Monday, July 07, 2008

Civil Rights Roundup: 07/07/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

An inspiring story in the Boston Globe of a graduate of one of Boston's struggling public schools. The Globe also has the story of a teen mother from the same school who is heading off to college.

Chicago is bracing for challenges to its gun ban in the wake of the Supreme Court's Heller decision.

The Washington Post reports a new surge in law students studying immigration. Anecdotally, when I've asked folks attending law school what they want to study, immigration law has in fact been a surprisingly common response. Most of these folks are liberals -- I wonder if its a counter-mobilization to recent conservative demagoguery on the issue?

A new trend sweeping American states is to try and keep illegal immigrants out of college. Apparently, we're so blinded by rage in this issue that we actively want to make gang life the only salient option for these kids. I, for one, support meritocracy -- it's not like we have a surplus of smart people out there.

Immigration reform isn't being sunk because it offers amnesty. It's being sunk because it's being wrongly characterized as offering amnesty.

Wal-Mart lost another multi-million dollar lawsuit regarding its wages-and-hours practices. As Lindsay Beyerstein points out, though, the settlement amounts to less than $3.25 per violation.

Like Hilzoy, I have refrained from blogging on Sen. Jesse Helms death because it seems unseemly to speak ill of the dead. But also like Hilzoy, I am stunned at the degree to which the right is claiming Helms as an exemplar of their movement, given that he was -- how to put this gently? -- an unabashed force for evil in the world. Yet there they are. Jim Lindgren clearly protests too much. Also, it is amusing that in the wake of this out-pouring of admiration for a open-and-shut racist, Republicans will indeed probably attempt to reach out to Black voters once again -- and then wonder why they fail.

A discrimination lawsuit against the Minneapolis police force is moving forward after a Latino veteran of the force was turned down from a position with an elite anti-gang unit.

Pam's House Blend calls gay bars one of the "worst offenders" with regard to anti-trans discrimination. Yay, solidarity!

Wal-Mart blocks an HIV-prevention and testing awareness event to be held on its site under pressure from "pro-life" groups (Planned Parenthood was running the show). How life-affirming.


PG said...

I, for one, support meritocracy -- it's not like we have a surplus of smart people out there.

Depends on what you mean by "out there." In the U.S., perhaps not, particularly with regard to people interested in math and science. In the world as a whole, there are LOTS of smart people who would like to study and work in the U.S., and there are strict caps on the number who can do so. Moreover, getting certain types of visas that are categorized as "temporary" (e.g. H1 visas) often can foreclose one's ability to obtain permanent residency and citizenship.

There's a lot of annoyance among the smart people out in the world who jump through hoops to get into the U.S. legally that people who come into the country illegally appear to be cutting in line.

I agree with you on a practical basis that if we are going to have young illegal immigrants in the U.S., we are better off having the smart ones go to college rather than devise new ways to run drugs. However, if a person is identified as an illegal entrant to the U.S., such person also can be deported to his home country (unless he has an asylum claim).

I fear that if there continues to be the attitude on the left that it's OK to maintain quotas on the number of Eastern European physicists and Asian engineers who come into the U.S. legally, but we shouldn't do anything that effectively restricts the number of random people who enter the U.S. illegally, that's not very meritocratic, and it increases the chance that a "pro legal immigration" voting bloc will develop and go Republican. At the moment, the Republicans have such a strong appearance of xenophobia that they don't appeal to legal immigrants and their offspring, but if the George Will types gain strength, that could change.

BTW, do you have Lexis/ Westlaw access at your job? I was wondering today if there ever has been a case where someone alleged discrimination (either in employment or accommodations) that essentially was a claim of caste discrimination? I was thinking about India's laws against caste discrimination, and it occurred to me that the U.S. has no such laws (presumably because Hindus generally are such a small part of the population, and any discrimination done by a non-Hindu to a Dalit would be presumed racial or religious discrimination).

However, considering that the Hindu population is over 1 million, and many of those are small business owners who are in a position to engage in employment or accommodation discrimination, I thought perhaps some instances of caste discrimination may have cropped up and been litigated.

David Schraub said...

Lexis didn't turn up anything useful, but Google revealed Mazumder v. Univ. of Michigan (6th Cir. 2006) in which the plaintiff alleged (among other things) caste discrimination. The case didn't get that far though, as the court ruled he didn't established a facial case of discrimination. (See also this story).

schiller1979 said...

Re the Boston Globe article about English High School: It's fine, as far as it goes, to create an elite school (relatively speaking) within an urban public school district, and I'm glad for any students that therefore have opportunities in life that would be otherwise unavailable. But it seems to me that the goals of such a program could be better accomplished by a school choice system that allows use of public funds for private school tuition.

The main argument I've heard in opposition to such a plan is that it would divert resources from public schools and leave some children behind. But wouldn't concentrating resources on one group of public school students, as described in the article, have the same effect?

IMHO, the only group whose interests are served by restricting such programs to public schools are the public-school teachers' unions.

David Schraub said...

The problem is that private schools, unlike their public counterparts, can choose who they want to admit. They don't have to admit the problem students (and the main protagonist of this article was said to be precisely the sort of kid a school concerned with performance and reputation would want to keep out), making it a "solution" to an entirely different problem (the problem of truly gifted children being weighed down by troubled youth, rather than the problem of getting troubled youth out of trouble and onto the right track). The latter problem, at the least, still seems best solved from within a public context -- and I'd wager that it is important for them to have talented and driven peers as role-models if we want that to succeed.

More broadly, Charles R. Lawrence III's article, Forbidden Conversations: On Race, Privacy, and Community (A Continuing Conversation With John Ely on Racism and Democracy), [114 Yale L.J. 1353-1403 (2005)] did a good job of outlining some of the less obvious problems that surround "school choice" as a solution.

schiller1979 said...

I found that article; I'll take a look at it.

One possible answer is to give special-needs students a voucher worth more money. For example, if the standard voucher is for $10,000, a dyslexic student might get $15,000. That would create incentives for the creation of schools designed to deal with those issues.

Applying that concept to a student with a criminal record and/or from an unhelpful family environment would probably be more difficult.

schiller1979 said...

Some thoughts on the Lawrence article “Forbidden Conversations” etc.:

He comes at the school choice argument from the point of view that public schools, as an end in themselves, are a good thing. He quotes a passage from Brown that mentions “compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education” (p. 1376), and he then equates those to public schools. But compulsory attendance and public expenditure could also constitute elements of a voucher system. As I argued earlier, the NEA and similar unions seem to me to be the only ones for whom public schools are valuable as an end in themselves.

Lawrence assumes that the schools that would result from universal implementation of school choice would be segregated (p. 1386). He points up the biggest problem with school choice experiments to date: they don’t go far enough. A DC voucher program provides $7,500 to 1600 students (p. 1388). Ideally, a voucher system would take the entire per-student public education expenditure and allocate it to each voucher, with public money being withheld from any school, public or private, that doesn’t do a good enough job to attract students. Maybe the amounts wouldn’t be enough to pay for the top tier of elite schools that he mentions (although I hope financial aid continues to be available to the gifted students best able to take advantage of the type of education those schools offer) but they should be enough to establish a new tier of schools with resources equal to those available to the public schools, but with the performance incentives that public schools lack (tests or no tests). The admissions process in those schools would be subject to anti-discrimination laws. It sounds as though that would be insufficient, in Lawrence’s view, but it seems to me to be a good basis.

I have not been to Shepherd Elementary School. So, when Lawrence describes the students as being perfectly polite and groomed (p. 1369), with the only problems being facility deficiencies related to lack of financial resources, I cannot disprove him. All I can say is that that is not consistent with my experience as a student in integrated urban schools circa 1970. In other words, while parents’ fears of such schools might be exaggerated, I don’t think they totally lack merit.

When Lawrence lists groups who advocate school choice (p. 1386), he fails to mention the high percentage of African Americans who tell pollsters that they favor such programs.

I thank you for referring me to this article, but I remain unconvinced.