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The New Racial School Follies

As if to demonstrate that the administration’s actions are totally disconnected from the president’s public rhetoric, almost simultaneously with the NAACP speech, the new head of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) -- the civil rights enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of Education -- announced that she would be considering whether to bring race discrimination lawsuits against school districts where minority students were underrepresented in advanced courses such as AP courses. This is an explicit racial quota -- merely by suggesting the possibility of such an action, she ensures that school districts will scramble to make sure that students are selected for advanced courses on the basis of skin color.

Now, in an almost parodic counterpoint to that OCR announcement, Berkeley High School is looking at cutting out science labs altogether because they’re a threat to black and Hispanic students. The school’s governance council thinks that science labs benefit white and Asian students to the detriment of blacks and Hispanics, whom the council apparently views as not capable of learning science. The council wants the funding for science labs redirected so it can “free up more resources to help struggling students.”

“When broken down in racial terms,” says the local superintendent, “African American and Latino students are not scoring as well as their peers.” Well, I guess that’s that, then! If some student groups are scoring poorly in science, obviously the only possible way to deal with that problem is to shut down the science labs! Then they won’t score poorly in science anymore!

“The majority of students of color don't really go” because the labs take place outside normal school hours, says one student by way of defending the decision. Well then, obviously the most equitable and fair solution is to close the labs -- then everybody won’t go!

Believe it or not, the superintendent says exactly that: “To require students to come to school before or after school, as part of your required courses during school, just doesn't seem very equitable to many of us.”

Obviously these people have some pretty thick ideological blinders on. But as long as we’re spelunking down in this hellhole, let’s not neglect to mention the more materialistic aspect of this problem. It’s hard not to imagine that this isn’t, on some level, driven by a power struggle between two sets of teachers -- the science teachers and the teachers who run programs aimed at “struggling students” -- for jobs and prestige. Hence the council’s focus on “freeing up resources.”

Sure enough, the science teachers are forming an organized resistance. “Our students who are struggling need that extra instructional time, especially if we're going to prepare students for the jobs of the future,” says one. “Why would you teach the same amount of material in less time and think that that was going to help anybody?” asks a parent.

I know which of those groups I’m cheering for.

But the best comment comes from Berkeley junior Kacey Holt. He has a message for those students who “are not scoring as well as their peers” in science and “don’t really go” to the science labs: “I think they need to talk with their teachers and get more tutoring, afterschool programs, and basically show up for class,” says Kacey.

Kacey Holt for Berkley Unified superintendent! Campaign slogan: “Basically, Show Up for Class.”