Mozilla’s anti-discrimination policies, in letter and in spirit, but, for the Rarebit developers and other critics, repentance was required. The Rarebit developers stressed that Eich was free to keep his personal beliefs but that he should apologize for supporting this law. But apologies aren’t a realistic end condition for most political fights.

When the Supreme Court finally rules on the Hobby Lobby case, there’s no reason the victors have any obligation to apologize to the losers. The owners of the company don’t owe their employees an apology for trying to strike contraception from the company insurance plans, and the employees don’t need to beat their breasts and ask forgiveness for desiring it. Not all policy disputes have to be settled with personal reconciliation, and, if they are, that repentance won’t come in a pro forma memo.

Rote repentance or destructive dialogue is all that is possible, when the inferential distance between cultural combatants is too large. As America secularizes, the new “Nones” are particularly vulnerable to mischaracterizing religious opponents. In a recent issue of the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell offers a new look at how similar errors in judgement lead to the Waco massacre in 1993.

[T]he religious scholar Nancy Ammerman interviewed many of the F.B.I. hostage negotiators involved, and she says that nearly all of them dismissed the religious beliefs of the Davidians: “For these men, David Koresh was a sociopath, and his followers were hostages. Religion was a convenient cover for Koresh’s desire to control his followers and monopolize all the rewards for himself.” … Because the F.B.I. could not take the faith of the Branch Davidians seriously, it had no meaningful way to communicate with them.

In a pluralistic society, we need to learn how to communicate with the people whose beliefs we abhor, even if only for pragmatic reasons, to avoid the kind of confusion that led to tragedy at Waco. When antagonists refuse to engage the logic behind views that they find repugnant opportunities for engagement are limited on both sides.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu warned military commanders, ”When you surround the enemy always allow them an escape route. They must see that there is an alternative to death.” Demanding public self-criticism, or conversions-expressed-as-apologies doesn’t leave a way for enemies to coexist or retreat. By treating apologies as trivial concessions and objections as irrelevant, those ascendant may find that they turn their enemies into David Koreshes and Thomas Mores.


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Thoreau vs. St. Benedict: How We “Opt Out” Matters

“Homesteading” has come back into vogue—but it’s not the old, federal-grant-fueled farming you may have read about in Little House on the Prairie. It’s a return to the land, focused on self-sufficiency and simple living. Eva Holland wrote Thursday about the trend for Pacific Standard:

Most recently, homesteading has been tweaked and put to use again, this time in connection with the latest do-it-yourself trends and the idea of increased self-sufficiency: of severing—or at least loosening—our ties to the big chain supermarket, the power grid, the consumer economy … It encompasses everything from backyard chickens and rooftop gardens in Brooklyn to the composting toilet in the tiny house your friend’s friend built. Abigail R. Gehring, the author of several recent how-to books on contemporary homesteading and self-sufficient living, writes: “Homesteading is about creating a lifestyle that is first of all genuine. It’s about learning to recognize your needs—including energy, food, financial, and health needs—and finding out how they can be met creatively and responsibly.”

The article reminded me of Henry David Thoreau’s sojourn at Walden Pond, chronicled in his book Walden. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived,” he wrote.

Of course, Thoreau was a bit more extreme than most homesteaders—he was attempting to revert back to more of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle than an agrarian one. Indeed, he was surrounded by farmers, and criticized the lifestyle:

The better part of the man is soon plowed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before.

One wonders what he would’ve thought of our modern working world: the millions of people huddled over computers in dimly-lit cubicles, working over 40 hours a week, commuting home in droves, stuck for ages in rush hour traffic. The better part of man is no longer “plowed into the soil for compost,” but may perhaps waste away on the urban highway.

Thoreau and the homesteader are united in their desire for a simpler life, a back-to-nature and independence-driven mode of existence. As Holland puts it, today’s homesteaders “knit, and they forage for wild mushrooms, and, if they live in the right part of the country, maybe they smoke their own wild-caught salmon in a rudimentary smoker they built themselves.” Similarly, Thoreau built a rough shack, planted his garden, and cooked the food he needed for daily meals. (Though he was a bit hypocritical: Paul Theroux notes that “During his famous experiment in his cabin at Walden, moralizing about his solitude, [Thoreau] did not mention that he brought his mother his dirty laundry and went on enjoying her apple pies.”)

Thoreau’s mode of life, while not entirely solitary, suggests a state of nature centered on the individual, rather than on community. It also promotes the “noble savage” of romantic primitivism: the idea that, in his most simplistic state, mankind was most innocent, and the best caretaker of the earth. When we view the pollution, decay, and damage the humankind has wrought on the earth, it’s easy to adopt such a view. But there are a few important ingredients missing from Thoreau’s philosophy of living, and potentially from the philosophy of the homesteaders—and this is where St. Benedict comes in.

St. Benedict was a monk who lived around the year AD 500, known for starting monastic communities after the fall of Rome. Rod Dreher recently wrote a feature story for TAC on the monk and his model of living: Read More…

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What Would Tocqueville Say About #CancelColbert?

Suey Park, a 23-year-old self-professed activist known on Twitter for the hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick, which provided Asian women a space to discuss and vent the limiting and often stereotyped perceptions of Asians in popular culture, took on a big fist last week with her latest cause, #CancelColbert. The hashtag was in reaction to Colbert’s proposed fictional non-profit, “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever”. The joke’s target was billionaire and Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. The joke cleverly, if crudely, demonstrated how a public gesture to make amends with a marginalized community could backfire spectacularly.

Park belongs to a generation that uses the Internet as a virtual public square to air grievances and provoke discussion. As recently as five years ago, this meant ranting on a forum like Reddit, where new topics came and went everyday without anyone noticing. With the advent of social media as an unofficial fifth estate, trending topics can be either a boon or bane to journalism and public debate. Park has stood apart from the pack, however, in her ability to harness the general snark and point it in a particular direction. In this case, the target was Colbert, a seasoned comedian with a primetime show. It worked: the hashtag trended for days and became a story that was picked up by major media outlets.

Mocking Colbert seems, frankly, superfluous, as mocking is something he already does quite well. It goes without saying that the Colbert Report is satirical, and it is always obvious whom Colbert is lampooning. During Obama’s campaign in 2008, Colbert called the then-senator a “a secret time traveling Nazi Muslim” and there was no backlash, at least certainly not to this degree. What changed? The emergence of “hashtag activists” like Park who rally thousands of their peers to police the Internet and publicly shame those with whom they disagree. There is a line between advancing public debate and mudslinging, and it’s a pretty thick line—well-worn with laws and ideas ranging from the First Amendment to Tocqueville, and that distasteful little patch in our history called the McCarthy period.

Tocqueville’s insights on the dangers of democracy—mob rule—are especially relevant here. He wrote: “I am therefore of the opinion that social power superior to all others must always be placed somewhere; but I think that liberty is endangered when this power finds no obstacle which can retard its course and give it time to moderate its own vehemence.” The power he is referring to is the sovereignty of the people, the majority who elect politicians, and along with it, set the agenda. Twitter has no such middleman, no representative to advocate policy in virtual space. There is the instant gratification of a response, and the fickle herds that congregate and disperse around hashtags that may or may not be promoting informative discussions. There is an opening for leaders to direct majority rule as they see fit, to set the agenda and push all who disagree with them off the Internet. The result is democratically enforced censorship.

Yes, there is racism, and, yes, we need to talk about it. But viral hashtags calling for public penance do not celebrate free speech: they create a mob demanding blood. Just as virtual public squares can be a place for peaceful gatherings, they can also be a place for mobs to assemble and clamor for their own skewed, narrow view of justice.

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Vladimir Putin, Christian Crusader?

In his Kremlin defense of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin, even before he began listing the battles where Russian blood had been shed on Crimean soil, spoke of an older deeper bond.

Crimea, said Putin, “is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.”

Russia is a Christian country, Putin was saying. This speech recalls last December’s address where the former KGB chief spoke of Russia as standing against a decadent West:

Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.

Heard any Western leader, say, Barack Obama, talk like that lately?

Indicting the “Bolsheviks” who gave away Crimea to Ukraine, Putin declared, “May God judge them.” What is going on here? With Marxism-Leninism a dead faith, Putin is saying the new ideological struggle is between a debauched West led by the United States and a traditionalist world Russia would be proud to lead. In the new war of beliefs, Putin is saying, it is Russia that is on God’s side. The West is Gomorrah.

Western leaders who compare Putin’s annexation of Crimea to Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria, who dismiss him as a “KGB thug,” who call him “the alleged thief, liar and murderer who rules Russia,” as Wall Street Journal‘s Holman Jenkins did, believe Putin’s claim to stand on higher moral ground is beyond blasphemous. Read More…

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The Flash Boys vs. the Market Machines

Imagine if, every time you tried to place an order on the stock market, someone snooped on your transaction, and bought up the share before you could. Then, when you noticed that the stock was sold out at its original price, that sneaky trader turned up, all smiles, to sell you the shares he happened to have on hand, at a price just pennies above what you would have originally paid.

In his new book, Flash Boys, Michael Lewis builds a case that high frequency traders have been pulling a slightly more complicated version of this trick with no consequences. He’s hawking a solution, too, IEX, a new stock exchange designed by his protagonists and opened in late October of 2013. Lewis’s book introduces the lay reader to a complex topic with all his usual flair and clarity, but the book leaves the reader in suspense; the publication date means the fate of IEX and HFTs aren’t resolved by the end of the book.

By skimming tiny margins off of trades, Lewis argues, high frequency traders (HFTs) have reaped profits in the billions of dollars without providing a real service to investors. What is more, he claims, HFTs have shaped the infrastructure of our markets, so that stock exchanges are now designed to serve the interests of HFTs rather than other traders.

The NASDAQ and other trading floors have abandoned, well, their trading floors in favor of warehouses that look more like a Google server farm, full of HFT machines plugged into the exchanges from just feet away, to minimize waiting times and get the jump on ordinary consumers. IEX tries to restore the old balance, by introducing deliberate delays and simplifying the kinds of orders that can be placed, thus eliminating many of the advantages that HFTs enjoy at other exchanges.

But, as Lewis goes on a media tour that feels as much like an infomercial for IEX as for his book, some critics are raising questions. Felix Salmon thinks Lewis overstates the relevance of HFT to ordinary investors while Mark Levine, a columnist at Bloomberg View, thinks that, in a different Michael Lewis book, these high frequency traders, and the coders who support them would be perfect Lewisian heroes.

In my alternative Michael Lewis story, the smart young whippersnappers build high-frequency trading firms that undercut big banks’ gut-instinct-driven market making with tighter spreads and cheaper trading costs.

The numbers-driven, confusing-the-old-guard HFT teams do bear a certain resemblance to Billy Beane’s team of sabermetricians, who upended baseball in Moneyball. By building models and trusting statistics, the Oakland A’s stole a march on the other major league baseball teams. However, once the A’s tricks caught on, they lost their advantage. They had found a market inefficiency, but others applying their data-driven approach patched it, and left them once again out in the cold.

Lewis thinks that HFT are creating inefficiencies, not fixing them; they’ve been able to hang onto their advantage because no one else in the market understands how they’re being bilked. Lewis finds no shortage of bankers and traders at reputable firms who have been wrong-footed to the tune of hundreds of millions, and, this time, his sympathies are with the old guard. Read More…

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Jeb Bush Follows in His Brother’s Footsteps

spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

Still to be thoroughly digested is last weekend’s spectacle of several prominent Republicans descending on Las Vegas in search of Sheldon Adelson’s blessing. The “Sheldon primary,” as the Washington Post dubbed it, did not go unnoticed. The Post ran a lengthy piece prior to the event focusing on the outsized role large donors now play in the aftermath of recent Supreme Court campaign finance decisions, as well as on Adelson’s stated desire to nominate a so-called moderate and electable candidate. J.J. Goldberg, a Forward editor and author of a perceptive 1996 book about Jewish power, played with the notion of whether or not it was an anti-Semitic “stereotype” to wonder about a rich Jew seeking to supervise the Republican nomination process:

Now, before you go accusing the Post (or me) of spreading anti-Semitic stereotypes, consider what the word means. Merriam-Webster defines “stereotype” as “an often unfair and untrue belief.” The World English Dictionary calls it “a set of inaccurate, simplistic generalizations.” Cardwell’s 1996 Dictionary of Psychology defines it rather more broadly as “a fixed, over generalized belief.” Nobody’s definition seems to include a straightforward recitation of facts that one would prefer remain hidden. That probably falls under the category of “a no-no.”

Jon Stewart mocked the Vegas confab, astonished that Adelson could squeeze from tough guy New Jersey governor Chris Christie a groveling apology for referring to the West Bank occupied territories as “occupied territories.” Stewart is perhaps the nation’s most visible critic of the Israel lobby, but he has ability only to make the young fans laugh at its power, not actually to challenge it. Humor may already have had some impact on the landscape. Last year Saturday Night Live produced, but did not air live, a skit depicting senators asking Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel whether he would fellate a donkey to demonstrate his loyalty to Israel. (The clip now seems offline but was widely circulated in the days following its production).

But most of the Sheldon primary commentary fell short of describing what Adelson hopes to gain from spending tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars to influence the Republican nomination. Pat Buchanan did observe that Adelson was no garden variety Israel supporter, but an advocate of an American nuclear first strike on Iran (in the desert, as a demonstration of what we will do to Tehran). The best indications are that Adelson’s main requirement for a candidate would be his readiness to engage America in war for Israel’s benefit. And though Adelson is an American citizen, he has not minced words about where deepest loyalties lie: he has said he regretted serving in the U.S. military, (as opposed to Israel’s) and told interviewers he hopes his youngest son could serve as a sniper in the Israeli army.

One shouldn’t really blame Adelson for this; he is free to be loyal to whatever country he wants and to advocate whatever wars he wants others to fight on its behalf. But the real question is about the Republican Party—why do its aspiring high office seekers feel that it is unproblematic to kiss Adelson’s ring. This was a party once accustomed to bathing itself in patriotism, and in truth it is impossible to imagine any past Republican president—including George W. Bush, he who filled his White House and Pentagon with neoconservatives—behaving in quite this way. Read More…

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Fighting Income Inequality With Friendship

Friends meeting at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair (LOC). Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer.
Friends meeting at the Pie Town, New Mexico Fair (LOC). Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer.

Richard Beck wrote Tuesday on friendship at his blog, Experimental Theology, arguing that “weak ties” are important to our world. He tells of a world in which individualism led to separate economic, cultural, and social worlds. Our deemphasis of friendship and its goods has created a society in which stratification erodes diverse flourishing:

In generations past the community was your insurance policy should anything traumatic happen to you. From a family death to the loss of a crop to a barn burning down. People and family would rally around you, supporting you through a difficult time.
But these cultural supports have largely vanished. For both rich and poor. The only difference is that the rich can purchase a safety net. They can buy homes and insurance. They can have investments and savings accounts. They can move to another city and another job.
So to be clear, I don’t want to lament a decline in cultural and family values and then put that decline solely on the poor. The decline cuts across socioeconomic status. It’s just that the rich have been able to insulate themselves from the historic erosion of familial and social mutuality. The rich can be self-sufficient. Thus, the social decline in America has fallen hardest on the poor.

Beck emphasizes the fact that “weak ties” in friendship are very needed. Why? Because our closest friends are usually insular groups, “bundles of sameness.” Weak ties—distant relatives, acquaintances from our neighborhood or past—are usually more diverse in their background, tastes, and employment. This wider “social web” gives us philanthropic ammunition: when you see someone in need, you don’t just bring your own talents and gifts to the table. You bring everyone you’ve ever met—”Bluntly, you might not be able to help this person in a particular situation but you might know someone else who can. In sacramental friendships you are bringing the gift of your weak ties.”

This blog post is quite timely, published during profuse talk of income inequality and its possible ties to the “decline of the family.” The emphasis on marriage as solution to income inequality has been articulated clearly and often in conservative discussion. And while this argument may have a lot of truth to it, it also may feel over-simplifying and unjust to many single parents out there. Not every single mom can or should get a husband. Not every young person ought to get married straight out of high school, or college, or grad school. Specifics matter: we cannot ascribe the entirety of our inequality problem to one cause or dilemma. And neither can we fix the problem via one set, specific solution.

Additionally, Beck is right in pointing to the role that private association has traditionally played in the realm of welfare and philanthropy. It is true that social stratification has decreased the impact that some private associations have: churches, specifically, are often isolated by their zip codes from true diversity. Voluntary civil society has never been perfect, nor has it completely provided for the needs of the American people—but it still is one of the most personable, specific, and conscious threads of philanthropy at our disposal. The government can’t fix its eye on every poverty-stricken household, to know all its particulars, needs, and weaknesses. But a neighbor down the road, friend from church, third cousin, or friend from high school can, and they can extend help in a way that the government (or even a large non-profit organization) cannot. Read More…

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New Leaks Show CIA’s Contempt for Congress

An interrogator isn’t just focused on extracting information, but on controlling it. When a closer sits down with a prisoner, she wants her prey to be entirely dependent on her for information about possible sentences, news of the outside world, or even the time of day, so she can manipulate or bargain with the truth as serves her needs.

As revelations from the Washington Post show, this is precisely the relationship that the CIA has been cultivating with Congress throughout the War on Terror. The recent allegations that the CIA hacked into the computers of Congressional staff and tried to erase damaging documents is only the latest salvo in the agency’s war of obfuscation. The CIA has overstepped its authority and then lied to Congress, to prevent the people’s representatives from reining the operatives in.

Current and former U.S. officials spoke anonymously to the Washington Post about the content of the classified report that the CIA has tried to sideline. Although the report on CIA detention and interrogation was completed in 2012, it has been tied up in bureaucratic red tape, and not one page of the 6,300 has been declassified. The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote this Thursday to recommend that Obama declassify the executive summary of the report.

Until then, judging by the leaks, it looks more and more like the CIA was engaged in unlawful practices. Not just the morally unlawful practice of waterboarding, which was nevertheless approved from on high, but other forms of torture that had no official sanction. The Washington Post describes the CIA’s treatment of the nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammed:

At the secret prison, [Ammar al-]Baluchi endured a regime that included being dunked in a tub filled with ice water. CIA interrogators forcibly kept his head under the water while he struggled to breathe and beat him repeatedly, hitting him with a truncheon-like object and smashing his head against a wall, officials said.

This practice of near drowning and beating has never been authorized as an interrogation procedure. But, according to the Human Rights Watch, other prisoners at the same secret prison received the same treatment. CIA doctors stood by during these abuses, carefully checking the health of the prisoner, but serving the interests of the agency, helping the torturers push the bodies of their prisoners as far as they could go without killing anyone, presumably to avoid paperwork and oversight.

These acts of abuse did not result in useful intelligence. The Congressional report makes it clear that some prisoners were waterboarded after giving up useful data, and, although the brutal treatment produced no new information, the original revelations were used as evidence for the necessity of the technique. According to one of the Washington Post‘s anonymous sources:

“The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” said one U.S. official briefed on the report. “Was that actually true? The answer is no.”

The CIA might be able to claim it concealed the full scope of its activities from the American people due to national security reasons, but it’s very hard to believe that briefing Congress honestly would give terrorists an edge.

The evidence suggest that the CIA has gone rogue—imprisoning and torturing suspects, misleading their superiors, and trying to hide the evidence. The declassification of Congress’s report can’t come soon enough, so we can assess the damage the agency has done, and decide how to keep it under proper supervision and surveillance.


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Here’s the “Missing” Evidence for S.D.’s Sex-Selective Abortion Ban

South Dakota recently became the 8th state to make it illegal to abort a fetus because of its sex, and set penalties including jail time and fines for doctors who knowingly provided such abortions. Sex-selective abortion is an phenomenon that has dramatically reshaped the sex balance of several Asian countries, most significantly China and India, where the natural males born per 100 females birth ratio of approximately 105 (it usually never naturally exceeds 106 in large populations) has been distorted to around 120, a breathtaking number indicative of millions of missing baby girls.

Reproductive rights advocates dispute the idea that it is a live issue here in the United States, however. Tara Culp-Ressler of ThinkProgress writes,

While female infanticide is an issue in some parts of the world, there’s absolutely no evidence that the Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI) individuals who live here in the U.S. are having abortions based on gender. [emphasis added] There is no epidemic of sex-selective abortion among the AAPI community, and passing legislation to “fix” this nonexistent issue simply ends up damaging women of color. Ultimately, these laws scrutinize Asian American women based solely on their race.

Last month, Elizabeth Nolan-Brown at Reason similarly wrote, “Despite having absolutely zero evidence that sex-selective abortions are a problem in South Dakota, state legislators are trying to pass a bill banning such procedures.” Eesha Pandit then penned at RH Reality Check, “Let’s return again to the facts: the purported problem of Asian Americans and sex-selection is not borne out by data,” and “sex-selective abortions are not an actual phenomenon here in the United States.”

Unfortunately (it is truly unfortunate), there is in fact credible evidence that the well-documented “Global War on Baby Girls” includes a small but active front here in the United States.

Culp-Russler and Pandit, among many others participating in this debate from the pro-choice side, rely on the reproductive health-focused Guttmacher Institute’s policy review titled “A Problem-and-Solution Mismatch: Son Preference and Sex-Selective Abortion Bans”. That very document closes its opening paragraph with the following:

Sex-selective abortion is widespread in certain countries, especially those in East and South Asia, where an inordinately high social value is placed on having male over female children. There is some evidence—although limited and inconclusive—to suggest that the practice may also occur among Asian communities in the United States. (emphasis added)

The policy review paper acknowledges the evidence, but calls it limited and inconclusive. Yet the two leading studies cited by Guttmacher policy review author Sneha Barot, and subsequently most of the authors relying on her paper, are neither especially limited nor inconclusive. Drawing on U.S. Census data and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, study authors Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund of Columbia University open their discussion, “We document son-biased sex ratios at higher parities in a contemporary Western society. We interpret the found deviation in favor of sons to be evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage.”

Now, as the second study‘s author, Jason Abrevaya, explains in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, prenatal sex selection could conceivably be a result of using more advanced reproductive technologies, like IVF or sperm sorting. In practice, the high expense and rarity of such procedures means that almost all prenatal sex selection most likely takes place by abortion. He concludes his study, “This study has offered evidence consistent with gender selection at later births within the United States.” He continues, Read More…

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New York’s Segregated Schools Need New Answers

Friday’s Bloomberg article confirmed a longtime suspicion about New York public schools: New York State has the most segregated schools in the United States. It seems counterintuitive, as New York is a Northern state never subjected to Jim Crow. But the deep-seated economic inequalities in New York have created a new form of segregation that exist outside the rule of law but nonetheless affect the opportunities of thousands of students, many of whom will be firmly stuck in the cycle of poverty before they even begin their first day of kindergarten. In a state as liberal as New York, a haven for unions, powerful Democratic politicians, and organizers, those who champion the underdog and preach equality for all are failing the very people they claim to help.

Part of what drives this segregation in New York State is the economic stratification of New York City. Simply put, students from low-income households attend failing public schools, while students from wealthier families have their choice of charter schools, specialized high schools, or private schools. Stuyvesant High School, the most famous and selective specialized high school in New York City, offers admission to whomever passes their rigorous examination, regardless of economic background or ethnicity, but only seven black students were admitted this year, down from nine last year. While there is no law prohibiting black or Latino students from attending to Stuyvesant, low-income families often do not have the resources to help their children prepare for such a rigorous entrance exam. Additionally, if the student is an English learner, he or she will have a steeper uphill battle to receive an even passable education.

One possible factor that could explain such segregation is housing discrimiation. Jamelle Bouie, in one of his last pieces for The Daily Beast, described in stark detail the consistent and systematic methods by which blacks, many of whom were migrants seeking opportunities in the North, were prevented from securing stable housing. The result was the creation of the ghettos that sprung up in Midwestern cities such as Cleveland, and East Coast ones like Baltimore. The schools in these areas often underperform, with high dropout rates and low test scores in reading and math.

In cities like New York, low-income neighborhoods have seen little improvement in their local public schools. In the 1960s, following the Brown v. Board of Education decision, black and Latino children were integrated into predominately white schools, but nothing was done to fix the dilapidated schools they were extracted from, which have limped into the 21st century leaving thousands of dropouts in their wake. In 2014, the battleground for achieving greater educational equality has been charter schools, publicly-funded but privately-run schools that often share space with decrepit public schools. One bone of contention in the controversy is the accusation that charter schools siphon resources from public schools.

It’s true that suffering schools are not directly linked to any particular liberal policy. But the fact cannot be ignored that New York public schools, despite gains made under the Bloomberg administration, are still woefully inadequate. Only 66 percent of New York City high school students graduate, of whom a paltry 47 percent were ready for college, according to data released in December 2013. The bureaucratic maze and insufficient funding make it impossible for students to have their basic needs met to acquire the academic skills to lift them out of poverty and put them on the path to success. New York has long been regarded a bastion of liberal efficiency and equality, an example to the rest of the country for its tolerance and diversity. But this gaping inequality can no longer be swept under the rug. Underpinning this segregation are racist housing policies and willful “scrubbing” of undesirable students from charter schools, which impede black upward mobility as much as the laws in the Jim Crow South. It’s time for New York politicians to understand that their methods for facilitating opportunity have failed, and be more open to new ideas, perhaps from the other side of the aisle.

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