American higher education’s racial stratification will be cemented by the Republican Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a Michigan ban on affirmative action. An objective analysis suggests that the label “the new Jim Crow” applies not only to the system of mass incarceration, but also to the groves of Antietam.
The conservative court’s majority endorsed the ban on the grounds that it was endorsed by 58 percent of Michigan voters in 2006. Going unmentioned was the fact that the Supreme Court rejected the will of voters in recent historic decisions on marriage equality. Race was the difference in this week’s decision.
Instead of racially loaded language, higher education experts refer to the “two-tiered” nature of higher education. However, Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, told the New York Times that during the last decade 85 percent of all white students attended the top-ranked 500 four-year colleges, while 75 percent of all blacks and Latinos attended “open-admissions” schools.
As of 2011, African American students were only 3.7% of total enrollment at the University of California, the most prestigious and expensive institution under the state’s stratified Master Plan for Higher Education. At the California State University, considered the bulwark of the state’s middle class, blacks were only 4.8% of students enrolled. Black students are being shunted from these public universities to the cheaper community colleges and for-profit schools where future opportunities are slimmer.
Recent data shows that the gross disparities appear in the nation’s public schools, where blacks and Latinos have less access to rigorous math and science classes, are taught by lower-paid, less-experienced teachers, and are expelled at two or three times the rate of whites. Nearly a third of the most-segregated public schools lack Algebra II or chemistry classes.
The hypocrisy of the court’s racial thinking was exposed by a strong dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor who pointed out that affirmative action is routinely considered a “factor” in admission of athletes, VIP and alumni children, and students applying from under-represented geographic areas. Sotomayor linked the Court’s decision to widening use of voter-suppression laws to diminish minority voter turnout, making it more difficult for people of color to succeed in ballot measures in many states. Her previous dissent in Citizens United, which allows unlimited campaign spending by billionaires, summarizes a ringing call by Sotomayor to protect equality of opportunity in politics, as well as education.
What, however, can be done? In states like California, where people of color constitute the tax-paying majority, the closing of higher education’s doors in the name of “color-blindness” cannot remain viable much longer. The state Senate has pulled back from a legislation reversing the ban on affirmative action out of fear that many voters believe that racial preferences will deny their children admission to higher education. The rhetorical trick of the New Jim Crow has been to ban affirmative action in the name of banning all racial preferences – which leaves the status quo Jim Crow university system intact. Republicans and neo-conservatives have a “class preference” to slash the budgets for higher education on the grounds that most college applicants are undeserving, unqualified “takers”, or what Mitt Romney labeled the “47 percent.” Higher education, blaming the politicians, has raised its costs annually over three decades regardless of the economy’s overall fortunes. Finally, Gov. Jerry Brown managed to freeze fees at California colleges and universities last year, while raising taxes on the wealthy and investing in the higher education shortfall. An angry student movement and their parents pushed him into doing so.
Led by Senator Kevin De Leon, the California senate is still mulling the option of a ballot initiative this November. One way or another, a California voter revolt against spending tax dollars on a racially segregated education system is not far off.
Bob Moses, Math Literacy and A New Civil Rights Amendment
On a deeper level, veterans of the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project are organizing their grass-roots Algebra Project to bring algebra to inner city schools. Bob Moses, leader of the 1964 project, has long argued that the lack of math literacy in inner city schools is an unconstitutional form of disenfranchisement comparable to prohibitions on blacks from voting. Moses’ thoughts are summarized below:
In 2011, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1961 McComb student walkout which followed the Liberty, Amite County murder of Herbert Lee. Little did we know that Lee’s murder would set the stage for the 1964 Freedom Summer, whose 50th comes up in 2014.
We should ponder one empirical, undeniable, forward–constitutional–lean visible over time-stretches of roughly 75 years: roughly, every three-fourths of a century the nation has expanded, in real terms, its ‘We The People’ reach.
The Nation’s first constitutional three-quarters of a century:
From 1787 to 1863, a stretch of 76 years, the ‘We The People’ class [white, male and propertied] found in the nation’s constitution a right to confiscate Native American lands and enslave Africans, until, in 1857, the Supreme Court Dred Scott decision, brought on by insurgent runaway slaves, flew the nation asunder and mass destruction followed secession.
In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves and the Thirteenth Amendment followed: In 1865 the federal government reached around state ‘sovereignty’ to contravene a private liberty, individuals’ constitutional right to own slave property. Three years later, in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to freed slaves, dramatically expanding the nation’s “We The People” reach.
White male property owners regrouped and the nation, unsure of its constitutional moorings, retreated on its citizenship promises. By 1890 it replaced slavery with a caste system driven by money-less–cotton–plantation–sharecropping and coal–mine– indentured–servitude.
The Nation’s second constitutional three-quarters of a century:
From 1890 to 1965, a stretch of 74 years, African Americans, slaves no longer, functioned as second class ‘We The People’, until the 1960s Civil Rights charge, challenged all manifestations of second class citizenship and expanded the nation’s “We The People” reach to include Women, Native Americans, Gays and Lesbians, as well as African Americans, this time for keeps.
The Nation’s third constitutional three-quarters of a century:
Reflect that 2013 which marks the 50th anniversaries of the assassination of Medgar Evers followed by President Kennedy, the March on Washington followed by the bombing of the four girls in Rev. Shuttleworth’s church, also marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. We are two-thirds of the way through our third 75-year constitutional–unit–of–time, an era in which a certain class of White male property owners changed political parties:
After the 1960s, White male property owners of the 1787–1863 slave states, which became the 1890–1964 Jim Crow states, switched from the donkey to the elephant. For over two centuries, this class of ‘We The People’, no respecter of parties, have led the opposition to the forward–constitutional–lean, the expansion of the nation’s ‘We The People’ reach. Meanwhile, the nation, ever lurching around its constitutional moorings, continues to flip–flop on its citizenship promises (see The United States vs. Morrison, 2000).
In an article in The Policy Review, ‘The Court, the Constitution, and the Culture of Freedom,’ August and September 2005, Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institute at Stanford remarks:
By design, the American Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It is a liberal constitution, one whose first purpose is to protect freedom by establishing authoritative limits. By proclaiming with the backing of the coercive power of the state, what is forbidden, what is permitted, what is required, it creates background conditions for and sets a tone that reverberates throughout all spheres of our lives. (p. 28)
In the 1960s the young student Mississippi SNCC field secretaries organized against background conditions infiltrated with permissive constitutional tones: terrorists were permitted to gun us down, Mississippi was permitted to lock us up, the Feds were permitted to set us free. Against all odds, Delta sharecroppers rose in August 1964 at LBJ’s National Democratic Credentials Committee Hearing where Fannie Lou Hamer ‘Questioned America':
Who are the nation’s Constitutional People and what are their national rights and obligations?
That generation removed Jim Crow from public accommodations, the right to vote and the National Democratic Party structures, however, a national constitutional conundrum persists. We see it most clearly in the failure of practice to integrate the dispersed constitutional powers into a workable government to secure a quality public school education for all the nation’s children.
In the previous two constitutional cycles, 1787–1863 and 1890–1964, mastery of post office arithmetic joined reading and writing as necessary citizenship literacies. In the first two–thirds of this third constitutional cycle, the information technologies have for all practical purposes shifted the quantitative literacy needed for citizenship from arithmetic to algebra.”
“Math literacy is the key to 21st century citizenship.” – Bob Moses