WND reports that "A school district in Arizona has come under fire after a newspaper columnist highlighted the district's newly adopted racial policy and called it a "two-tiered form of student discipline: one for black and Hispanic students; one for everyone else." According to the columnist [Doug MacEachern] "TUSD [Tucson Unified School District] principals and disciplinarians…are being asked to set two standards of behavior for their students…Some behavior will be met with strict penalties; some will not. It all depends on the color of the student's skin."
School district officials claim they are just trying to correct racial discrimination in disciplinary practices. They set "the goal of reducing suspensions and expulsions of minority students to reflect "no ethnic/racial disparities." As evidence of these disparities, their plan cites "statistics that while American Indian students make up only 4 percent of the student body, they account for 20 percent of the suspensions across the district. And while black students make up 7 percent of the student body, they account for 16.3 percent of out-of-school suspensions."
Unfortunately, as is so often the case with so-called "liberal" arguments as to racial discrimination, the cited statistics don't necessarily prove their point. An Arizona Star editorial, written with sympathy for the school officials, points to the fallacy involved. "One explanation is that some kids are misbehaving more often than others, while another could be that minority kids are written up for the same actions more often than Anglo kids or that minority kids are given harsher punishments. The reasons are myriad and probably a mix of the above." Apparently the school district officials also recognize the possibility that the overall statistical disparity may be related to the behavior of students rather than discrimination against them. Their new policy promises that "School data that show disparities in suspension/expulsion rates will be examined in detail for root causes, …Special attention will be dedicated to the data regarding African-American and Hispanic students."
Here's the obvious question: Why implement a policy based on the assumption of racial discrimination before analysis of the data has confirmed it as the cause of the statistical facts? When dealing with a malfunctioning piece of equipment, it may be reasonable to take precautions against possible causes before determining the actual one. But people aren't machines. The policy being implemented in this case has the quite possibly slanderous implication that teachers and school administrators are racist bigots. It quite possibly encourages misbehaving students to lean on the crutch of racial resentment, rather than accept full responsibility for their own actions. With teachers afraid to discipline because they'll be perceived as racists, and students emboldened to misbehave because they're just getting their own back for racist treatment, the policy seems likely to worsen behavior rather than improve it.
The default of reason here isn't just logical. It arises from the predisposition to define problems in racial terms, rather than in terms that take seriously what ought to be the essential goal- the development of students' moral character. The school officials appear to have some sense of this. "TUSD Assistant Superintendent Jim Fish told the Star that MacEachern had misunderstood what is meant by the board's plan to adopt a more "restorative" culture and that seeing a two-tiered system of discipline was "far-fetched." "This would apply to all children," Fish said. "There is no such thing as treating one class of students differently….We're teaching kids about the mistakes they've made….If you're out of school 10 days or 45 days and you're not dealing with the infraction, you haven't changed your thoughts or behaviors or actions."
There is something sad (pathetic in the non-pejorative sense) about Fish's effort to make the simple point that punishment alone doesn't build character. There's something pathetic about the fact that the school district obscures and distorts their desire to address what ought to be a pervasive common sense goal of every aspect of education by presenting it in the context of 'politically correct' but irrelevant racial rhetoric and statistics.
This failure of common sense actually encourages insensitivity to the differences between one ethnic community and another, differences that have a bearing on the task of character development. Ethnic communities are in fact not defined by physical differences, but by the different paths, institutions and behavior they use to convey moral truths and priorities. Willingness to see and try to understand these aspects of a student's ethnic background, and to understand as well the strain placed on their effectiveness by the cacophony of contemporary life, should be part of the make-up of teachers and administrators trying to play their part in the task of character formation. Instead of putting this ethnic aspect of the task in the context of unproven and destructively inchoate assumptions about racial discrimination, school officials would do better to begin from the straightforward premise that education requires and must be based on responsible cooperation between the institutions of family, school and moral understanding (religious/ethical institutions). Disciplinary procedures would then be developed with a view to assuring the responsible involvement and cooperation of these institutions in achieving the positive goal of good character. It's old fashioned language. It implies respect for things the "liberal" leftists (whose initials are NEA) regard with hostility and contempt. But it might just work better than policies hampered by the strait jacket of the "liberal" obsession with race.