LatinaLista — Today's Supreme Court ruling siding with the white New Haven firefighters in their reverse discrimination lawsuit against the City of New Haven illustrates the delicate balancing act when it comes to affirmative action.
New Haven firefighters, along with their lawyer, speak to the press after Supreme Court verdict.
(Source: NY Times)
It's heartbreaking when ANYONE is denied a promotion, a job or program placement based on their race or ethnicity. News that the lead plaintiff Frank Ricci is dyslexic and paid someone to record study materials so he could learn by listening underscores how all applicants work hard to achieve their life's goals and should be allowed to attain them.
To say affirmative action policies are not flawed would be a mischaracterization of the truth.
However, there is nothing flawed in the ultimate goal of affirmative action policy -- creating diversity. More than ever, diversity in the workforce, at all levels, and in higher education is imperative for the health of this country.
Yet, the playing field has never been equal -- not even when there is obvious talent.
That point was brought home to me this morning as I learned that in the early 1980s, MTV almost didn't play Michael Jackson's first music videos (Billie Jean and Beat It!) because they didn't fit with the channel's music format which was rock'n roll.
In fact, so few black musicians were featured on the music cable channel because so few blacks were into that genre. By purposely narrowing their music selection, MTV was excluding a whole group of artists, especially a very talented and proven star. It wasn't until the higher-ups were convinced that it was the right thing to do to air Michael Jackson's videos was he given a shot -- and the rest is history.
And ultimately, isn't that what affirmative action is -- to give people, who historically have never been given that opportunity, that chance to "assimilate" into the larger group?
Yet, the playing field is still far from equal and the New Haven firefighters' test proves that.
Not because the top test scorers were all white, and one Latino, but because so many blacks and other Latinos didn't make the cut.
For some reason, it's always assumed, and has been accepted, that people of color aren't "very smart" compared to their Anglo counterparts. It's an assumption that is somehow established in elementary school and by the time high school is reached becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for too many students.
Most people of color are smarter than to believe that crap but it doesn't help when people of authority hold to that tired assumption. Because that assumption is subconsciously, if not consciously, believed it feeds into the notion that people of color are second class citizens when it comes to intelligence.
How ironic that critics of affirmative action always tout that job promotions and school placements should be colorblind processes. Yet, nobody talks about how the tests or evaluations in those processes are far from colorblind -- to the point it impacts the success of students/applicants of color.
The New Haven firefighter's test was 60 percent written and 40 percent verbal. While we don't know what the final test scores of the black and other Latino applicants were, it has to raise a red flag that not one black and only two Latinos even passed the test.
Is it because they didn't study hard enough or studied the wrong things?
More likely, it's because of how they responded in writing to the questions that set their scores apart from the top.
Educators have noticed that most students of color need extra help in training to be critical thinkers and good writers. In 1998, professors at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) saw that their students who were applying to law schools around the country were not having much success.
From 1988 to 1998, only seven UTEP students a year were admitted to the nation's 50 top law schools. It was clear students needed extra help.
Begun in 1998 in response to the Hopwood decision -- a federal court ruling that prevents universities in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi from making admissions decisions based on race or ethnicity -- the Law School Preparation Institute was successful from the start.
The first of its kind in the nation, the program helps students develop persuasive writing, critical textual analysis and logic skills. Students also prepare for the Law School Admissions Test and become familiar with the law school application process.
In 1999, a year after the LSPI was in operation, 20 LSPI graduates were admitted to one or more of the top 50 schools in the country. All in all, LSPI has graduated 350 students who have attended more than 60 different law schools across the nation. Sixty percent of LSPI graduates who apply to law school attend first-tier schools and nearly 20 percent enroll in one of the nation's top 12 law programs.
Eighty-four percent of the student body is Hispanic, 13 percent are Caucasian and 3 percent are African Americans.
The two-month, two summers program is intense with a heavy emphasis on writing and critical thinking exercises and a curriculum that stretches from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
The program has been so successful that it's being duplicated at other universities and illustrates that there are learning differences among ethnic groups -- but that they can successfully be addressed with stunning success.
If people are serious about a colorblind society then we have to start where differences are highlighted and reinforced -- elementary school. As we reform our educational system, we need to acknowledge that the old style of teaching, curriculum and expectations are no longer acceptable.
Erase the teaching and expectation differences in elementary and junior high school and students will be set on a path to not only succeed but excel -- at whatever test they take.