Monday, January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King's Dream

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a National Holiday. All government offices will be closed today in honor of Dr. King and his pioneering role in the civil rights movement back in the 1960s. This is a unique holiday since he is the only man or woman to be honored with his own day anymore. Great Presidents like Washington and Lincoln have lost their individual holiday status and are now lumped together next month on President’s day. Poor Christopher Columbus has also slipped into virtual oblivion in deference to political correctness.

If Dr. King were alive today, I believe that he would be shocked to see how his famous dream has been turned into a nightmare. Recent statistics show that over 70% of black births now occur out of wedlock. This alarming figure has been rising every year since the time of Dr. King. The disintegration of the black family in America is perhaps the major reason for the fact that over 70% of the prison population today is black. Of that number the great majority would appear to be young black males. Most of these will have grown up without a father.

Critics can cry racism but I believe that the failure of the dream lies elsewhere. The integration of America’s public schools was one of the key elements in the civil rights movement but integration had turned out to be a disaster for most of the blacks in this country. Recently, a columnist in the Connecticut Mirror, an online newspaper, cited studies that showed that practically every attempt to integrate Connecticut’s schools has not only failed but has actually made things worse.

Magnet schools have only drawn the best students with the most involved parents away from the other schools. Attempts to bus inner-city students into nearby suburban schools have also failed to meet expectations. Even though they admit failure, politicians and commentators can only suggest more of the same.

A favorite catch phrase of the civil rights movement was “ If your not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”  Today, it would appear that after years of failed experiments like the ones above, and the outlay of billions of dollars, that it would be better to say that the solution was the problem. Integration was the supposed solution offered by well-intentioned civil rights advocates, but it has actually turned out to be the problem. How did this happen?

I am old enough to have witnessed the civil rights movement and I will use the nearby city of Bridgeport, Connecticut as an example. Integrated in Bridgeport abolished neighborhood schools, and as a result it destroyed existing neighborhoods and communities.  Integration accelerated the already begun exodus of the white middle classes from Bridgeport into the nearby suburbs. At the same time, these people did not leave their jobs. They now lived outside the city but continued to hold their jobs as teachers, policemen, firemen, sanitation men, and other civil servants. Their unions even lobbied successfully to abolish laws that prohibited them from living outside the city.

As a result the jobs that other groups had used to advance into the middle class were not available to blacks in Bridgeport. More than two generations would pass before they began to be teachers, policemen, fireman, and civil servants in any significant number. Even if a student managed to finish high school what could they do to earn a living? Many turned to a life of crime, especially the drug trade. This is one of the factors behind the high percentage of blacks in American prisons.

 Others try athletics but we know that only a small minority get recruited by colleges, and that only a handful hit the pro jackpot. The other day a friend sent me an article from USA Today about a scandal at the prestigious University of North Carolina. At UNC football players were able to take classes in the African American studies program that required no class attendance, only the submission of a paper at the end of class. These were pretty obviously phony courses created especially for black football players. Heads have rolled and Julius Nyang’oro, the head of the program, is under investigation. Other studies have shown that black athletes are reading at below eighth grade levels at many colleges across the country.***

So, it turns out that the integration of American schools did not usher in an educational utopia. After fifty years advocates admit that despite all their efforts and reforms, segregation has not been eliminated. Moreover, it is clear that integration has done little to improve education itself. In fact, it appears as if integration had more to do with social engineering than with education. Can it be that integration was the “problem” and not the “solution”?

The last fifty years have seen the disintegration of the black family; an incredibly high out of wedlock birth rate, jails filed with young black criminals, and an educational system whose reforms have gone sour despite good intentions. Martin Luther King could never have imagined that his dream would have turned out this way.

***Here is a quote from the USA Today article.

"More than 50 classes offered by the African Studies department, and very popular with athletes, appear not to have actually existed. Some of these courses listed instructors who had not 'supervised the course and graded the work.' and others 'were taught irregularly'...UNC's chancellor and football coach lost their jobs. the African studies department under indictment."


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